Leaving the EU: Peace in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

What recent assessment he has made of the effect on peace in Northern Ireland of the UK leaving the EU.

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s security situation has been transformed as a result of the peace process. Although the threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism continues to be assessed as severe, hard work by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and others means that most people are not affected. Challenges remain and will continue after EU exit, but Northern Ireland is a place where people want to work, study and live free from the threat or use of violence.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

The Prime Minister will spend the next several weeks trying to sell his damaging Brexit deal in Northern Ireland, among other places. The Chief Constable of the PSNI believes that that deal could lead to an increase in violence and civil unrest. What additional funding will the Secretary of State commit to community policing in Northern Ireland to help him cope?

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The PSNI has received additional funding in the run-up to Brexit. I remain in constant touch with the Chief Constable, and I will ensure that the funding and resourcing they need to do their job, which they do day in, day out to protect the citizens of Northern Ireland, is there.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

There is widespread disquiet among Unionists about the proposed deal, because of the concept of a border down the Irish sea. Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the UK comes out of the interim period and has a free trade agreement, Northern Ireland can have absolute equal status with the whole of the rest of the UK if mutual enforcement is introduced both north and south of the border? That would get rid of the need for a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and a border down the Irish sea.

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. The Government, through this deal, are ensuring that the United Kingdom comes out of the EU as a whole. On east-west trade, we are doing everything we can to ensure that there will be unfettered access to the GB market and no barriers to that trade.

Photo of Ruth George Ruth George Labour, High Peak

How many of the Government’s additional 20,000 police officers have been allocated to Northern Ireland, and what flexibility is there if the security situation deteriorates in the light of the deal?

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The PSNI operates on a very flexible basis. My view is that it is well resourced—as I said, it got additional funding through the recent funding increase for the police—but I will keep monitoring that over the coming weeks.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson DUP Chief Whip, Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business in the House of Commons)

There can be no justification in any circumstances for the use of violence against a democratic decision taken by the people of this country. Nevertheless, the EU withdrawal agreement could create a precedent whereby the principle of consent is altered. The principle of consent is fundamental to Unionist support for the political process and our participation in it. I ask the Secretary of State to look again at what the Government have proposed in this agreement and the damage it is doing to Unionist confidence in the process.

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

As my right hon. Friend knows, there is no change to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. I accept that there have been significant questions from the Unionist community. I met with a range of Unionist community groups, including the Orange Order, on Saturday. I will continue to have those meetings and to reassure people that there is no constitutional change and that the arrangements for the Assembly and the Executive remain unchanged.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I thank the Secretary of State for his most generous words. I have to say, the warmth and kindness he displayed are not normally characteristics of the Whips Office, which made them doubly welcome.

This is a bittersweet occasion, but for me the bitterness is assuaged by the sweetness of the 21 years I have worked in Northern Ireland, in that most beautiful part of the world, with some of the finest and sweetest people anyone could ever hope to meet. I implore the Secretary of State and all those who will assemble in the new Parliament to strain every sinew to see that those children born 21 years ago, who are now a new generation of adults in Northern Ireland, may finally know the peace to which they are entitled and let Northern Ireland finally flourish and bloom in peace and prosperity.

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. My conversations with young people in Northern Ireland are the most moving and humbling I have ever had, and I will do everything I can to ensure that the opportunities those women and men have are maintained and can flourish. All the young people I have met in Northern Ireland so far in this job show every hope for a successful future for Northern Ireland.