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Prime Minister's Update

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:44 pm on 25th September 2019.

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Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 6:44 pm, 25th September 2019

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and, as I said to the House in my opening statement, we have moved a long way off the idea that the withdrawal agreement was the law of the Medes and the Persians—fixed, immutable, graven in tablets of stone. That has absolutely gone. We have moved a long way from the idea that the backstop had to be retained in all circumstances. My hon. Friend will have heard Jean-Claude Juncker himself say that he no longer had any—I think he said erotic—fixation with the backstop.

In concrete terms—this might be helpful to the House—there are three areas in which progress is being made. The first concerns the concept of the alternative arrangements, which I know has been discussed many times in this House—I know that many right hon. and hon Members have gone over it many times, but it is a fruitful area of discussion. The second idea, which is also extremely fruitful, is the concept of doing everything we can to maintain the unity of the island of Ireland for sanitary and phytosanitary purposes. As I am sure my hon. Friend, who has studied these matters closely, will acknowledge, that is a big concession by the UK Government and a big advance. It needs to be handled with care and we need to get the balance right, but we think that progress can be made in that area. The third concept, which I already mentioned in my opening remarks, is the idea of consent. Consent holds the key. There is a problem with the backstop, as hon. Members who sit on the Opposition Benches will recall—I heard some very good speeches against it from the Opposition Benches. The problem with the backstop is that it does not repose the locus of authority here in the UK, and we need to remedy that. I am sure that my hon. Friend understands that point, too.