Mr Speaker, this Bill should not be considered a controversial one. Absolutely not.
In March this year, the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal found that the NIP was lawful, but that it ‘subjugated’ Article VI of the Act of Union 1800 that ‘The subjects of Great Britain and Ireland shall be on the same footing in respect of trade and navigation, and in all treaties with foreign powers the subjects of Ireland shall have the same privileges as British subject’.
Pertinently, this Article has permitted free movement of goods within the UK for over two centuries.
The Court asserted that the NIP was outside the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, thereby confirming that the day-to-day matters impacted by the Protocol are not subject to the ‘cross community consensus’ principle which is at the heart of the peace process.
This is clearly an unsustainable position and we have heard from relevant ministers (and former ministers) that the EU is simply unwilling to re-negotiate the Protocol, which is puzzling as it is a fact that, legally, the Protocol is not a permanent arrangement. The EU itself said that Article 50 (the clause in the Lisbon Treaty that outlines the steps to be taken by a country seeking to leave the bloc voluntarily) did not provide a legal base for it to enter into a permanent relationship on trade and co-operation with the UK, allowing only for temporary or transitional arrangements until the UK left.
The Protocol could only be agreed under Article 50 because it was temporary - at the time, there was no certainty that a permanent trade and cooperation agreement between the UK and EU would be in place by the time we left the EU.
The EU refused the then Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Member for Maidenhead’s, request to negotiate our future trading relationship in parallel with our withdrawal on the grounds that the EU could not legally agree a permanent trading and cooperation agreements under Article 50. Such agreements could only be done with non-member states (under Article 218).
The UK had therefore to complete its Withdrawal Agreement under Article 50 before it could become a non-member state and start negotiating a permanent agreement covering trade and cooperation.
The Protocol is temporary - or the EU has not acted in good faith.
The NIP is not working for the U.K. It is not working in the best interests on the U.K. it is not working in the best interests of Northern Ireland’s residents, businesses or democracy. It needs to work for us as well as for the EU.
The number of regulatory checks currently required on goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Great Britain equates to 20 per cent of the total undertaken by the entire EU – all in order to protect 0.2 per cent of its trade. This defies the law of economics, proving that for the EU, this is a political decision – which can be changed.
Only 1/6 of good that move into Northern Ireland are determined to be at risk of entering the EU’s market and yet the Protocol subjects them all to the full range of processes.
Importantly, Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market is being undermined by these unnecessary checks and paperwork imposed by the Protocol. It is unnecessary burdensome bureaucracy, including full customs processes and onerous Sanitary and Phytosanitary import requirements even for goods staying within the UK and not going to the EU.
North-South trade links are important, but East-West trade links are also critical to the economic success of Northern Ireland; the value of Northern Ireland goods purchased from Great Britain was more than 4 times that from Ireland – GB is an essential supplier to businesses and consumers in Northern Ireland.
The Government could trigger Art 16 as the EU did in January this year, when it proposed to ban exports of vaccines across the land border. Lord Frost recently said “The whole moral basis for the Protocol [was] destroyed in unionism’s eyes…..It had shown that the EU’s interests came first, whatever the Protocol said. The situation has never recovered.”
Whilst the EU did step back from triggering of Article 16, the damage was done; distrust embedded within the Northern Ireland Assembly, leading the DUP to be unwilling go into government with Sinn Fein, leaving a democratic and political vacuum in Northern Ireland – far, far from ideal.
Article 16, allows for unilateral safeguarding measures if the Protocol causes “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade”. However, these measures must be “restricted with regard to their scope and duration” and we need a permanent solution.
We need a permanent solution for trade and democracy.
This Government has come up with such a solution; a new green and red lane approach backed by commercial data and a trusted trader scheme which will remove burdens on internal UK trade while avoiding a border on the island of Ireland, protecting both the EU single market and the UK internal market whilst vastly reducing bureaucratic and paperwork burdens for people and businesses.
Goods staying in the UK would go via the Green lane, free from unnecessary paperwork, checks and duties, and only ordinary commercial information required. This would reduce checks on agri-food goods, remove tariffs on UK trade and lift unnecessary bans on goods.
Goods going to the EU or moved by traders not in the new trusted trader scheme would be subject to the full checks, controls etc required by the EU to protect its Single Market.
The EU would not be at any disadvantage.
This Bill brings about necessary changes to the NIP as regards checks on goods coming from the U.K. to Northern Ireland. Who has an issue with that? The EU. But we have to ask why. Some members of this House have an issue with this. Again, we need to ask why. Why do some members of this House prefer to bow to the EU rather than seek to ensure that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom. Part of our constitutional territory. Of our sovereign nation.
This Bill will stop businesses in Northern Ireland having to follow EU rules, rather than U.K. rules.
This Bill will ensure that the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement remains intact. This Bill will preserve the integrity of our Union. Who would have an issue with that? This Bill ensures the integrity of the EU’s Single Market. Who would have an issue with that?
The context is still an open door for the EU with which to reach a negotiated position - but a realisation that this is not their public position and therefore a determination to do what is necessary (for all) to preserve peace, promote economic development in NI and ensure the integrity of the Union
This Government is not neutral on the Union. There should be nothing controversial or surprising about that. As the Prime Minister himself stated ‘The Government’s commitment to the Union is above politics."
This Bill is borne out of necessity; necessity to act in our national interest. Necessity to preserve the Belfast Agreement. Necessity to preserve the constitutional settlement that keeps Northern Ireland as part of the UK. Necessity to use international law to safeguard – protect - essential interests.
The Protocol needs to change and it is on these grounds, Mr Speaker, that I support this Bill.