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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:25 pm on 22nd October 2019.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Independent, Beaconsfield 4:25 pm, 22nd October 2019

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that, and I was coming on to the issue as my next point, because the other big impact of this legislation is on Northern Ireland. Of course, there is a lock mechanism, and I listened to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who said that it could “melt away” if there was a double majority—of both communities—to remove it in four years’ time, although that does mean that for four years Northern Ireland is locked into arrangements that the Government have decided are not desirable for the rest of the United Kingdom. But what was glossed over is that article 13.8 of the Northern Ireland protocol makes it clear that any future arrangements thereafter are a matter for negotiation. So the suggestion that we can get a satisfactory free trade agreement for ourselves and then insist that Northern Ireland be included within it is simply wrong.

I have to say that as someone who has always seen himself as a modern Unionist, wanting to recreate or help to develop the Union of the United Kingdom in slightly different ways from those traditionally stated in relation to both Scotland and Northern Ireland—I have family coming from both—this matters to me a lot. It seems to me that this is an extraordinary move for a Unionist party to make, because the reality is that the more we detach ourselves, through our own free trade or whatever other routes we take, or if we crash out, the greater the difference we are going to emphasise, and the stronger and harder the border down the Irish sea will be. There may be some in Northern Ireland who welcome that, for perfectly valid reasons of their own, but for Unionism this is a very odd thing to do. In the Scottish context, it raises a perfectly clear grievance, whereby Scotland would say, “If Northern Ireland can have these arrangements, why cannot we?”