Covid-19: Economic Recovery

Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

What steps the Government are taking to support the recovery of the Northern Ireland economy from the effects of the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

What steps the Government are taking to support the recovery of the Northern Ireland economy from the effects of the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

What steps the Government are taking to support the recovery of the Northern Ireland economy from the effects of the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Rosie Cooper Rosie Cooper Labour, West Lancashire

What steps the Government are taking to support the recovery of the Northern Ireland economy from the effects of the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

What steps the Government are taking to support the recovery of the Northern Ireland economy from the effects of the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The UK Government have supported Northern Ireland businesses and employees through grants, loans and the job retention scheme. The additional funding available to the Executive as a result of the Government’s coronavirus response amounts to £1.3 billion so far. In addition, the UK Government have provided £2 billion in new investment for Northern Ireland through the “New Decade, New Approach” agreement, to turbocharge infrastructure investment and provide the best possible platform for businesses to grow.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The impact on the economy in Northern Ireland has been severe. What will the Minister do to avoid a double whammy once the 28 weeks have passed in the case of a no-deal Brexit to stop chaos, confusion and potentially violence between parties in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Lady is right to recognise that there has been a severe impact, and we are determined to work hand in hand with the Executive on the response to that. I was pleased to see them publishing their own plan, and their focus on skills and infrastructure are shared objectives with the UK Government. This certainly needs to be a joint endeavour, to ensure that we support a strong economy and the conditions for safety and security for the people of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

Northern Ireland is reported to be heading for a prolonged economic downturn. As my hon. Friend Louise Haigh said, its aerospace industry is in crisis, with significant job losses at Bombardier and Thompson Aero. The Secretary of State can stop further decline by putting pressure on the Treasury to accelerate defence procurement programmes. Why has he not done that?

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Lady is right that the covid-19 outbreak has had a severe impact on the aviation and aerospace sectors around the world. The UK Government have already provided significant support to the sector, including through the business interruption loan scheme, the job retention scheme and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned, £2.1 billion through the covid corporate financing facility, with additional flexibility from UK Export Finance. Of course we will have contact with Ministers at the Ministry of Defence, and we are always happy to work with the sector to promote job opportunities in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Virtually every major commercial aircraft programme in the world comes back either in structure, services or parts to Northern Ireland, yet the recent redundancies have been greeted with no more than a shrug of the shoulders from Ministers, who seem to think that general statements are enough. When will the Minister meet the workforce at those plants and put his weight behind a plan to help them survive this crisis?

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

UK Government Ministers and officials have been engaging with key stakeholders in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State has met the key business leaders in this respect to inform our response to covid-19. The lead Department on this, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has been engaging extensively with the trade unions. Only this morning, I spoke to my ministerial colleague at BEIS to ensure that we can continue to co-ordinate our work on aviation.

Photo of Rosie Cooper Rosie Cooper Labour, West Lancashire

Given the Secretary of State’s previous answer that business will have unfettered access within the UK, could the Minister explain why HMRC is telling businesses to prepare for new formalities in west-east trade, and could he describe them?

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The simple answer is that it is not. We want to make sure that we meet our commitments in a way that imposes a minimal burden on business and provides unfettered access. We are absolutely clear that we will provide that unfettered access and legislate for it through this House.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State has already mentioned the severity of job losses at Bombardier, which drives a whole host of other supply-chain companies. What is the Minister doing to support capital investment in the supply chain to maintain jobs and skills at this particular time?

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the supply chain is crucially important to this industry. Making sure that we take the right approach to unfettered access and that we provide support across both the UK and the Northern Ireland economies is crucial in that respect. That is why we are working very closely with colleagues at BEIS and in the Executive to make sure that the support is there up and down the supply chain.