April 25, 2024

UK repeal of legal duty to protect all-island economy will have ‘little effect’

A UK government move to scrap a legal duty to protect an all-island economy will have little practical effect, Stormont’s economy minister has said.

Conor Murphy said economic links across the island of Ireland had developed organically in recent years, and he predicted that growth would accelerate in the time ahead, regardless of the contents of the UK government’s Safeguarding the Union command paper.

The paper pledges to repeal a section of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 that places a legal onus on ministers to protect the all-island economy.

Stormont Assembly
Sinn Féin economy minister Conor Murphy (Liam McBurney/PA)

The command paper said the clause was a source of concern for unionists, claiming it could have a “long-term distorting legal effect” that detracted from the UK government’s “actual priority” to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market and customs territory.

Leader of the Assembly Opposition, SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole, raised concern about the repeal commitment as he questioned Mr Murphy in the chamber on Monday.

“What action is he going to take to ensure that they don’t go ahead with that objectionable action?” asked Mr O’Toole.

The minister was fielding questions after outlining his new vision for economic growth in Northern Ireland.

“The fact is that the British government’s legal obligations in terms of that are something which I find difficult to find a measure of,” he told Mr O’Toole.

“The all-Ireland economy was growing anyway, organically. And the figures show that cross-border trade between 2015 and 2022 has gone from 2.8 billion euros to 10.2 billion euros.

Stormont Assembly
Leader of the Opposition, SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole (Liam McBurney/PA)

“So, regardless of what the British government were doing or not doing, there is a clear sense of growth there. I think that will only accelerate in terms of the new trading arrangements (post-Brexit) that have managed to come from that.

“And, so, I think, like a lot of others, I saw a lot of rhetoric related to the command paper, which was clearly designed to give comfort to people but in practical terms have very little effect.”

Mr Murphy added: “For our purpose, we will continue to promote (all-island economy) that because it makes sense economically for the whole island, just as we will promote east west trade, because that makes sense economically as well.

“And we will continue to try and press home the advantages that we have as part of that and create some sense of certainty. And, I say this very clearly – any attempt to create continued uncertainty around our trading arrangements will be damaging both in terms of our own indigenous companies and their desire to export but also in terms of attracting inward investment as well.

“And so I think what we need to do, and certainly a very clear message I’ve been getting from business both at home and internationally, is they want to see certainty, that certainly established, for things to settle down, and for people to come to terms with the new arrangements in the time ahead.”

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