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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:35 pm on 22nd October 2019.

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Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit) 4:35 pm, 22nd October 2019

I will not give way, because I have very little time.

That is the issue of sovereignty. Northern Ireland will be left as a semi-detached part of the United Kingdom. In the long run, of course, the whole focus of attention will move from Westminster to Dublin. Who will speak for us in Europe when these regulations come through? Who will speak for us in Europe when the customs rules are affecting us? It will not be the UK Government. Increasingly, the focus will be on the Dublin Government.

The second argument is that we can vote our way out of the arrangements. The mechanism for voting our way out of them is now a simple majority vote. I never thought that I would hear a Prime Minister who has insisted that we adhere to the rules of the Belfast agreement suddenly bring up its central premise in this way. The first issue that was addressed in the Belfast agreement was what kind of checks and balances should be in place to protect both communities when it come to the operation of the Assembly. The Belfast agreement said that, in order to give those protections and ensure that all sections of the community could participate and work together, arrangements would be put in place

“to ensure that key decisions are taken on a cross-community basis.”

There is no greater and no more divisive a decision than this issue of our relationship with the EU, yet the safety valve in the Belfast agreement has been taken away. The Prime Minister said, “Oh, it has been taken away because it is a reserved matter anyway.” These are not reserved matters. Indeed, the very reason why we have a whole section in the Bill about what the Northern Ireland Assembly can and cannot do is that they are devolved matters, yet on these devolved matters, and on this one issue in particular, the Government have agreed to take away the central principle of consent. That will do damage when it comes to the operation of the Assembly in future. We cannot be selective like that, and certainly not on an issue such as this.

I come now to the last issue. I nearly choked when the Prime Minister said, “Don’t worry about it, because all of these changes that will affect Northern Ireland will be light-touch. It is not really a boundary down the Irish sea; they are just light-touch regulations.” These light-touch regulations require firms to make declarations when they sell goods to another part of their own country and to pay duties for goods that come from a part of their own country, which incur costs. I would at least have had some respect had the Prime Minister said, “I have a deadline of 31 October. I have to get this round. I am therefore having to make concessions and, unfortunately, Northern Ireland is a concession, and you will understand that.” What I cannot take is a Prime Minister who thinks that I cannot read the agreement that has been published, and who thinks that I cannot see in that agreement what the impact on Northern Ireland will be—