Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons on 22nd March 2023.
What steps his Department is taking to help increase investment into Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland economy has the ingredients required for economic success: exceptional talent, creativity, innovation and a healthy spirit of private sector entrepreneurship. Last week, the Secretary of State was delighted to visit the United States, and next week I will be visiting the USA and Canada to promote the excellent investment opportunities in Northern Ireland. We are, of course, also planning an investment summit.
One way to attract foreign direct investment is by creating the right regulatory climate. The Minister has been a strong advocate for post-Brexit regulatory reform to make our rules more competitive, targeted, agile and modern. So when does he think we will get to the position where we can do that in Northern Ireland, in the same way that Brexit allows us to do it in Great Britain?
My right hon. Friend and I have walked a long way in these various battles together and she knows very well what she asks me. On goods, we have to make sure that we can keep open an infrastructure-free north-south border, but the unique position of Northern Ireland is that on services regulation it will be subject to UK law and UK trade agreements. So where we have comparative advantage, particularly in Northern Ireland on issues such as fintech, we will be subject to UK law and UK regulation and have access to global markets through the kind of trade agreements and services that it is in all of our interests to strike, in order to serve the comparative advantage of the whole UK. This is the unique opportunity now facing Northern Ireland, and I want us all to seize it in every way we can.
Northern Ireland now has the highest percentage accessibility of gigabit-capable broadband in the UK, with a figure twice that of the Republic of Ireland and one of the highest in the world. Will the Minister ensure that the energy infrastructure is such to complement that, thereby offering one of the best inward investment and indigenous business opportunities anywhere in the world?
The hon. Gentleman will know that energy is devolved. I hope that he will join me in doing everything possible to ensure that the maximum investment can be made in Northern Ireland. He knows exactly what he and his colleagues need to do to help me to serve him and serve Northern Ireland: restore the devolved institutions.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in restoring the balance of the Belfast agreement the best approach is to pass the Windsor framework today in this place, and that we have to be pragmatic and open our eyes to the many opportunities, courtesy of inward investment, that will then follow for the benefit of all communities in the Province?
I agree strongly with my hon. Friend. The reality is that the Windsor framework is a dramatic improvement on the protocol. I do not think that anyone can reasonably argue otherwise. Of course, it includes compromises. Neither I, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State nor the Prime Minister is suggesting that it does not. The question that everyone needs to answer is whether this is a step forward for Northern Ireland. I am absolutely sure that it is, and I agree with my hon. Friend.
Tourism spending is also very important. The Minister will be aware that the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance is very concerned about the application of the forthcoming electronic travel authorisation to the sector in Northern Ireland, given our unique marketing and unique offer. Will the Minister work with the Home Office to try to find a practical solution to that problem?
I am well aware of the case the hon. Gentleman makes. Of course, we are in conversation with Home Office colleagues. The Government’s position is that we are determined to make sure that tourists understand that they will need to comply with UK immigration requirements to visit the UK, and that means that they will need that travel authorisation to go to Northern Ireland. I am aware of the concerns of tourism authorities north and south, and indeed the concerns of the Irish Government. We continue to take those seriously as we talk with the Home Office.
I call the SNP spokesperson.
Jonathan Haskel, an external member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, has estimated that Brexit has resulted in the loss of approximately £29 billion of business investment to the UK as a whole. Does the Minister believe that the Windsor framework will undo the proportion of the damage that has been done to the Northern Irish economy? If so, why does he consider the market access that that framework underpins to be good enough for one part of the United Kingdom but not good enough for the rest of us?
I am honoured that the hon. Gentleman should think that, on the fly, I would be able to do my own economic modelling on that subject. It is undoubtedly the case that the political turmoil of the last several years has been unhelpful. I say to the hon. Gentleman—and this should be a salutary lesson to everybody on his party’s Benches—that it is extremely important that when the public vote for a thing, they get the thing they voted for. The public voted for the whole UK to stay together in a once-in-a-generation referendum on Scottish independence, and then the UK as a whole voted to leave the European Union—and that is what we will deliver.