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Functioning Stormont is best way to help business in Northern Ireland, MPs hear

A Give Way sign at Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)
A Give Way sign at Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Getting the Stormont assembly up and running is the best way to help businesses in Northern Ireland, a senior Conservative has said.

The comments came in a session of questions to the Northern Ireland Office in the House of Commons, where the Secretary of State said “there are a lot of challenges for businesses” and called on MPs to support Government Bills intended to tackle the issues.

The DUP is refusing to form a new power-sharing government at Stormont in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol, which forms part of the post-Brexit arrangements agreed with the European Union.

The chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Conservative MP Simon Hoare, said: “Given that so much policy that affects and benefits businesses is devolved, isn’t the best support that politicians of all stripes could give to Northern Irish business is to get Stormont back up and running?”

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis replied: “We all want to see Stormont back up and running.

“I think it is important to see all the ministers back with their full powers.

“We have the caretaker ministers now in place thanks to the legislation we recently took through, but being able to see Stormont making those spending decision, getting money out the door, supporting businesses and people in Northern Ireland, I think is the right thing to do, yes.”

Elsewhere in the debate, SDLP MP Claire Hanna (Belfast South) said: “The Government claims that their Protocol Bill is designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement, while being in the middle of a demolition derby of its core values, creating regression and polarisation that are going to take us years to fix.

“The Secretary of State should know that the Human Rights Act is a cornerstone commitment of the Good Friday Agreement.

“Can I ask what legal advice has he received and what representations has he made to Cabinet colleagues about the compatibility of the Bill of Rights and the ’98 agreement that he is charged with protecting?”

Narrow Water Point and Warrenpoint Port seen from from Flagstaff Viewpoint on the hills outside Newry where the Newry River flows out to Carlingford Lough, the UK and Republic of Ireland share a border through the lough (Liam McBurney/PA)
Narrow Water Point and Warrenpoint Port seen from from Flagstaff Viewpoint on the hills outside Newry where the Newry River flows out to Carlingford Lough, the UK and Republic of Ireland share a border through the lough (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Lewis responded: “It is important that we are delivering on and protecting all aspects of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.”

He added: “I am pleased that the honourable lady, I know, has recently been quoted as saying that she does not love the Protocol.

“There are a lot of challenges for businesses.

“There’s no doubt about that.

“So, I hope she will support this Bill if she is seeking to fix those very challenges.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the European Union is threatening to impose a hard border to “punish” Northern Ireland businesses.

Sir Jeffrey told the Commons: “The EU has threatened to remove access for Northern Ireland businesses to their single market, and to police this they would have to create a hard border on the island of Ireland, that’s the only consequence of their actions.

“Does the Secretary of State agree with me that such a threat from the EU indicates that, far from wanting to protect the Good Friday Agreement and peace and stability in Northern Ireland, they simply want to punish Northern Ireland businesses because the UK Government wants to protect the UK internal market?”

Mr Lewis said: “The right honourable gentleman makes an important point, and it is right that we are looking to deliver on all three stands of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.

“We will never be looking at any sort of infrastructure, there cannot be a hard border on the island of Ireland, in the same way that there should not be a hard border between east and west, that’s the issue of three strands.

“We recognise that the EU’s focus is on their single market… we will ensure that their single market is protected, but we will defend all three strands of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.”