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New East-West council ‘will focus on the health of the union’, says Steve Baker

The UK East-West Council will focus on the “health of the union”, minister Steve Baker has said.

The Northern Ireland Office minister welcomed the setting up of the council as part of the Safeguarding the Union document earlier this year, adding it was “too easy to neglect the union”.

The council will meet for the first time on March 26 in Northern Ireland.

A meeting of the House of Lords Sub-Committee on the Windsor Framework on Wednesday heard it will be attended by UK Government and Stormont Executive ministers, but there are plans to widen it to members of other devolved institutions in the UK.

The council aims to focus on boosting connectivity within the UK, cultural and educational links and Intertrade UK, as well as following up the command paper proposal for an enhanced investment zone to cover all of Northern Ireland.

Conservative MP Mr Baker said the country has come through a process of realising the “importance of all parts of the UK”.

“For me, actually, speaking as an English MP, it has been very easy for a long time to neglect the union,” he told peers.

“Very rarely is the union a high priority in an English constituency and I think other constituencies will be similar.

“What I think we’ve been through here is a process of realising just how important all parts of the United Kingdom are to the whole, and I think that what the command paper does and what the East-West Council will facilitate is a focus on that overall health of the UK as a whole.

“My hope is that the East-West Council, rather than being about ministers coming together to decide policy and resolve issues of collaboration on particular subjects, the East-West Council will be more holistic, and I hope foster a more wide-ranging dialogue between all the nations in the UK so that we don’t end up once again, in a sense, neglecting the union.”