‘Agree­ment on the ta­ble is good for all of the UK’

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS | POLITICS - David Lid­ing­ton

Next week MPs will vote to de­cide the UK’s fu­ture once we leave the Euro­pean Union. They have a choice: a smooth and or­derly exit from the EU, with the cer­tainty set out in the With­drawal Agree­ment, or risk­ing a no-deal Brexit, with the dam­age that that would do to our man­u­fac­tur­ing, food and farm busi­nesses, or the divi­sion of go­ing back to square one and re­vers­ing the ref­er­en­dum re­sult of just two years ago.

The agree­ment that is on the ta­ble rep­re­sents a good deal for all parts of the United King­dom.

As part of this deal, a lot of at­ten­tion has been fo­cused on the back­stop.

The back­stop is an in­sur­ance pol­icy; both the UK and Ir­ish Gov­ern­ments, as well as the EU them­selves have made clear they want to pri­ori­tise the over­all fu­ture re­la­tion­ship and en­sure our com­mit­ments to the peo­ple of North­ern Ire­land are met through the com­pre­hen­sive and per­ma­nent new eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship, rather than ever hav­ing to en­ter the back­stop.

Our pri­or­i­ties are clear. To pre­serve the in­tegrity of the United King­dom, to up­hold the Belfast (Good Fri­day) Agree­ment, and to avoid a hard border in any cir­cum­stances so that peo­ple and busi­nesses that rely on an open border be­tween North­ern Ire­land and Ire­land can con­tinue liv­ing their lives and op­er­at­ing as they do now.

Cru­cially, the com­mit­ment to North­ern Ire­land’s con­sti­tu­tional sta­tus and the prin­ci­ple of con­sent is crys­tal clear in the With­drawal Treaty, as the At­tor­ney Gen­eral set out in the House of Com­mons on Mon­day. And it will en­sure that North­ern Ire­land’s busi­ness con­tin­ues to have un­re­stricted ac­cess to both the EU and UK mar­kets.

As a Con­ser­va­tive and Union­ist I firmly be­lieve that a Brexit deal that works for peo­ple here in North­ern Ire­land is im­por- tant for the fu­ture of our Union and the con­sent on which it rests. As one re­cent poll showed, there is sup­port in North­ern Ire­land from across the com­mu­nity for a sen­si­ble Brexit deal that avoids a hard border. It is not re­al­is­tic to hope that by re­ject­ing ev­ery op­tion on Brexit, we could some­how still emerge with a plan that re­spects their views and the unique cir­cum­stances of North­ern Ire­land.

In­deed tak­ing such a risk could have pro­found im­pli­ca­tions, par­tic­u­larly on the econ­omy. I was in Belfast yesterday and the mes­sage from busi­nesses was clear: com­pa­nies in North­ern Ire­land need clar­ity and cer­tainty so that they can get on with their busi­ness, and pro­tect jobs and liv­ing stan­dards.

This deal pro­vides that cer­tainty for busi­ness in North­ern Ire­land. That is re­flected in the over­whelm­ing sup­port it has re­ceived from groups such as the Fed­er­a­tion of Small Busi­nesses North­ern Ire­land, who I met yesterday, and the wider busi­ness com­mu­nity here.

It gives the re­as­sur­ance needed for busi­ness to in­vest and ex­pand, know­ing that the un­cer­tainty of a no deal sce­nario, and all that could go with it, will have gone.

Politi­cians of all par­ties have an im­por­tant de­ci­sion to make when it comes to the vote in the House of Com­mons on this agree­ment. They will be ac­count­able for this most im­por­tant of de­ci­sions.

They will have to be able to jus­tify ig­nor­ing the clear call to get this deal done and take the risk, with no other al­ter­na­tive on the ta­ble to take us back to square one, with more divi­sion and more un­cer­tainty.

For my part, I will con­tinue to work to en­sure that we rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests of North­ern Ire­land — just as of Eng­land, Wales, and Scot­land — as we look to the fu­ture. I hope that in the days ahead my col­leagues in the House of Com­mons will con­sider the choice put to them, and lis­ten to calls from busi­ness to de­liver cer­tainty and op­por­tu­nity for all parts of the United King­dom.

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