Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 Section 3(2)

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 (Rule of Law) – in the House of Commons at 9:25 pm on 9th September 2019.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 9:25 pm, 9th September 2019

I understand what the right hon. Gentleman said. I simply say that it is a shame that proper investigation did not take place at the time. He will agree, as a former soldier, that he would not have countenanced illegality by those he worked with. Every decent soldier I know of would agree with that premise—that illegality was not what our armed forces were sent to undertake in Northern Ireland. I hear what he says; I am not sure that we are a long way apart on this issue.

Turning to the issue underlying all this, it is three years since the Stormont Assembly and the Stormont Executive were last working. We have seen the impact in areas as wide as health, education and the way in which the interface takes place—I know that the Secretary of State was agitated about the lack of powers that he had with respect to Harland and Wolff over the summer months, for example. We need to see change take place and Stormont back together. I pay tribute to his predecessor, Karen Bradley, and him for the close working relationship that they have developed with the Tánaiste, Simon Coveney. It is important that there is a close working relationship between Dublin and London.

The single biggest threat to the United Kingdom at the moment is a no-deal Brexit, and the part of the United Kingdom facing the biggest threat is Northern Ireland, where the impact of a no-deal Brexit would be devastating, in a way that would go beyond the impact on my constituents and those of other Members in England, Scotland and Wales. The impact in Northern Ireland would not be simply economic, although the economic impact would be enormous. There would be an enormous impact on agriculture, on manufacturing, on services, and not simply on the social mores that have developed over the last 20 years, since the Good Friday agreement. There would be an enormous impact on the capacity to cross the border easily, and so on, and not simply on identity, which the Secretary of State referred to, though of course that is a fundamental issue.

The Good Friday and St Andrews agreements were milestones in establishing peace and a very different climate in Northern Ireland. It is important that nothing be allowed to jeopardise that, and a hard border, which there would be with no deal, would jeopardise it. We have seen in the Yellowhammer papers that people are concerned that we are drifting towards a no-deal Brexit. I note today the words of the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, making it clear that Ireland is not prepared to accept a promise in place of legal guarantees. The Taoiseach speaks for many on the Opposition Benches.

We have an odd situation. Parliament does not trust the Prime Minister, the Irish Government do not trust the Prime Minister, and Amber Rudd does not trust the Prime Minister on this issue. In that context, I say this to the Government: we are facing Prorogation and a period when our Parliament cannot act. The Secretary of State himself made it clear how important it was

“in the run-up either to a deal or no deal, that the very tricky decisions can be made, and I am sure that those will have to be made at pace.”—[Official Report, 5 September 2019;
Vol. 664, c. 364.]

Of course, he is absolutely right. We will have to make decisions very quickly, and Prorogation makes that more difficult.