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Trade: Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Volume 689: debated on Thursday 11 February 2021

What steps he is taking to support hauliers operating between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. (912191)

What discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on potential derogations and flexibilities in the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. (912223)

Following my conversation with Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič last week, we have continued to work intensively to find solutions to outstanding issues that have to be addressed through the Joint Committee. I have taken forward our continued engagement in that constructive spirit, and I look forward to speaking to Vice-President Šefčovič later today.

The Minister will know that Manufacturing Northern Ireland has warned that the biggest challenge facing the Northern Ireland protocol is the lack of business preparedness in Great Britain. This is important for businesses on both sides of the Irish sea, and of course for hauliers in Wales and across the United Kingdom. Why has his Prime Minister—the Prime Minister for the Union—spent a year telling us that there will be no checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland when we can all see that that is simply not the case?

The protocol that was negotiated as part of the withdrawal agreement is there to ensure unfettered access for goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, but it also ensures that we can play our part generously in supporting the maintenance of the EU single market by making sure that there are processes. Those processes should be as light-touch as possible, and that is the aim of the conversations I am having with Vice-President Šefčovič and others.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be very conscious of the tensions that are building in Northern Ireland and the need for some sort of creative solution. Does he recognise that the absence of a sanitary and phytosanitary or veterinary agreement with the EU makes the scale of the problems faced across the Irish sea much bigger than it needs to be? As such, will the Government consider going to the European Union to try to negotiate such an agreement over the coming months? That would go a long way to defusing many of the tensions and problems currently being faced.

The hon. Gentleman is right: there are a number of different ways in which these problems can be more effectively resolved. Thoughtful contributions from the Alliance party and others are very welcome. We want to look at a range of pragmatic solutions, and I am grateful to him and his colleagues for putting forward a potential way forward in a constructive spirit. There is no single right way forward, but, as I say, I am grateful to him and his colleagues for their constructive approach.