Below is the text of the speech made by Sammy Wilson, DUP MP for East Antrim, in the House of Commons on 11 May 2020.
May I, on behalf of my party, express our sympathies to those who have lost loved ones during this health crisis, and to those in the health service who have, manfully and womanfully, worked hard to ensure that lives are saved?
We welcome the Government’s measures, and the announcements made in the Chamber today and by the Prime Minister last night. It is, of course, very difficult to balance the economic needs of the country with the imperative to safeguard people’s health. With hindsight, many people might criticise some of the things that the Government have done, but I believe that the decisions that were taken have had success in reducing the death toll and helping many businesses to survive, and we welcome many of the measures to be introduced.
I believe that dealing with the virus and how we get out of lockdown should be approached on a UK-wide basis. Of course there are going to be different nuances and conditions in different regions of the United Kingdom. For example, in Northern Ireland we have a different school year from other parts of the United Kingdom, so some of the education measures may well be different. The peak of the virus is also different in different regions, so that may lead to different timings. Nevertheless, a UK-wide approach is important.
A number of Members have already mentioned the fact that we share a common border with the Irish Republic. Surprisingly, despite the Good Friday agreement and the emphasis that the Irish Government have placed on it, at every step of this crisis they have not consulted the Administration in Stormont. When they had the lockdown, they did not consult. When they relaxed some of their measures, they did not consult. They are even taking a different approach to quarantining people who come in from outside Ireland and would eventually finish up in the United Kingdom. I think it is important that we have a UK-wide approach. We appreciate the co-operation that there has been on a weekly basis with the Administration in Stormont by Westminster.
Looking forward is the important thing, because many businesses are concerned about what happens when the lockdown stops and this situation finishes. We see a number of issues. First, there has to be no cliff edge, but a tapering of the job retention scheme, which has been so vital to ensuring that workers have some money on which they can live and that employers do not have to lay off vital workers and then have to recruit them again.
Secondly, various sectors of the economy have been hit far more than others. Tourism in Northern Ireland is an important sector of the economy, and it will take some time for it to ramp up. It is important that we look at sectoral support.
Thirdly, many companies have already taken on additional debt through the bounce back loans and the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, but they are debt-heavy, and there needs to be some reconsideration of how that leverage is reduced and debt replaced with equity. The banks have an important role to play in that, and I hope the Government will work with the banks. It is important that we work our way out of this together. I will finish, because I see you are rising to your feet, Madam Deputy Speaker.