[5th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 7:41 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence) 7:41 pm, 9th January 2019

It is an honour to follow Stephen Kerr—he is truly an honourable gentleman. He was about to conclude his speech by saying that we voted as one Union and that we should leave as one Union. Well, I am a Member of Parliament for a part of this Union that is going to be left behind, and I will develop that point further. He fairly conceptualises what the aspiration was but, sadly, the faults and flaws of this withdrawal agreement rest in the concluding sentence that he never quite reached.

I, like the hon. Gentleman, am not an ideologue on this issue. Three of my hon. and right hon. Friends are sitting around me, all intently listening, and they know what I have said to them privately. For my whole life, Northern Ireland and this United Kingdom have been a part of the European Union. I have known nothing else, and it has not been a motivating or driving factor for me politically. It did not lead me to come to Parliament to campaign to leave.

I campaigned, very enjoyably, with Theresa Villiers in my constituency of Belfast East during the 2016 referendum. I proudly voted leave because I was frustrated by the fear, the threats and the intimidation from those who said, “If you don’t do what you’re told, Northern Ireland will descend back into chaos. If you don’t do what is expected of you, the peace process is in jeopardy.” I found that line offensive.

I campaigned for a leave vote believing there was aspiration in what was being outlined, and believing that the people of this country engaged with that aspiration. Today, motivated not by leaving the European Union but by Unionism, I find it offensive that we have a Government, a Parliament and neighbours in the European Union who want to undermine our precious Union. It is deeply disappointing and it is not where we should be. It goes against every grain of my political ideology and it goes against the grain of the Prime Minister’s expressed political ideology.

The Belfast agreement has been mentioned quite a few times in this debate by Government and Opposition Members of Parliament. Mr Mitchell and Mr McFadden all talked about the Belfast agreement. The Father of the House, Mr Clarke, indicated that the Belfast agreement—that hard-fought document for peace—contains a commitment to an open border in Ireland. It simply does not. I will give way to any Member of Parliament who wants to explain to me where that provision is in the Belfast agreement. It is not there. It is based on mutual respect, interconnected co-operation and better relationships between the people of Northern Ireland and the people of the Republic of Ireland.

What has gone wrong in this withdrawal process? What fundamental problems has the Prime Minister made? The first was to believe the political aspirations of others over what her own head should have told her. The Belfast agreement does not preclude a border on the island of Ireland. There is a border on the island of Ireland. We have differentials in duty rates. We have physical infrastructure. It was a mistake to believe that the aspiration to have no hard border on the island of Ireland meant that there should be no infrastructure whatsoever, because there is infrastructure today. There is this fanciful notion of cameras being attacked or any infrastructure being subject to vandalism or worse, but it is there today. There are cameras right across the main roads and arterial routes that take people from Northern Ireland to the south. We have different currencies and we implement different rules and laws. We have smuggling as a consequence of the fact that we have tariff differentials. As a former Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Chloe Smith knows that full well, as does the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet.

Secondly, as a country we were wrong to accept the premise that we had to solve the border question without knowing what the trading relationship was going to be. Who decided that that was a good negotiating strategy? How do we provide the answer when we do not know what the question is? Yet these are the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We accepted that premise from the European Union.