Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Wednesday 27th April 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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Again, the hon. Gentleman needs to look at the figures in the round and realise that, as I have said, we have been making the biggest investment in Northern Ireland in decades—indeed, he may want to apologise for the previous Labour Government’s lack of funding for Northern Ireland. We now have the biggest sum of funding since devolution began in 1998. I saw for myself just this week the benefits that the levelling-up programme and the community renewal funding are making to community projects and businesses in Northern Ireland. That builds on the £2 billion from New Decade, New Approach and the £400 million new deal money, which will boost Northern Ireland. We will continue to do that to see Northern Ireland prosper in future.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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The Secretary of State will know that there is £300 million in a bank account in Stormont that cannot be spent because the Democratic Unionist party walked out of the Executive. He will also know that there are families in Northern Ireland who cannot heat their homes or feed their children. If the Executive cannot meet after the election, will he commit to working with me to get that money into people’s pockets as soon as possible?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I agree in part with the hon. Gentleman —it does not happen all that often at the Dispatch Box—because I want to see that money being spent for the benefit of people in Northern Ireland, but I disagree with his analysis of why it is not being spent. That is money from last year’s budget, and for a couple of years running now the current Department of Finance in Northern Ireland has consistently underspent. The Executive needs to find ways of ensuring that the money is properly spent.

I have to say that the hon. Gentleman has also identified a real issue with the Northern Ireland protocol, because the UK has put substantial extra money into the pockets of people across the UK through VAT and fuel duty cuts, but we cannot do some of that directly in Northern Ireland because of the protocol. We have therefore made that money available to the Executive and I want to see it get to the people of Northern Ireland.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Wednesday 26th January 2022

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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Yes. Again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government are unequivocal in our commitment to deliver for all those most impacted by the troubles, including those who served so bravely to protect life and country for people in Northern Ireland. As part of that process, I assure my hon. Friend that we will work closely—and we are working closely—with the Office for Veterans’ Affairs and my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence People and Veterans; in fact, we will be meeting this afternoon.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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Can I welcome the Secretary of State’s words at the outset? Fifty years ago this week, the Parachute Regiment were sent to my city to murder 14 people—people who were unarmed, marching for civil rights—[Interruption.] And I would condemn that as well, as well the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) knows. Last weekend, Parachute Regiment flags were flown on the outskirts of Derry. The Parachute Regiment rightly condemned the flying of those flags as a grossly offensive act against the victims of Bloody Sunday, but they have yet to apologise for and condemn the actions of their soldiers on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972. Does the Secretary of State think they should?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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As I have outlined, as the Prime Minister said at the time and as I have said in responding to public inquiries recently, we as the Government must accept responsibility for what has happened in the past. When things are wrong, we need to be clear about that, as we have been. It is right that we have apologised for that, and I have added my own personal apology to that of the Government. We also need to ensure that we all work together to find a way forward to ensure that people are clear that violence is not an answer to anything in Northern Ireland or elsewhere.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Wednesday 8th December 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right: prosperity is an important part of peace and is what has led to the peace that we have seen over the past 23 years. Northern Ireland is benefiting from being part of the fifth largest economy in the world. In addition, it is receiving its largest funding settlement since devolution. We are investing to ensure that we level up in Northern Ireland, with £60 million this year from the levelling-up fund, the community renewal fund and the community ownership fund, as well as £400 million from the new deal for Northern Ireland and more than £600 million in city and growth deal investment to drive growth. We will continue to build back better and level up in Northern Ireland through the upcoming UK shared prosperity fund, as well as the global Britain investment fund.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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The Downing Street declaration states,

“on the behalf of the British Government, that they have no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland.”

