Colum Eastwood slams Budget 2021 for 'total lack of ambition' for the north

Derry MP Colum Eastwood has slammed the British Government for a ‘total lack of ambition’ for the north in Budget 2021.

Thursday, 4th March 2021, 12:09 pm

He claimed the British Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the London government were keen to take credit for the move to extend the furlough scheme but he said their reluctance to provide clarity on the job support programme had led to much uncertainty last year.

"I do not know if anyone else can, but I can remember him being dragged, kicking and screaming almost, to extend the furlough scheme at Hallowe'en. That left businesses confused and not knowing what they were going to do, and people lost their jobs as a result of it. It is good, of course, that it has been extended, but there should never have been any doubt about that in my view," the SDLP leader said during a contribution in the British House of Commons.

Mr. Eastwood said Budget 2021 largely side-stepped the damaging impact the United Kingdom abrupt departure from the European Union has had.

Colum Eastwood
Colum Eastwood

"I also note very little mention of the B-word: Brexit was hardly talked about in the Chancellor’s speech. I wonder if that is because the OBR has said today that there will be a reduction of 0.5% in GDP in the first quarter alone because of Brexit.

"Many people, myself included, warned of the impact of Brexit. That was not heard, and pretending that the sunny uplands are coming as a result of Brexit is just beginning to be proven wrong with every passing week.

"There is that, plus the millions—millions—of pounds of funding from the European Union that is being stripped from the people of Northern Ireland and not replaced at all; not one penny replaced by this Government. It just shows us where this Government’s priorities lie when they relax the rules for the City of London and strip the people of Northern Ireland of unreplaced funds."

The Derry politician claimed Budget 2021 did little for the north west.

"We have heard, and I think this will be proven to be fairly empty, a lot of talk about levelling up for the north of England, but where is the levelling up for the north of Ireland? We know that the protocol, despite what some people want to allege, is a benefit to us, as a result of a very hard Brexit, because it allows our businesses to trade into the British market and into the European market unencumbered. That is a competitive advantage that nowhere else on these islands has. Where is the effort to maximise that competitive advantage?

"Where are the investment hubs, with incentives in places like Derry, which has been stripped and starved of funding from Governments and is at the worst end of all the economic league tables? Where is the support to maximise that benefit and to sell the benefits of the protocol around the world, instead of listening to some of the nonsense we have heard from some of my colleagues about how damaging the protocol is? It is just not the case," he remarked.

Mr. Eastwood said the Budget did not address the skills gap in the north that results in 'thousands upon thousands of people' being sent 'away from our shores to study elsewhere.'

"They do not come back. That strips our communities, our families and our economy of very highly skilled people," he said.

The SDLP leader also raised a tax anomaly thrown up by the Budget that will affect Derry more than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

"I am not somebody who would normally support low corporation tax, but the fact of the matter is that in Donegal, just across the border, corporation tax is 12.5%. In Derry, a mile away, it will soon be 25%. We take advantage of the protocol, and then we harm it by having a corporation tax double that just across the border. We know that small retailers are on their knees, and there is no mention of a windfall tax on Amazon, which is making an absolute fortune at the expense of those retailers," he maintained.

Mr. Eastwood said measures should have been taken to address NHS waiting times in the north which are far longer than in Britain.

"The Chancellor says that the NHS is deserving of immense praise. The people in it do not want his praise; they want more money. They want more money in their pockets and they want more money in the system. In Northern Ireland, our population is 30 times smaller than England’s, but our waiting lists are 100 times longer.

"Where is the investment in our health service to get us through covid and to begin to allow people to get proper access to the health service they deserve? The Northern Ireland Executive have announced a £500 million thank you payment for those workers. Waive the taxes on it and allow them to keep the money for themselves," he said.