Northern Ireland Protocol

Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at on 8 February 2023.

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Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the progress of negotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (International Trade)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the progress of negotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I have very regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on Northern Ireland matters, including and especially the protocol.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

It has been widely briefed that the negotiations are finished and the deal is waiting with the Prime Minister. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether that is true and whether he has seen the deal himself yet?

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (International Trade)

The Foreign Secretary is leading on negotiations that will affect all communities in Northern Ireland, but on his last visit to Belfast he froze out nationalist parties. Will the Secretary of State make sure that that does not happen again?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, which goes to a bit of a dilemma. We are negotiating at this point in time on the protocol with the European Union, and Sinn Féin are a one-Ireland party. It was a representative from an EU member state who had been receiving a briefing about what the negotiations were looking like at that point in time, which would possibly have not been the best form in a negotiation.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

In the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, one point regularly made to us is that there is much scope for further co-operation on EU programmes such as Horizon and in other important areas. Is that something my right hon. Friend’s colleagues say to him when he talks to them in Cabinet? Should that not be pointed out strongly to the European Commission? Our not being part of its research programme means that it is missing out on some of the best scientists in Europe, and on energy co-operation—a vital interest—we need to do better?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his question and for the work he does in chairing the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly. He is absolutely right to point out that the Horizon programme, which we are unable to access at this point in time, is unbelievably valuable across the piece in the way that he states. Yes, I think everybody knows it is vital and that we need to come to a solution on the protocol that allows for discussions on our access to that programme and others to be back on the table.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

I appreciate that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is the lead on this matter, but can the Secretary of State give us any idea of the timescale for when he might expect to conclude discussions with the European Union, and at which point he might consider getting the Northern Ireland protocol through Parliament?

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The one thing we are being quite steadfast on, as well as trying to get a negotiated solution to this particular issue, is not commenting on timelines. My hon. Friend will have noticed that the smallest amount of progress was communicated to the world through a joint communiqué four or five weeks ago. Our illustrious friends in the media then wrote up what that might be, what the detail of the deal might be and that there was a deal. Elements of the media then went on to decapitate said deal. I am afraid that, until we get to the end of the negotiations and until we get somewhere—we are not there yet—we will not comment on timelines.