That is a direct quote from the declaration—signed, of course, by a Conservative Prime Minister. Does this British Government still agree with that principle, or are they going to abandon the consent principle that means the people of Ireland, north and south, will decide the constitutional future of our island, not the British Government or anybody else?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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We are absolutely clear, as we have been consistently, about our dedication to and determination to continue to deliver on the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, which includes the principle of consent. This Government understand the difference between consent and impartiality and make no apologies, just as I make no apologies for being a Conservative and a unionist who believes in the Union and that the Union is stronger for Northern Ireland’s being in it. That does not detract from the reality that the future of Northern Ireland is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Wednesday 27th October 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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It was disappointing in the summer when one of the political parties tried to bring down Stormont with various threats about what it was going to do. At the moment it is important that we see stability at Stormont. We had the legislation yesterday in the Chamber and I am sad the hon. Lady was unable to join us on something she clearly cares about. It is important that we see stability there, working with all the parties and making sure they are delivering on what the people of Northern Ireland care about. That has to be the main focus and the legislation going through the House at the moment will help with that, but the way we keep stability at Stormont is around not legislation in Westminster but the political parties at Stormont focusing on working together to reform education, healthcare and the other issues that matter for the people in Northern Ireland.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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9. What progress the Government are making on implementing the commitments set out in the New Decade, New Approach agreement.

Northern Ireland Protocol

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Wednesday 21st July 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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We have always said that we cannot take any options off the table, but we want to work through this in a negotiated way to get a realistic solution that delivers for the people in Northern Ireland. We have been speaking consistently over this year, both Lord Frost and myself, with the Cabinet Office lead on the negotiation on the protocol and with European Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič directly. I think the European Commission does recognise that there are issues that need to be resolved. The challenge we have had is getting agreement on the resolutions.

One of the reasons we took the action we took in March to extend the grace period was that we got to a point where we needed an agreement to be able to ensure we were able to keep food products on the shelves. It was interesting at the time that the EU was complaining not about the process and the issues we were dealing with, but about the fact we had not done it by agreement. That comes back to the point the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) made: to work by agreement, ultimately, we need the EU, our partner, to also come to agree things in the first place. We have not managed to achieve that yet, but I am hopeful that, given where we are now and the proposal we are putting forward, there is a realistic way to do that in the months ahead.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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Mr Speaker,

“Northern Ireland is uniquely placed…to prosper from this deal.”

That is a direct quote from the Secretary of State last Christmas eve. Then on new year’s day he said:

“There is no ‘Irish Sea Border’…The government and businesses …are keeping goods flowing freely…between GB and NI.”

But then earlier this month he said that

“the current arrangements could corrode the link between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.”

This statement is the second attempt in one week that this Government have made to distance themselves from agreements they have negotiated. Why does the Secretary of State think that any other country, or any person in Northern Ireland, would trust anything that this Government say from this day forward?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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The implications and outworkings of the protocol are a frustration and a problem for people across communities, and it would be wrong of us as a Government to not recognise that there are problems with the protocol; the way that it is being implemented on the ground is causing problems for consumers and for businesses. I cannot believe for a moment that the hon. Gentleman would want the Government to sit back and see that continue and see his constituents be detrimentally affected by the way the EU wants this to be implemented. That is why it is important that we find a way forward to deliver this in a way that works for people across all of Northern Ireland.

Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Wednesday 14th July 2021

(3 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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Yes, I can absolutely give that assurance. We have been doing so over the past 18 months, and with wider civic society as well. We were certainly doing so in the intensive talks that began after the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference on 24 June. That process effectively started the week before last and will continue for the next few weeks, so we will certainly be doing that.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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In October 1990, Patsy Gillespie was abducted from his home by the IRA. His family were told he would be back soon, while being held at gunpoint. Patsy was then chained to the driver’s seat of a van filled with explosives and forced at gunpoint to drive that van to a nearby Army base. The IRA then remotely detonated the bomb, killing Patsy and five soldiers. Will the Secretary of State come with me and explain to his widow Kathleen why he wants to protect his killers from prosecution and even investigation?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman tends in this House, as we saw yesterday, to use emotive comments for soundbites, often for his own social media outlet. To use somebody’s harrowing experience and loss in that way says much about him. I would happily meet any victims to talk to them about the experience they have been through and why we need to be honest with them about what is achievable and how we help Northern Ireland to move forward in a positive way, rather than continuing to use harrowing experiences like that for political ends in the way he has done in the past 24 hours.

Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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My right hon. Friend asks a fair question—that is part of New Decade, New Approach, so it is a fair point. I outlined, I think in February or March this year, my ambition to bring something before the House before the summer recess; I still have that ambition, but I should also say clearly that we are determined to do what we have always said we would do, which is to engage with our partners—not only the Irish Government but the parties in Northern Ireland and victims’ groups, because whatever we bring forward has to have victims absolutely at its heart. We have to deal with information recovery and truth and reconciliation, because whatever we bring forward has to work properly for the people of Northern Ireland, so it is right that we take the time to do that properly and methodically, which I am looking forward to doing. We will do that and we are still absolutely committed to ensuring that we deliver on our manifesto pledge to the veterans community. I will touch on that a little more in a few moments.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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Will the Secretary of State explain very carefully for some people in this House who do not seem to understand that, if an amnesty is given to anybody—for example, if an amnesty is given to soldiers who maybe committed murder on the streets of Derry, Belfast or anywhere else—an amnesty would have to be given to everyone, including IRA members, Ulster Volunteer Force members and Ulster Defence Association members?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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As I said before, we want to ensure that we put forward a package that works for all of Northern Ireland and genuinely allows it a chance to move forward. One thing that we have heard consistently from civic society is a desire to move forward. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that whatever we do has to be balanced across the whole community. As I say, I will come back to that in separate legislation in due course—we are not dealing with legacy legislation today.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Wednesday 16th June 2021

(3 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I fundamentally disagree with the principle that the hon. Gentleman has just outlined. The reality is that the Good Friday/Belfast agreement—he has fallen into the trap that too many people fall into—has more than one strand. East-west is a vital strand, and we will continue to protect it. That is why it is important for people to recognise and understand that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and should have the same rights and access to products as anywhere in the United Kingdom.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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I, too, send my thoughts to Jo Cox’s family today.

With all the talk of sausages and the protocol, I hear very little from this Government on the benefits of the protocol for local producers. What is the Secretary of State doing to promote those benefits? Can he tell the people of Derry what exactly he and Lord Frost think is wrong with Doherty’s sausages?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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The hon. Gentleman and I agree on a number of things, including the quality of sausages from across Northern Ireland, which, as Members can probably tell, I get to enjoy from time to time. He makes a fair point, and it is at the heart of the issue. It should be a matter of consumer choice, not regulatory regime. The reality is that, as across the United Kingdom, consumers who go into a supermarket in my constituency in Great Yarmouth will see a range of products that is different from what they will see in the midlands, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. That is because of consumer choice, not regulatory command.

We have to ensure that Northern Ireland’s residents have the ability to make that choice. If the hon. Gentleman looks, as I know he does constantly, at the media, I have made the point a few times that, if we get the protocol to work in a proper, flexible, pragmatic way, it creates an opportunity for Northern Ireland. But we also have to be cognisant of the fact that, at the moment, it is causing real disruption and real problems for businesses and consumers in Northern Ireland, across the whole community, and it has an impact on people’s sense of identity in the Unionist community. We have to accept that, respond to it and deal with the protocol in a pragmatic way. That is why I think it is so important that the EU engages with people in Northern Ireland to get a real understanding of why Northern Ireland is such an important part of our United Kingdom.

