This is a surprising thing. If the Ulster Farmers Union read this agreement, it would see that article 12 of the Northern Ireland protocol makes it clear that because state aid rules would apply to Northern Ireland, even if this UK Government decided to subsidise agriculture, the EU could cap any subsidy. The subsidy could apply differently in the rest of the UK from how it could apply in Northern Ireland. I could take Members through a range of other things in this agreement that the UFU conveniently has just dismissed but that will have an impact on its members. That is one reason why many farmers in my constituency are raging with the UFU.
One way of getting ourselves out of this is by having a free trade arrangement, which the EU may or may not deem as allowing us to get away from these shackles. The Attorney General makes it clear that although best endeavours to reach a free trade agreement are required, the EU could still argue, “We have done our best but it is still not in our interests.” Sixteen years later it could still be arguing, “We are doing our best” and still not be in breach of the obligations in this agreement. We know—Scottish Members should be aware of this—that the French Government have already said that they will use this as a cudgel to get further concessions from the UK Government on fishing, aviation and other things. Every other EU country will be doing the same and using the same tactic, so that is not an easy way out and we could still be negotiating this.
Significantly, the other method of getting out is for us to extend the transition period. There is great ambition shown in the withdrawal agreement about extending the transition period. Many people think that when we talk about extending the transition period we are talking about a few months. Well, according to the document it could be extended to “20XX”—we could still be at this in 100 years. This place could be refurbished, or even rebuilt, by the time we have got a free trade arrangement to replace the backstop.
The impact of this agreement on the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom is that Northern Ireland would be treated differently from other parts of the United Kingdom, which is something the Prime Minister promised would never happen. Northern Ireland industries are more export-orientated than any other region of the UK, because we have a small local market. We produce a third of the world’s aircraft seats. If someone has sat in row C or F, they have probably sat in a seat made in Kilkeel. We produce 40% of the world’s stone-crushing equipment. All that goes to markets mostly outside the EU, yet we would be excluded from participating in any trade deals that our Government might arrange with the rest of the world because we would be permanently part of the customs union unless the backstop were lifted. The backstop can be lifted only if and when the EU decides it is time to lift it.
I say to those on the Government Front Bench that we had an arrangement to keep the Government in power and working between now and the end of this fixed-term Parliament. Promises were made. In December, we sat with the Prime Minister in Downing Street and she said, “I will make sure that Northern Ireland has the final say in this because the Assembly will be the final arbiter as to whether or not these arrangements are put in place.” Those promises were taken out of the agreement. There has been bad faith. The agreement and understanding that we had has been broken. As Mr Harper said in his speech, that has caused tensions. Going down this road will create tensions. We want to see our agreement honoured because we want to see the United Kingdom preserved.