Northern Ireland

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:17 pm on 26th June 2017.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary 4:17 pm, 26th June 2017

This is a shabby and a reckless deal, which it has taken the Government at least £1 billion pounds to buy, and whose true cost for the future of peace in Northern Ireland could be infinitely higher. The Good Friday agreement is rightly seen across the world as a model for other countries seeking to end conflict, but it is also fragile and relies above all on trust, good faith and the impartiality of the British Government. For the Government to put such an agreement in jeopardy just to prop up this dismal Prime Minister is nothing short of a disgrace. So can I ask the First Secretary what legal advice the Government have received on whether today’s agreement is compatible with their legal obligations under the Good Friday agreement and whether he will publish that advice today?

I will not waste time discussing the so-called policy agreement set out today; after all, it was not the DUP who forced this Government to ditch their plans to hit pensioners’ income—the British people did that on 8 June. No, this agreement is all about the money, so let me first ask the First Secretary for some clarity on the funding. First, how much extra funding will go to support infrastructure, broadband, health and education and tackle deprivation in the rest of the United Kingdom? No one would begrudge the £1 billion extra support in those areas for Northern Ireland, but in Scotland, Wales and the English regions, the needs are just as great, so when will the rest of the country get its share?

Secondly, the agreement says there will be a consultation on reducing VAT on tourism in Northern Ireland. Just a year ago, the current Minister of State with responsibility for security told the House the Government had concluded that the costs of such a VAT cut outweighed the benefits and that it was not something the Government were going to consider. So what has made the Government change their mind? In the light of his commitment to be fair to all parts of the United Kingdom, will he extend this consultation to all parts of the UK, seeking to support their tourism and hospitality industries, and if not, why is he not including the likes of Blackpool, Margate or Colwyn Bay?

Thirdly, and most importantly, can the First Secretary tell us this: where is the extra £1 billion announced today going to come from? During the election he was fond of telling interviewers that there was no magic money tree. So what has happened today? Has he found the key to the secret garden, or is the truth that like everything else that this Government say and do, it can all be ditched if it helps them to hang on to power—no matter who the bedfellows, no matter what the manifesto said, no matter where the money comes from, no matter the unfairness for the rest of Britain, and no matter the consequences for peace? That is no way to lead a Government, and it is definitely no way to run a country.