Ballymurphy Inquest Findings

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Thursday 13th May 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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The Secretary of State says that the British Army made terrible errors in Northern Ireland. Joan Connolly was a mother of eight. She was shot four times by the British Army and was left lying on the ground for hours to die. That is not an error; that is sheer bloody murder. Will the Secretary of State ask the Prime Minister to come out of hiding, come with me to meet the Ballymurphy families and tell them to their faces why he wants to protect their killers?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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As I have outlined already today, the Prime Minister is contacting the families directly. There is his public apology on behalf of the state and he has had conversations with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, in which I joined him yesterday. Obviously, Members and colleagues will be aware that the report was published on Tuesday, which was the first full sight we had of it. We received it on Tuesday, and we put out a statement on the same day. Having had an opportunity for us to reflect on that report, I am now making a statement to the House of Commons. But, obviously, we will be considering it in more detail in the period ahead in order to ensure that we are able to reflect properly on it. As I said in my statement, it is right that we take accountability for the actions that were unacceptable, as the coroner’s court highlighted, but also that we are taking the time and opportunity to make sure we learn from the experiences of the past and also, coming back to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) a few moments ago, take account of what we have learned since 2014 about how we can move forward in a more efficient and effective manner that delivers for families and victims so that we get to the truth.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Wednesday 21st April 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I am afraid the hon. Gentleman betrayed a lack of understanding, in the sense that people of the whole community of Northern Ireland are affected by these problems and the outworkings of the protocol. Whether it is somebody who has a nationalist constitutional view or a Unionist constitutional view, the practical outworkings for both consumers and businesses are real for the whole community. There is an added sense, as I outlined earlier, that the identity of the loyalist Unionist community in Northern Ireland has been affected, so the Prime Minister was absolutely right. It is helpful in that it clearly recognises—the hon. Gentleman sadly does not—the sense of injustice and feeling of attack on identity that is there in the Unionist community. We have to be clear that we recognise that and want to deal with that with our partners in the EU. To pretend it is not there simply is not going to handle the problem.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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Dissident republicans tried to murder a police officer and her young child in County Derry this week. I take this opportunity, as an Irish nationalist, to send those dissident republicans a very clear message: your quarrel is not with the police, it is not with the British state; it is with the people of Ireland and that is a battle you will never, ever win.

Given the Prime Minister’s very speedy response to an issue about football—as important as that is—compared with the quickness of his response to the violence on the streets of Northern Ireland for almost 10 days, does the Secretary of State agree with me that we need an active, engaged and interested Prime Minister in dealing with our peace process?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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Yes, absolutely, and I am very proud of the fact that we do. We have a Prime Minister who has been very much engaged. The hon. Gentleman should look at the Prime Minister’s comments and the fact that he was talking to the Taoiseach in the early stages. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks about dissident republicans. The Prime Minister has been actively involved. He has been in full communication all the way through this process. In terms of looking at how people deal with this, I would just say that all Members of this House, including some in the hon. Gentleman’s own party, need to think very carefully when they are tweeting things that could be seen as incendiary to make sure we all take the right tone on these matters to ensure we return calm for people as quickly as possible.

Northern Ireland

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Tuesday 13th April 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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The hon. Gentleman has a long-held and strong passion for Northern Ireland and has always worked in a collegiate way to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland are well supported. He is absolutely right about bringing people together, which is what we have been doing. As I have outlined, it is important that we encourage our friends and partners around the world, including the EU, to do that. The Prime Minister has been integrally involved in Northern Ireland and was actually there just a couple of weeks ago.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, but I have to say that I am disappointed by the lack of any acceptance of culpability from his Government in respect of how they have dealt with the Brexit issue from the start and how they have not been honest with the Unionist population in Northern Ireland. Church leaders have asked us to come together to deal with this crisis in our peace process. Despite what the Secretary of State has said, policing may be devolved but peace is not devolved. We all have a responsibility to deal with this situation. Why will the Secretary of State and his Government not convene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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On the hon. Gentleman’s last comment, he might want to have a look through Hansard later and reread my remarks, because that is not what I said. It is actually quite the opposite—I have spoken to the Irish Government—so I suggest he has a look at what I actually said.

It is very misleading to try, as I said earlier, to legitimise or even to simplify—I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is not legitimising it, to be fair—what we have seen over the past few weeks and the tensions around Brexit. As many of us know—I know the hon. Gentleman knows this because it was outlined to him and me by the Chief Constable at the end of last week—there is a multifaceted set of issues, not least some of the brilliant work that the PSNI has done to crack down on crime. Some of that has been rehearsed today.

