I and ministerial colleagues speak regularly with our counterparts in the Irish Government. The protocol itself provides for a practical solution that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland in all circumstances, including in the event that we do not agree a free trade agreement, while ensuring that the UK, including Northern Ireland, can leave the EU as a whole.
I am very grateful to the Secretary of State. He will know that small and medium-sized enterprises with business across the border are in a state of uncertainty at the moment, given what is potentially going to hit them in four months’ time. Given that, the trader support service announced last month is particularly welcome. What discussions has he had with trade organisations in Northern Ireland about the trader support service? When does he anticipate the service actually providing services to SMEs?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We—not just myself, but ministerial colleagues—have had continual engagement with businesses. The Business Secretary and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster have both been in Northern Ireland engaging with businesses and representative organisations, as has my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office. We will continue to do that and we aim to have the scheme running in September.