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European Union (Withdrawal) Acts

Part of Prime Minister’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 12:11 pm on 19th October 2019.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 12:11 pm, 19th October 2019

I am concerned about the position in Northern Ireland, and the Secretary of State quoted me on this earlier. It is true that I and the Labour party had reservations about the backstop—I am not sure that there were many people who did not have reservations about it—but on analysis, we thought that it was right for Northern Ireland and therefore, we focused our attention on the political declaration. I criticised it; I said what I thought was wrong with it. I was critical, for example, of the fact that it did not hardwire dynamic alignment of workplace rights, but ultimately, we thought that upholding the Good Friday agreement was more important and more significant.

I will also say this, because again, it is very important to read the small print: while it is true that the current deal says that Northern Ireland remains, as it were, in the UK’s customs territory, it goes on to explain that for goods going into Northern Ireland, the only ones that escape going effectively into the EU’s customs union are those that are at no risk of going beyond Northern Ireland and are not going into manufacturing, so the volume of goods that cross the border that truly are treated as if Northern Ireland is in the customs union is only that small category. The burden of proving that is on the person who is exporting. Can the Secretary of State, or anybody, explain how that can operate without very careful and extensive checks?