I have faith in the Northern Ireland Executive and Ministers, one of whom is a member of the hon. Gentleman’s party, to do their work to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland. The Executive came together just a few weeks before covid came upon us all last year. The way in which they have worked through the last year—staying together and working together for the people of Northern Ireland—has been a phenomenal achievement and huge credit goes to all those involved. I have faith in them to do the work that is devolved to them. I will continue to support them in that and to support the PSNI to do the job that it is focused on doing: keeping everybody in Northern Ireland safe.

Northern Ireland Protocol

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Wednesday 10th March 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes a really important point, and I am determined, as the Prime Minister is, to ensure that the great British banger—the great Norfolk sausage—will continue to be enjoyed by those who wish to do so across the counties of Northern Ireland in perpetuity. However, it is important—this is why the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) was absolutely right—that we use these grace periods to get long-term solutions.

My hon. Friend is also absolutely right that our commitment to the Good Friday/Belfast agreement is steadfast. That is why all the actions we have taken, both last year and recently, have been about ensuring that we do not have borders, and that we respect the north-south and east-west dimensions. There is another important point here, which I hope has come through in the conversations we have been able to organise with Vice-President Šefčovič recently: it is important to understand the effect on the sense of identity that people in the Unionist community in Northern Ireland have. After the actions of that Friday a few weeks ago, it is important to repair that.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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It really is a new experience to be lectured by the European Research Group about the Good Friday agreement. Last week, the Secretary of State rushed out—sneaked out—an announcement unilaterally on Budget day that his Government would once again break international law. Given that Governments across Europe and politicians on Capitol Hill and in the White House are furious about this move, is the Secretary of State at all concerned that this Government’s reputation is in tatters across the world?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am afraid that I have to contradict the hon. Gentleman on pretty much every point he has just made. First of all, I do not think it is sneaking out of the House to stand here and make these points at oral questions, as we did last week. I outlined at oral questions the measures that we were taking, and obviously colleagues asked questions on them. We published the written ministerial statement, as well as, obviously, publishing guidance and other matters more publicly after that. So I do not think that really qualifies for that.

In terms of lawfulness, these are lawful actions, as I outlined last week and I have outlined already this afternoon in answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley. They are about implementing the protocol and they fit with our obligations under the protocol. We will continue to make sure that we deliver on that in a pragmatic and flexible way to work for the people of Northern Ireland. It is indeed international, but this is a lawful action.

I would just say that, bearing in mind that the Irish Government took similar action themselves just a few weeks ago and that these are temporary, pragmatic operational things to ensure that the protocol can work and to avoid further tensions and problems for people across communities in Northern Ireland, I would hope that people across the EU and our friends in the US will see that this is an important piece of work that we have done to ensure that we can deliver on the protocol, respecting the Good Friday agreement in all its strands—not just north-south but, importantly, east-west as well.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Wednesday 3rd March 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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In classic House of Commons terms, I refer the hon. Gentleman to an answer I gave a few moments ago: he will see our position in a written ministerial statement later today that deals with that very issue.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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As the Secretary of State knows, we did not want Brexit, but we do have the protocol and the protocol is here to stay, despite what anybody else might say. It does give us a competitive advantage. Will he work with me to make the most of that competitive advantage by getting rid of the maximum student numbers cap and the historical under-provision of university places for Northern Ireland?

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Wednesday 2nd December 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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If only the hon. Lady was talking to Northern Ireland businesses directly, as my team and I do regularly, most weeks. The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), also engages with businesses in Northern Ireland, as we have been doing consistently throughout this process—including Stephen Kelly, who I do know. It is the information from businesses that fed into the Command Paper that we issued earlier in the year, as well as the guidance that we issued and the work that we are doing to ensure not just that we have unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to mainland Great Britain—I hope that she and other colleagues will support us in ensuring that it is in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill to deliver unfettered access, which she claims in her question to support—but also that we get a good free flow of access to ensure that the whole UK internal market can work together, including Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP) [V]
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Given the fact that the Secretary of State has already admitted that the clauses removed by the Lords from the UK Internal Market Bill will break international law, and that the Irish Government, the new US President-elect and the people of Northern Ireland believe that those clauses breach the Northern Ireland protocol, will he commit today to not reinstating them in the Bill next week?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Actually, what those clauses have been about is ensuring that we have unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to Great Britain. That is something inherent in the protocol. It plays a part in delivering on one of the key sentences in the first few paragraphs in the Northern Ireland protocol that says we will ensure that we do not disrupt the everyday lives of people in their communities. I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would support us in ensuring the Northern Ireland businesses can trade in mainland Great Britain as part of the United Kingdom. That is what those clauses are about, as an insurance policy, but obviously our main focus and aim is to secure the right agreement for a wider free trade agreement with the EU, and, indeed, to work with the specialist Joint Committee.

