Northern Ireland: Political Process

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:53 pm on 29th April 2019.

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Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 5:53 pm, 29th April 2019

I welcome the hon. Lady back to speaking on matters regarding Northern Ireland. It is very nice to see her. I know that this is a temporary move, just for today, but it is nice to have her back. She is absolutely right to say that ordinary people have been giving us this message for a very long time; I have heard it time and again. When we brought forward the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill last October, we were clear that it was designed to give the parties space to enable them to come to the accommodation that is needed to get power sharing restored. I am as frustrated as anybody that we have not been able to get to this point before now, and it is a shame that it has taken something so tragic to focus minds, but I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Rochdale: it has always been the intention that talks would resume after the local elections, and I see a real willingness from the political parties to do that.

The hon. Lady asked questions about the process and structure of the talks, and about civic society. I agree that there is clearly a role for the members of civic society who have done so much to hold things together in the absence of Ministers, but as I said to the Chair of the Select Committee, today is not the day to go into the formal structure of the talks. I will be happy to do that at the appropriate point, but the important thing today is to focus on getting the parties back round the table and getting agreement on the structure and framework of the talks.

The hon. Lady asked about the Government’s commitment to the Belfast agreement. I want to put it clearly on record that this Government are steadfast in their commitment to the agreement and its successors, and to all the institutions established by those agreements. She also asked about the hard border issue. We have made it clear, in the joint report in 2017 and in the withdrawal agreement, that we will not allow there to be a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The border in Northern Ireland is not just about the completion of customs dockets and the movement of goods; it is about how people feel and the emotional connection that people have with communities on the other side of the border that contain their families, their friends, their schoolmates and their work colleagues. Those communities live side by side and do not see a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We need to ensure that that continues.