[9th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 1:58 pm on 15th January 2019.

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Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security) 1:58 pm, 15th January 2019

I am happy to open today’s debate for the Opposition and to follow the Attorney General—I am, of course, grateful for his remarks over the past hour. I was also pleased to see his letter to the Prime Minister yesterday, which gave advice on the backstop protocol and the latest exchange of letters, and to receive it without the need for a contempt motion on this occasion.

On 3 December, I was sitting at this Dispatch Box when the Attorney General made his statement on the legal position. He said of Members:

“It is time that they grew up and got real.”

He had even said to my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman:

“There is nothing to see here.”—[Official Report, 3 December 2018;
Vol. 650, c. 557-563.]

After the Government were found to be in contempt of Parliament, however, and he had published his advice the next day, it turned out that there was everything to see here, and that it was the Government who needed to get real.

Let us be clear about what the Attorney General advised. What did he say about the backstop protocol? He said:

“Therefore, despite statements in the Protocol that it is not intended to be permanent, and the clear intention of the parties that it should be replaced by alternative, permanent arrangements, in international law the Protocol would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement took its place, in whole or in part, as set out therein.”

Which parts of the backstop are more likely than others to remain, even in the event of a trade deal being agreed, he has never actually told us. He added:

“There are numerous references in the Protocol to its temporary nature but there is no indication of how long such temporary arrangements could last.”

On Northern Ireland, incidentally, the Attorney General said:

GB is essentially treated as a third country by NI for goods passing from GB into NI”— those are his own words. The Attorney General even said:

“The Protocol appears to assume that the negotiations will result in an agreement.”

Are we in the House to assume, given the conduct of the negotiations, that this Government will be able to negotiate a full future trade deal in time for the protocol not to come into effect?