Rishi Sunak has been asked to justify why access to the European Union’s single market is good for Northern Ireland while it is being denied to the rest of the UK due to Brexit.
Stephen Flynn quizzed the Prime Minister about his recent agreement with the EU during Wednesday’s Questions session in the Commons.
Sunak signed the “Windsor Framework” with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to overhaul the Northern Ireland Protocol on Monday, keeping it inside the single market while continuing to trade freely with the rest of the UK.
This means that goods coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will no longer need customs and regulatory checks if they are marked as being not intended for the EU market.
Speaking after the deal was signed, Sunak said: “Northern Ireland is in the unbelievably special position of having privileged access, not just to the UK home market … but also the European Union single market.
“That’s like the world’s most exciting economic zone.”
During PMQs, the SNP’s Westminster leader criticised the Prime Minister for not extending Northern Ireland’s access to the EU to the rest of the UK.
Flynn said: “Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that EU single market access was ‘special, exciting and attractive’.
“If that’s the case, why is he denying it to the rest of us?”
Sunak said he was disappointed with the comment and accused Flynn of “playing politics” with the situation in Northern Ireland.
He said: “Northern Ireland, as he [Flynn] well knows has a unique place in the United Kingdom and what we are trying to do is restore the balance inherent in the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and he would do well to acknowledge that.”
Flynn used Sunak’s comments on the EU’s single market to criticise Labour’s Brexit policy.
The SNP Westminster leader said: “Let’s be clear, what the Prime Minister said yesterday was that EU single market access would be a good thing for business.
“Of course, that’s in contrast to the leader of the Labour Party who said in December that EU single market access would not boost economic growth.
“Does it hurt the Prime Minister to know that the Labour Party believe in Brexit more than he does?”
But Sunak defended his agreement, saying it is “crucial” in avoiding a land border on the island of Ireland, which he said would be detrimental to business.
He said: “That is something that the Windsor Framework has sought to achieve and I believe delivers it.
“It is not about the macro issue of membership of the European Union, it’s about getting the right mechanisms in place to support businesses and communities in Northern Ireland.
“I would say to the honourable gentleman, he knows better than that, he knows this is about Northern Ireland and I hope he can support what we’ve agreed.”