Robin Walker: The Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about how to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and the joint report in December made it clear that the UK is committed to avoiding any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls. By accepting Lords amendment 25, the House has reiterated that position.
Robin Walker: The UK Government could not have been clearer about our commitment to ensuring no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Although the funding settlement for the PSNI is a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Administration, which we all want to be restored as soon as possible, the UK Government do not intend to allocate any resources for policing a hard border after our exit...
Robin Walker: My right hon. Friend raises an interesting point, but it is our intention to leave with an agreement. We have been clear that our first priority is to secure the absence of a hard border through the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
Robin Walker: The hon. Gentleman speaks with considerable experience and knowledge of the issue. He is absolutely right. That is why, from what I have seen and conversations I have had, London, Dublin, Belfast and Brussels have all been clear about the need to avoid the creation of a hard border.
Robin Walker: My hon. Friend is right about the advantages of ensuring frictionless trade between the UK and the EU, and that is the Government’s policy.
Robin Walker: I seem to remember spending quite a lot of time discussing that issue in Committee, including being harangued by the hon. Gentleman to ensure that the Bill contained a specific reference to the Belfast agreement. Thanks to the changes we have made, and the acceptance of Lords amendment 25, there is now that specific reference, which I am sure he will welcome.
Robin Walker: As the hon. Lady knows, we are committed to ensuring customs arrangements that allow for no physical infrastructure at the border. As she also knows, we have put forward our own proposal for a backstop in the EU negotiations, which is an important element of that. We want to secure this for the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
Robin Walker: The Secretary of State and I regularly discuss exit issues with Cabinet and ministerial colleagues, including customs. The Prime Minister is clear that we are working towards a customs solution that keeps trade with the EU as frictionless as possible, avoids a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and establishes an independent trade policy.
Robin Walker: Those working groups are meeting regularly to advance the work on both of the options. As agreed yesterday, the Government will provide by 31 October a statement to Parliament on the steps taken to negotiate a customs arrangement with the EU.
Robin Walker: No, I agree with the Conservative and Labour manifestos that said that we should be leaving the customs union and ensuring that we have an independent trade policy, but we also want to deliver the frictionless trade that businesses up and down our country need.
Robin Walker: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We have made that abundantly clear, and the Prime Minister has been very clear that no UK Prime Minister could accept such a solution.
Robin Walker: Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an important point. Portugal is our oldest ally in the world—in fact, I think the longest-standing alliance in the world is between England and Portugal—and we want to ensure that the trade between us can continue to flourish, as we do with the trade between the UK and many other EU member states.
Robin Walker: The Government are determined to present the right answer on customs to make sure that we have the frictionless trade we all want to see between the UK and the EU. The sight of the Scottish National party abandoning their parliamentary responsibilities is perhaps not one that encourages confidence from anyone.
Robin Walker: Half the Labour party seem to be voting against Labour’s amendments nowadays. We meet regularly with the CBI and with different business groups up and down the country. They are all very clear on the benefits of frictionless trade, and that is the policy of the Government.
Robin Walker: The Prime Minister has been clear that the backstop arrangements would be time-limited, but I say to the hon. Gentleman that the fact that our entire ministerial team is in post is a sign that our party is united, unlike the Labour party, which has now had 100—100!—resignations from its Front Benchers or Parliamentary Private Secretaries.
Robin Walker: As the hon. Gentleman will know if he has looked at the detail of the joint report, we are talking about alignment in those areas necessary for the functioning of the border and ensuring that there is no hard border. That does not mean full regulatory alignment across all areas; it means specific areas relating to agriculture and industrial goods that could otherwise result in tax at the...
Robin Walker: As the Prime Minister set out at Mansion House and reinforced at Jodrell Bank, the UK is committed to establishing a far-reaching science and innovation pact with the EU, facilitating the exchange of ideas and researchers, and enabling the UK to participate in key programmes alongside EU partners.
Robin Walker: We have been very clear throughout the process that we want the UK to continue to be able to attack the brightest and the best and to be a magnet for key talent around the world. The announcement of the new start-up tech visas is a good indication of how UK immigration policy can contribute in this space.
Robin Walker: We have reached some important agreements already with regard to the implementation agreement and the continuation of our existing membership of Horizon during the whole of the period until the end of the multi-annual financial framework. We now want to secure the science and innovation pact, which we have been discussing in our meetings with the Commission, and those meetings have been...
Robin Walker: My hon. Friend asks me an interesting question, which is probably more appropriate for a Treasury Minister to answer, but I recognise its importance. The UK is stepping up investment in R&D with our target to ensure that 2.4% of GDP is spent on it. That will make us one of the leading countries in the world for investment in research.