Patrick Finucane: Supreme Court Judgment

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Monday 30th November 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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My right hon. Friend makes a strong point. I know how much time and effort she put into these issues when she was in my role as Secretary of State. She is absolutely right. As I have said, and as she and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) and former Prime Minister David Cameron have said, this case is an example of completely unacceptable behaviour that fell way below not just what we expect today but what we should have expected at any time. There is no escaping that fact, but this should equally not distract us from the fact that so many people so often give so much in the defence of our freedom, our safety and our security across the United Kingdom and have also done so in Northern Ireland, across the armed forces and through our services as well.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP) [V]
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I absolutely do not thank the Secretary of State for that statement. The British state murdered Pat Finucane, and the Secretary of State has failed miserably to do right by his family today. Does he not realise that he is sending out a clear message to all victims? That message is: “If you want the truth about what happened to your loved ones, don’t come looking for it here.”

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I am afraid that I would say quite the opposite. I am saying clearly that there is a process that we will go through and that we want to ensure that we abide by and meet our article 2 obligations. We will assess this again following the PSNI investigation and the police ombudsman’s work. That is a clear message about following proper due process and letting those investigations work through to see what information we can bring out. Ultimately, the aim of all the work we should be doing on the legacy is to ensure that we secure information for families who have been waiting for it for far too long.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Wednesday 4th November 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I simply do not agree with that outline. Apart from the discussions that I have had with food producers and, indeed, the suppliers and retailers of food across Northern Ireland, one of the key things we have always been focused on delivering is unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the market across the whole United Kingdom. We are still focused and determined to do that, and that is what the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill delivers. I am confident that the work of the specialist joint committee will be completed to ensure that we continue to have that good, free flow of goods, so that Northern Ireland continues not just to be an integral part of the United Kingdom, but to have a unique opportunity to develop its economy as we leave the European Union after the transition period, from January 2021.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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The Secretary of State will be aware that the conversation about our constitutional future is happening right across our community and every family in Northern Ireland. Of course, the Good Friday agreement provides the mechanism for dealing with that constitutional future through a unity referendum. Will the Secretary of State tell us exactly what criteria he will use in future to determine when a border poll will be called?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I agree with the hon. Gentleman in the sense of people having a strong constitutional debate. We are seeing that across the United Kingdom and I encourage that; I think it is important that we all look at and discuss the strength and importance of the Union. In Northern Ireland, we have seen about £2.4 billion of support, because it is part of the UK, as we deal with covid. On his specific question, the High Court, in a recent judicial review on this very matter, agreed that there is no legal requirement, nor that it is in the public interest for the Government to set out a specific policy detailing any fixed criteria on the holding of a poll.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Wednesday 30th September 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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Yes, as I outlined at the time of the written ministerial statement, we absolutely do follow through and we intend to follow through on the principles of Stormont House. It is hugely important that we are all working with all communities, and particularly the families and the victims who suffered so much through the troubles. I was so pleased that we are finally seeing the victims’ payment scheme going forward. It is a hugely important step for all those people in Northern Ireland.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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Some Members of this House want an amnesty for veterans who served in Northern Ireland. In 1976, Majella O’Hare, who was 12 years old, was walking with her friends to church. She was shot twice in the back, and killed, by a British paratrooper. Does the Secretary of State believe that that paratrooper should be immune from prosecution?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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The hon. Gentleman will know that I am unable to comment on any particular cases, but we all recognise the sensitivities, difficulties and complexity of all the issues that come through the troubles, which people in Northern Ireland have been dealing with for a very long time. We have made a commitment through NDNA, and as I did in the written ministerial statement earlier this year, to find a way to work through this, working with all parties and all communities in Northern Ireland, and we are still determined to deliver on that.

