Brandon Lewis is Northern Ireland Secretary, and is MP for Great Yarmouth.
There can be no doubt that we are living through extraordinary and unprecedented times. In only a matter of weeks, our everyday lives have changed dramatically. But this Conservative Government is committed to standing side by side with everyone in this country as we all make sacrifices to shield the most vulnerable, protect the NHS and save lives.
As the Prime Minister has said, we cannot guarantee that no-one will suffer hardship as a result of this coronavirus outbreak but we are determined to put our arms around every individual, and businesses both large and small, in Northern Ireland and across the rest of the UK.
Protecting people is at the heart of our strategy to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 and we will do our utmost to support individuals, families and businesses, with the economic measures we have put in place on a scale not seen since the Second World War.
And as a crucial part of our efforts, we have promised to work hand in glove with the devolved administrations – to guarantee comprehensive and coordinated measures are in place to protect our families and communities, wherever in the UK you may live.
For me, that means my focus is on working as closely as possible with the Northern Ireland Executive to provide the support it needs to take concerted and decisive action to combat the unprecedented challenges of this pandemic. I am in regular contact with the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and the rest of the Executive via phone and video conferencing. And I am redoubling my engagement with the Northern Ireland business community because now more than ever they need to know that despite our current challenges we are committed to ensuring UK connectivity remains strong.
People in Northern Ireland have been pulling together in the most amazing ways over the last few weeks – with businesses stepping in to ensure medical supplies arrive at hospitals and food is on the shelves at supermarkets. It is just one example of the resilience and resolve that characterises our great country.
In the last few weeks, we have seen the start of Twitter film clubs and musicians doing live concerts from their living rooms. People are hosting video coffee mornings, organising Skype parties, starting e-dining clubs and pitching in to local community WhatsApp groups offering to collect shopping for elderly neighbours or those who are self-isolating.
And if all of us continue this commitment to social distancing and stay at home as much as possible, we will be able to save thousands of lives. Now more than ever, we will be turning to our families, friends and neighbours for support. And our Conservative family – in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – can be a lifeline for those who are vulnerable or living on their own.
I posted my first campaign leaflet when I was 11 and I grew up surrounded by an extended Conservative family. And having been Party Chairman I have had the privilege of attending countless events on the campaign trail and many a social gathering – I have seen the power of our community spirit. It is now time to turn that spirit into action, to help everyone, wherever they live, in cities, towns and villages across all of our four nations.
The Government is in no doubt that we are asking a lot, but for us to succeed this must be a collective national effort, across the length and breadth of the country. As the Conservative and Unionist Party we are proud of our family of nations – we believe together England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are safer, stronger and more prosperous. For more than 300 years our people have built this country together and it is at times of national crisis such as this that we are able to truly see the strength of the bonds that unite us.
We may be facing an invisible enemy but it is beatable. And together – will come out the other side, stronger and with a greater appreciation of the power of our shared unity of purpose. Huge sacrifices are being made in all four corners of the United Kingdom as we tackle this crisis; from the NHS workers and social care staff working tirelessly on the frontline, to the key workers keeping the country running and those whose routines and normal lives have been put on hold as we all heed the necessary advice to stay at home and save lives.
This is a once in a generation challenge – let us be able to look back at this defining moment in our shared history and remember how we all stood together, shoulder to shoulder in every corner of the UK and faced this battle as one strong United Kingdom.