Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's trading future is secure, Tories pledge in election manifesto

By Staff Reporter

Northern Ireland's businesses will continue to enjoy unfettered access to the rest of the UK after Brexit, the Conservative Party has pledged in its manifesto.

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The Tories also vowed that Northern Ireland will be included in any new free trade agreements entered into by the UK with countries around the world.

The manifesto also promises the party will, if it forms the next UK Government, "maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of the UK's internal market".

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced considerable criticism over concerns his Brexit plans would cut Northern Ireland off from the rest of the UK by erecting bureaucratic trade barriers between businesses in Britain and Northern Ireland.

He has strongly rejected the criticism. In a general election leaders' TV debate last week, he insisted the province will leave the EU with the rest of the UK.

Earlier this month he also told a gathering of Conservative Party members in Northern Ireland there would be "no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind on goods crossing the Irish sea after Brexit".

In a section of the manifesto titled 'Standing Up For Northern Ireland' it states: "Northern Ireland enjoys huge benefits from membership of the United Kingdom and our country is stronger and richer for Northern Ireland being part of it.

"That is why we will never be neutral on the Union and why we stand for a proud, confident, inclusive and modern unionism that affords equal respect to all traditions and parts of the community."

The manifesto commits a future Conservative Government to "turbocharging" the NI economy, with specific mention of the devolution of corporation tax.

It also promises to consider devolving short-haul air passenger duty "to serve our goal of making our Union more prosperous and connected than ever before".

The document outlines a proposal for a UK Shared Prosperity Fund to "replace the overly bureaucratic EU Structural Funds - and not only be better targeted at the UK's specific needs, but at a minimum [to] match the size of those funds in each nation".

On security and legacy issues, the manifesto reaffirms the Conservatives' commitment to tackling terrorism and paramilitarism.

"We will also never forget the immense contribution of the police and Armed Forces in standing firm against terrorists in the past and the debt we owe them for peace today," it states.

"We will continue to seek better ways of dealing with legacy issues that provide better outcomes for victims and survivors and do more to give veterans they protections they deserve."

The manifesto highlights Tory plans to strengthen the Union, describing the UK as "the most successful political and economic union in history".

"Together, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are safer, stronger and more prosperous," it said. "For more than 300 years, our people have built this great country together. And we believe our best days lie ahead."

The manifesto commits to working with all sides to re-establish the Assembly.

The Conservative Party is running four candidates in Northern Ireland at next month's general election. One of them, sheep farmer Grant Abraham, is featured in the national UK manifesto document. He is standing in the Strangford constituency, where the DUP's Jim Shannon is defending a majority at the last election of more than 18,000.

Oπ Brexit: Leave the European Union with Boris Johnson's withdrawal agreement by January 31 and complete free trade discussions by the close of 2020.

Oπ Taxation: Freeze the three major taxes - income tax, VAT and national insurance - while abandoning a plan to lower corporation tax from 19% to 17% in a move saving £6 billion.

Oπ Health: A promise of an additional £34 billion in cash terms (including inflation) for the NHS to spend annually by 2024. They would add 50,000 new nurses and bring back their maintenance grant. Another 50 million more GP appointments, end hospital parking charges for millions of people and commit to an additional £1 billion per year for social care.

Oπ Education: Pledge to increase spending in England by £7.1 billion by 2022/23, raising teacher starting salaries to £30,000, roll out more free schools and stand by the academy programme.

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