Northern Ireland Protocol: UK Legal Obligations

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Tuesday 8th September 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are doing this in order to ensure that we can always deliver the wider objective of the protocol, which is to protect peace in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Belfast agreement, and to do so as part of the protocol, outlining, as we did in the Command Paper, how we would deal with those issues that are still outstanding—if they are outstanding—at the end of December.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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The truth is that, whatever reassurances the Secretary of State gives today, the people in Northern Ireland simply cannot trust a word that comes out of this Tory Government’s mouth. At every single turn, they have used us as a bargaining chip, as a useful tactic and as part of a cynical game. Rather than taking his steer from cosy chats with the Democratic Unionist party, will he once and for all accept that people in Northern Ireland—the majority voice in Northern Ireland—will accept nothing less than the full implementation of the protocol?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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If the hon. Gentleman looks at what we have been doing on the protocol, such as the dedicated mechanism, the settled status scheme and the live animals and agrifoods work that we have done on sanitary and phytosanitary checks, he will see that we are delivering on the protocol and delivering on what we said we would do, as we did with the rules and regulations that we passed this year, not least on victims’ pensions. We have a good track record of delivering and doing exactly what we say we want to do. One thing that we said we would do, that we outlined we would do, and that we have a manifesto pledge and a mandate to do was to deliver unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses, and we will do that.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Wednesday 24th June 2020

(4 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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Absolutely. I have had the great honour and pleasure over the past few weeks of being able to meet some of the teams in the ambulance service and the PSNI, who have been working through the covid period in some very difficult circumstances, having to prepare themselves to go out to work to keep people safe and healthy. We owe them all a huge debt of thanks for the amazing work they have done over this period to keep people safe and healthy; I absolutely join my hon. Friend in welcoming that.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP) [V]
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Of course, keeping people safe in Northern Ireland should always be the priority. However, that has not always been the case. In 1981, Paul Whitters, aged 15, was killed in Derry, and Julie Livingstone, aged 14, was killed in Belfast. Both were killed with plastic bullets. The files relating to their deaths have been reclassified and withheld until 2059 and 2064 respectively. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is no good reason to keep those files closed, and will he now act to allow the parents of those children to see the files?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I have enormous sympathy for those families who lost loved ones—especially children, which is a tragedy—during the troubles. The files mentioned by the hon. Member are currently held by the National Archives and were closed to protect the privacy, health and safety of individuals named in those files. A freedom of information request to the National Archives is the most appropriate next step to enable a full independent review of the files. Such a request can be made by anyone, including the hon. Member, and my Department would provide any necessary assistance to the National Archives if such a request were received.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Colum Eastwood and Brandon Lewis
Wednesday 13th May 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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What discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on the EU’s request to establish an office in Belfast.

Brandon Lewis Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Brandon Lewis)
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I have regular discussions with the Executive on the protocol and wider matters, and I look forward to having further productive discussions with Ministers before the end of the transition period.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood [V]
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I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. But given the dismissive attitude of some in his Government on this particular issue, how can we in Northern Ireland have any confidence that he will faithfully implement the Northern Ireland protocol? Given all that is happening right now, is it not surely the time to begin to agree to a transition period extension so that we can finally get a proper agreement on Brexit, which is, in our view, impossible to do at this time?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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There is no reason why the European Commission should be requiring a permanent presence in Belfast to monitor the implementation of the protocol. We are focused on our determination to ensure that we fulfil all of our obligations to deliver on the protocol. The best way we can give certainty and confidence for business is to follow through and deliver on our promise to make sure that we leave and have everything in place at the end of December this year.