Leaving the EU: Backstop Proposal

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th September 2018.

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Photo of Andrea Jenkyns Andrea Jenkyns Conservative, Morley and Outwood 12:00 am, 5th September 2018

What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential effect on the UK of the Northern Ireland backstop proposal.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The December joint report commits us to avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and to no new borders within the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister has been very clear that elements of the EU’s backstop proposal are unacceptable. It would, if implemented, undermine the UK common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK.

Photo of Andrea Jenkyns Andrea Jenkyns Conservative, Morley and Outwood

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in her discussions with the Government of the Irish Republic she has emphasised that Irish insistence on a backstop that would force Northern Ireland, or indeed the whole of the UK, to remain in parts of the EU or its customs union are unacceptable and the surest way to deliver a no deal?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I can assure my hon. Friend that in my discussions with all parties and Governments in the European Union, I am very clear that the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom must be respected, and that means no border down the Irish sea and that all businesses in Northern Ireland must have unfettered access to UK markets, as my right hon. Friend Mr Harper indicated earlier.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I appreciate what the Secretary of State has said, but does she fully understand the magnitude of the situation were there to be any move to impose a backstop, divergence or anything else that would separate us from the rest of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

We have been absolutely clear—the Prime Minister has been clear; I have been clear—that we respect the fact that the backstop has to be put into legal text, but that legal text has to be clear that the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom is sacrosanct.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

For two years I operated a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. I see no reason whatsoever why technology cannot make it very soft—indeed, invisible. Does the Secretary of State agree?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

My hon. and gallant Friend has great experience from his time in Northern Ireland, and I am sure he knows how difficult it was to police that border. Some 30,000 military and police personnel were unable to close the border, so I do not think that anybody should expect us to see a hard border today. However, I would be very happy to have a conversation with him about technology so that we can really explore all that.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

May I, from the bottom of my heart, congratulate Mr Vara on his long-deserved and well-merited elevation to the dizzy heights of Minister of State? I look forward to working with him.

There is, however, a cloud on the horizon. The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill contains a proposal unique in the United Kingdom for unfettered, unqualified stop-and-search along the border. We must never forget that there are those who have to police the border. Will the Secretary of State or Minister of State speak with their opposite numbers about the implications of this piece of ill-thought-out legislation, because I see trouble brewing on the border if it goes ahead?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Conservative Members are delighted that the hon. Gentleman is still in his place. When we saw the very welcome appointment of his colleague over the summer, we had concerns that that might have an impact on his position; we are grateful that it has not.

We are aware of concerns raised in Northern Ireland about that Bill, which deals specifically with the threat elsewhere, and we are having discussions and conversations to give assurances to those in Northern Ireland about the concerns that they have raised.