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Northern Ireland Protocol: Cabinet Discussions

Volume 702: debated on Wednesday 27 October 2021

2. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. (903815)

I meet regularly with Cabinet colleagues to discuss Northern Ireland-related matters, including issues surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol, where it is vital that we find more productive and sustainable arrangements to deliver more effectively on the protocol’s objectives. It is worth remembering that it is clear that the protocol should protect the integral place of Northern Ireland in the UK’s internal market, minimise the impact on the lives of citizens, maintain the necessary conditions for north/south co-operation, and, importantly, protect the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in all its strands.

There are high volumes of trade between businesses in Northern Ireland and Yorkshire, including in Harrogate and Knaresborough. Many different business sectors are involved, but food and drink is particularly prominent, and I have had concerning reports of excess bureaucracy affecting trade. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that business and trade flows as smoothly as possible?

My hon. Friend makes an important point that has been echoed by the business community, the hospitality industry and the food and drink industry in Northern Ireland, even just late last week. It is something we need to resolve. That is why it is important we continue the work, as part of the discussions we are having with the EU, to deliver on what we set out in our July Command Paper as a way to resolve the issues over the protocol.

The Northern Ireland protocol is still causing significant damage in Northern Ireland and great anger for those who are impacted by it. Whether Ministers want to believe it or not, we are heading towards a constitutional crisis in Northern Ireland if the issue is not resolved. Does the Minister accept that the only reason we have checks and a debate about the European Court of Justice having a role in Northern Ireland is because Northern Ireland is now subject to EU law? Unless that issue is dealt with, the Northern Ireland protocol problems will not be resolved.

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point, further highlighting the issues around the European Court of Justice. At present, we have a system where EU laws are imposed on Northern Ireland without the consent of anyone in Northern Ireland—he is absolutely right. The challenges and disputes about these laws are also settled in the Court, only one of the two signatory parties to the protocol, and that obviously came before the wider trade agreement. The CJEU sits at the apex of the system. In addition to causing an imbalance in the equilibrium of east-west and north-south arrangements, we believe the oversight is not necessary. To preserve the structure and the gains that we have seen through the peace process of 23 years in Northern Ireland, we believe they must be replaced by something much more in keeping with the intentions of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and traditional international trade agreements.