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Trade with Rest of UK

Volume 724: debated on Wednesday 14 December 2022

1. What steps his Department is taking to help businesses in Northern Ireland trade with the rest of the UK. (902742)

The Government have committed to ensuring unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the rest of the United Kingdom market. We have therefore not implemented export declarations on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, which has been subject to infraction proceedings by the European Union.

Under the protocol, by the end of the year we will, unfortunately, have spent £340 million helping traders to process 2.3 million customs declarations through the trader support service. That really highlights the need to get on with a sustainable negotiated solution.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. He will be aware that seed potato imports to Northern Ireland from Scotland are deeply impacted by the protocol. The European Union is being hugely intransigent on the issue, despite high demand from the EU and Northern Ireland for the fantastic seed potato product that Scotland has to provide. What are the Northern Ireland Office and other UK Government Departments doing to address the issue?

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. It is, of course, unacceptable that essential goods such as seed potatoes, used successfully in Northern Ireland for generations, can no longer reach people in Northern Ireland. That is why I recently met representatives of Wilson’s Country in Craigavon to discuss the issue. [Interruption.] I cannot quite make out what Scottish National party Members are saying, Mr Speaker, but I do think it is in the interests of Scotland, Ireland and the wider European Union, as well as Northern Ireland, that this issue should be resolved.

The idea that it should be difficult to get seed potatoes into Ireland is quite absurd. Of course, the quality of potatoes will diminish across the European Union if we do not resolve the issue, which we would like to do by negotiation.

Of course we all agree that there needs to be a deal with the European Union to resolve some of the outstanding issues. Would the Minister care to comment on the data released just this morning that states that trade from GB to Northern Ireland is up by 7% since the protocol was implemented?

I am sorry to say that I have not seen that data this morning. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting it; I shall be certain to look it up and reflect on it. I am delighted by any increase in trade. As he knows, I am an old liberal free trader, so I think any increase in trade in any direction will suit all of us very well.

The reality is that, notwithstanding any data, many businesses in Northern Ireland are experiencing serious problems as a result of the protocol. The cost of the trader support scheme, as the Minister has acknowledged, is now well over £300 million—the equivalent of almost half a million pounds every single day. That money could be spent on public services in Northern Ireland. What are the Minister and the Government doing to address the issue?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the clear stance he has taken on the protocol—no one, including across the European Union, can mistake it. It has become clear that unless there is a resolution on the protocol that he and his colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party can accept, there will not be an Executive in Northern Ireland. We continue to make that clear to our partners. We continue talks with the European Union, and I very much hope that we will reach a solution that is acceptable to us and to him, and will remove the burdens on his constituents and on businesses, individuals and families across Northern Ireland.

I appreciate the comments that the Minister has made. We share the same objective, which is to fully restore Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market. That means that in the future the default regulatory position for trade within the UK internal market should be British law; that British trading regulations and standards should apply across all the United Kingdom; and that EU law and regulations should apply only when goods are moving into the European Union—in any event, businesses are required to meet EU standards if they want to trade within the EU single market. Does the Minister agree that the restoration of our place within the UK internal market is our absolute priority?

The Secretary of State and I agree that that is what we are trying to negotiate. If we are not able to negotiate it, it will be what we seek to deliver through our Bill, which continues to be before Parliament.