Withdrawal Agreement: Proposed Changes

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 7th October 2019.

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Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Commons) , The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 3:39 pm, 7th October 2019

We are unconditionally committed to finding a solution for the north-south border that protects the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the commitments that can best be met if we explore solutions other than the backstop. The backstop risks weakening the delicate balance embodied in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement between both main traditions in Northern Ireland, grounded in agreement, consent and respect for minority rights. Any deal for Brexit on 31 October must avoid the whole UK, or just Northern Ireland, being trapped in an arrangement without consent in which it is a rule taker. Both sides have always been clear that the arrangements for the border must recognise the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland and, reflecting that, be creative and flexible. Under no circumstances will the United Kingdom place infrastructure checks or controls at the border.

On Wednesday 2 October, the Government proposed a new protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. These were serious and realistic proposals that reflect the core aims put forward by both the UK and the EU. These proposals are consistent with the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and deliver our aim of avoiding any checks or infrastructure at the border. The proposals were set out in detail in an explanatory note and in a letter to the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. The Prime Minister deposited both documents in the Library on Wednesday 2 October and published them in parallel on gov.uk. To support these negotiations, a draft legal text was also shared with the Commission on a confidential basis. The Prime Minister’s Europe adviser, David Frost, and UK officials have been in intensive discussions with the Commission for some time now and will continue to meet their counterparts from taskforce 50 for further technical talks this week. These meetings will cover our proposals on the protocol and the political declaration to reflect the goal of a comprehensive free trade agreement.

The previous withdrawal agreement and political declaration would have trapped the United Kingdom within European regulation and customs arrangements. The Prime Minister is continuing talks with the EU leaders today, including the Prime Minister of Sweden, the Prime Minister of Denmark and the Prime Minister of Poland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is also travelling to EU capitals, including visiting Amsterdam and Valletta over the course of this week. Discussions with the Commission are ongoing and thus sensitive, and we must ensure that we as a Government act in a way that maximises our chance of success in these negotiations. We will of course keep the House informed as the discussions continue. The legal text that we have shared with the Commission will only be published when doing so will assist the negotiations.

We hope that those in Brussels will decide to work with us over the upcoming days. If they do, we will leave with a new deal. If they do not want to talk, we are prepared to leave without a deal. We need to get a new deal or a deal, but no more delays. We must get Brexit done so that the country can move forward and focus on other issues, such as the cost of living, the NHS and other domestic priorities.