Boosting our East-West linkages

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph ahead of the first meeting of the UK East-West Council, deputy First Minister Emma Little Pengelly said:

By Emma Little-Pengelly MLA

Lagan Valley

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"Later today, together with representatives from the Westminster, Scottish and Welsh governments, we will meet in Dover House, London for the inaugural East-West Council.

Now more than ever, closer cooperation matters. The United Kingdom is the most successful political Union the world has ever seen. If we are to build on this foundation however, a joined-up approach between the Government and each of the devolved administrations is essential.

The UK’s exit from the EU and the covid pandemic demonstrated the dangers of poor cooperation and we must learn that lesson. Strengthening ties between Northern Ireland and England, Scotland and Wales will have a transformative impact and benefit everyday life.

Promoting trade across the UK will sustain and create jobs across our Province and better road, rail, air and sea links will deliver new opportunities for our citizens to travel. School exchanges programmes allow our children and young people to make connections and gain an appreciation of the shared values and diversity that bind all of us together. For those passionate in preserving our unionist culture and identity, pursuing even greater East-West cooperation will also unlock a greater knowledge of where they came from and how those roots shape our families and communities today.

We have a plan to re-imagine and boost the East-West dimension through these new and permanent structures to bring representatives of Northern Ireland and Great Britain together.

I welcome the fact that the Government has moved swiftly to set the wheels in motion for the UK East-West Council in line with its commitments under the Safeguarding the Union Command Paper.

Whilst the Council has been created, this is not the end of the journey. This is day one and the real work is only just starting. We have got to use this new structure to strengthen the United Kingdom for the better of all our people. Whether it be trade, transport, education, sport or culture, the UK East-West Council will be a critical forum for building and strengthening connections between Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England.

There will be a clear focus on strengthening the UK internal market and raising the profile of Northern Ireland when it comes to future investment decisions taken by businesses and ministers in GB. The Council will also have a part to play in scrutinising government spending on language, identity and culture.

On the agenda today are plans for getting Intertrade UK up and running. This organisation will promote trade within the UK and support traders to provide goods and services for the whole UK. I am delighted that we will also discuss a prospectus for investment in Northern Ireland.

The East-West Council provides an opportunity to swing the pendulum back in thinking strategically about how the greatest political Union across the world can be strengthened for future generations.

The DUP is focused on building structures and implementing a forward-looking strategy which strengthens Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. This is the time for unionism to be growing rather than looking inward.

The East-West Council will also bolster the work we have undertaken to address harm caused to UK internal trade by the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Two years ago, we set out to bring the EU and the UK back to the negotiating table and get a better deal for Northern Ireland and piece by piece we are delivering. We reached an agreement with the UK Government on a balanced package of measures to safeguard Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom. Did we achieve everything we sought? No, we would like to get more goods out of the red lane, particularly for those companies who are manufacturing here.

Make no mistake, there are those who talk but have failed to deliver anything. The DUP will leave no stone unturned as we seek to use the East-West Council and Intertrade UK to usher in a new era of cooperation and prosperity throughout the United Kingdom."

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