The Government “will be setting out more detailed plans for extensive HMRC support for NI businesses” in the summer, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has said, as he faced cross-party calls for clarity over Brexit trade arrangements.
Tory chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee Simon Hoare said that businesses “don’t quite know what they are preparing for” in the run-up to the end of the transition period.
Speaking during Commons NI questions, Mr Hoare said: “(He) knows that NI business wants to prepare to make Brexit a success, the problem is that they don’t quite know what they are preparing for …
“Is he persuaded of the merits of providing stepping stones between now and December 31 so that business knows what to prepare for and in what time frame?”
Mr Lewis said: “We will set out further details to help businesses prepare for the end of the transition period at the earliest appropriate moment … further guidance will be published this summer to make sure that people and businesses know what they need to do to prepare for the end of the transition period which will be at the end of December this year.”
SNP Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) called for clarity for NI businesses, asking: “The minister says consultations are ongoing, but does he not see that this cannot drag into the autumn, that business needs clarity now, given the preparation for a no-deal exit takes months?
“If he cannot provide this then he owes it to business to extend the transition period until proper answers are found.”
Mr Lewis said: “We will not be extending the transition period, we have made that point clear … We will be setting out more detailed plans for extensive HMRC support for NI businesses … and we will issue that guidance this summer.”
He added: “For NI businesses trading with the rest of the UK, they are part of the UK customs territory, they will have unfettered access.”
DUP Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley) asked: “Is the Government actively seeking a waiver from the EU to prevent the need for customs declarations on goods being shipped between GB and NI and how advanced are such discussions if they are taking place?”
Mr Lewis replied: “We do continue to take forward discussions on the implementation of the Protocol … Provisions must include the minimum possible bureaucratic consequences for businesses and traders and we will respect what we have promised, which is unfettered access.”
He added: “There should be no tariffs in internal UK trade because the UK is a single customs territory.”
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary (interim) Louise Haigh raised concerns over aerospace job losses.
She said: “Six hundred job losses at Bombardier, 400 at Thompson Aero, another 200 at risk from the cancellation of the Airbus Neo project.
“Northern Ireland cannot afford to lose these jewels in the crown of their economy. So will the Secretary of State ensure the Government steps in with a strategy and support for the aerospace sector similar to that provided by France, Germany and the US?”
Mr Lewis responded: “We are determined to do everything we can to support all sectors of our economy and obviously from my point of view the NI economy as well.”
Labour’s Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) called for the Government to increase defence procurement to support the aerospace sector in Northern Ireland.
She said: “Northern Ireland is reported to be heading for a prolonged economic downturn. Its aerospace industry is in crisis, with significant job losses from Bombardier and Thompson Aero.
“The Secretary of State could stop further decline by putting pressure on the Treasury to accelerate defence procurements. Why hasn’t he?”
Responding, Northern Ireland minister Robin Walker said: “The Covid-19 outbreak has had a severe impact on the aviation and aerospace sectors around the world.
“The UK Government has already provided significant support to the sector, including through the business interruption scheme and the job retention scheme.”