Last October, the Secretary of State gave a guarantee that her Government would not renege on the backstop, saying:
“We are committed to everything we have agreed to in the joint report and we will ensure there is no border on the island of Ireland.”
Can she explain why there has now been a U-turn and the Government’s policy has changed to ditching the backstop?
The commitments made in the joint report remain. Those commitments were that we would find a solution to the Irish border, ideally through our future relationship. We are still committed to that being the case. Last night, the House showed that there is a majority to pass the withdrawal agreement if changes are made to the backstop. The Prime Minister is working on that basis.
The deputy head of the Irish Government, Simon Coveney, has stated that
“the backstop is already a compromise…And the European Parliament will not ratify a withdrawal agreement that doesn’t have a backstop in it.”
Again, that was confirmed last night by the EU. Does the Secretary of State agree that her Government are pursuing a dead-end policy by seeking to renegotiate the backstop?
In order to protect the Good Friday agreement, the backstop protocol was designed as an insurance policy to prevent a hard border in all circumstances. The only major party in these islands that opposed the Good Friday agreement was the Democratic Unionist party. Did the Secretary of State consult with any other party in Northern Ireland before throwing her support behind the new Government policy of ditching the backstop?
This Government are committed to ensuring that we meet all our commitments under the Belfast-Good Friday agreement, and that we deliver on the vote of the British people to leave the European Union. That is what we are working to achieve.
As the Prime Minister develops the alternative arrangements, will the Secretary of State remember that we have an incredibly close working relationship with the Irish Government to deliver the common travel area? It seems to me that that perhaps provides a model for how we might deliver no hard border in the future.
Clearly it would not be appropriate to speculate on what discussions the Prime Minister will have with the European Union and the European Commission, but my right hon. Friend makes a very important point about the common travel area, to which, as I have said previously, we are absolutely committed.
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House, and the people in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, that that is not the case, and that we are committed to the Good Friday agreement?
I can absolutely do that. This Government are committed to ensuring that we deliver on leaving the European Union in a way that works for all people who live in the United Kingdom, wherever that may be, fully respecting the commitments that we have under the Belfast-Good Friday agreement.
“technical solutions effectively involve moving the border—and it would still be a border. Some involve equipment, which could come under attack, and some involve a degree of state surveillance that, frankly, I think would not be acceptable in Northern Ireland.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 647, c. 421.]
If the hon. Lady had listened to the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend John Penrose, in his answer to the first question, it was clear that we have said as a Government that no technological solutions, off the shelf, exist today that solve this problem, but we are committed to working to find alternative arrangements because we have all agreed that the backstop, should it ever come into force, is a temporary measure. No one wants to be in it, and we want to find ways of avoiding it.