Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Position

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:49 pm on 3rd December 2018.

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Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General 4:49 pm, 3rd December 2018

The right hon. Gentleman has thrown down the gauntlet in asking me to re-examine my support for the agreement. I do not mind confessing to him that I have wrestled with this question, because I am a Unionist and dislike any divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom; but I have had also to take into account first that this is an arrangement that we can avoid, and secondly that if we were in it, it would be as much an instrument of pain to the European Union as it would be to the United Kingdom.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to think of what the European Union is now accepting. It accepts that Northern Ireland can have free circulation of its goods not only into the single market, but to Great Britain. No other single market trader will have that advantage. Hundreds of single market traders throughout the European Union are going to resent the fact that the goods of a Northern Ireland business situated one mile north of the border can flow smoothly into the single market and smoothly into Great Britain, while theirs cannot. So there are real reasons, which the right hon. Gentleman and I can discuss at greater length, why I do not believe that this will become a permanent solution.

Let us suppose, however, that those negotiations broke down, or took an unreasonable length of time. All around the European Union there will be single market traders seeing the benefits that Northern Ireland can have, who will be induced by those benefits to ask, “Should we go on putting up with this uncompetitive arrangement?” And what are they likely to do? Why, they are likely to beat a path to the door of the Commission and the Court, and there to say, “Didn’t you say that article 50 is not a sound legal foundation for this arrangement?” And I tell you frankly, Mr Speaker, they are likely to win.