When the UK left the EU a different arrangement was agreed for Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. All parties to this arrangement, called the Northern Ireland Protocol, agree that the arrangements are not working as well as they need to. Following months of discussions with the EU a way forward has not been agreed. In the meantime, practical problems with burdensome customs processes has resulted in some businesses stopping trading altogether, tax discrepancies mean that Northern Ireland cannot benefit from changes which the rest of the UK are benefitting from, including the reduction in VAT for solar panels, and there has been disruption to the movement of food and other goods.
This week Parliament debated changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol that the Government has brought forward. The proposed new legislation is intended to be a comprehensive and reasonable way forward to deliver on the objectives of the Protocol. The current problems are undermining key strands of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and have contributed to the collapse of the power-sharing arrangements at Stormont. The Government is committed to seeing these institutions back up and running so that they can deliver for the people of Northern Ireland as they are intended to do.
The Northern Ireland Protocol bill proposes a new ‘trusted trader’ style scheme, shared data and different entry arrangements for goods intended solely for the UK and those that may be traded beyond Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland, which is in the EU Single Market. The recent history of negotiations around the trading treatment of Northern Ireland has been fraught, but it remains as vital as ever that lasting and sensible solutions are found, in line with the objectives agreed between the UK and the EU.
Alongside the Protocol Bill, the Northern Ireland (Troubles and Reconciliation) Bill has been brought forward. The long shadow of the Troubles remains very much a real and current memory for our community. This weekend is the Royal Marines Memorial Concert in Walmer. This will be an opportunity for us as a community to remember and honour the lives lost in this terrible IRA bombing in 1989 and reflect on a turbulent time in our nation’s history. It was very much on my mind this week as Parliament discussed Northern Ireland. The IRA’s Deal bombers have never been found. It is likely they will never be held to account for their acts. It is a painful acceptance some three decades on, especially for their families.
It is the duty of the Government of the United Kingdom to take the necessary steps to preserve peace, stability and prosperity in Northern Ireland. I will continue to support efforts to ensure Northern Ireland’s place in the UK is protected and strengthened, within the context of the extraordinary and troubled times within which the Belfast Good Friday agreement was forged.