Brexit: Sanitary/Phytosanitary Costs

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 30th June 2020.

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Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin 3:15 pm, 30th June 2020

11. Mr McAleer asked the Minister of Finance whether the UK Treasury has confirmed that it will cover the costs of checking sanitary and phytosanitary measures following the end of the transition period. (AQO 518/17-22)

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

The British Treasury has confirmed that it will, in principle, cover the infrastructure costs of checking sanitary and phytosanitary measures following the end of the transition period. I will continue to engage with Treasury to ensure that all costs of implementing the protocol are covered by the Exchequer.

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin

The Minister will be aware that the fact that Britain is diverging from EU regulations and standards has increased the need for SPS checks at our ports and airports. Does the Minister agree that, in funding the cost of the expanded infrastructure and IT systems and controls, it would be very unfair if the financial burden was placed here, given the fact that the North voted to remain in the EU?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Again, that does not connect with the original question, and I will allow the Minister to decide whether he wishes to answer it.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I have been as flexible as you so far, so we may continue in the same vein.

In general terms, the Treasury and the British Government have committed, as part of their manifesto, to cover all costs associated with leaving the EU. From a political perspective, I wish that it was not the case that we were leaving at all. Nonetheless, we want to ensure that the exit from the EU is the least damaging that it can be. I thoroughly expect there to be damage as a consequence of leaving, and that is why it needs to be done in a careful, calibrated fashion. There is a commitment to cover all such costs, and it is incumbent on me, as the Finance Minister, and the Executive as a whole to hold the Government to that commitment.

Photo of Jonathan Buckley Jonathan Buckley DUP

In light of costs incurred by the UK Treasury and Her Majesty's Government, will the Minister join me in thanking Her Majesty's Treasury for the generous contributions throughout the COVID-19 crisis that have secured a lifeline for many businesses and civilians across Northern Ireland? Had it not been for that subvention, there is no doubt that many businesses would have gone under. In light of what he has said, can the Minister outline other potential financial packages or measures that may be introduced by Her Majesty's Treasury in light of COVID-19?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I am invited frequently by Members from the Benches opposite to thank the Government for their generosity. I remind the Member that we pay taxes here. The business support was, of course, very welcome. Any of this money is welcome; I have no difficulty in welcoming it.

I talk about the priority for investment. We had to prioritise investing in our health service, which has been under-resourced for years because of austerity measures. Vulnerable people have been under-resourced for years because of austerity measures. We had to channel things into areas that the Government in London have reduced our ability to spend public money on over the years.

We are not aware of further financial packages. We are told that there may be announcements in July. We continue to engage with Treasury to get a sense of what those announcements will be. The Executive will be able to plan our economic recovery on the back of those.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Minister may not have seen it, as he has been answering questions here, but, in the last hour, the Treasury has said that there will be what it calls a "summer economic update" next Wednesday. In light of that and linking to the initial question, I ask this: will the Minister and the Executive ask for an urgent update on spending in relation to the EU exit and what will be disbursed to the devolved Administrations? There has been an ominous silence from London on the implementation of the Ireland protocol and broader EU exit matters. I ask the Minister to make representations to that effect, ahead of next Wednesday.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I assure the Member that we continue to make representations. Issues such as the shared prosperity fund and others that replace EU assistance, which we have benefited from enormously here over the years, are very vague and not at all encouraging in the lack of detail. It is not only us. In the joint meetings that I attend with the other devolved areas, the Scottish and Welsh similarly press for more detail and certainty on all that. I assure the Member that it is continuously on the agenda, and we will press not only for the cost of the exit to be met by the British Government but for the replacement and the operation and decision-making around whatever replaces EU funds to be the property of this institution.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

That is the end of questions to the Minister of Finance. I ask Members to take their ease for a few moments.

(Mr Principal Deputy Speaker [Mr Stalford] in the Chair)