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Checks on Goods: Northern Ireland and Great Britain

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:39 am on 24th October 2019.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 10:39 am, 24th October 2019

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, which really does matter.

There is confusion at the very heart of Government. Yesterday the Prime Minister told the House there would be “no checks” and “no tariffs” between Northern Ireland and Great Britain; that is in direct contradiction to what the Secretary of State just told the House. It is in contradiction with the steadily progressing views expressed in different statements from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Justice Secretary, who said last night on “Newsnight” that there will be checks in both directions—from GB to Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland to GB. The manifest confusion at the heart of Government is compounded by the confusion for businesses in Northern Ireland—particularly small businesses—and the Northern Ireland civil service in planning for the long term. That is simply unacceptable. The Government were trying to ram the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill through the House in three days, but they themselves do not properly understand what they are doing. That is problematic, and we need absolute clarity.

While this is outside the Secretary of State’s immediate brief, there are other consequences. The House spent a long time arguing that there should be no hard border across the island of Ireland to prevent an impact on the nationalist community; we did not think we would now be talking about the impact on the Unionist community and political Unionism. The new Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland said:

“whatever ends up as a Brexit deal, if there is one that could be perceived in a way that sort of threatens the security of the loyalist community...our concern is also the loyalist community has at times shown it can mobilise quickly, bring large numbers of people on to the streets and engage in public disorder in support of their cause.”

I hope that every Member takes that warning very seriously, because it is a profound warning from a senior and experienced police officer.

I have a number of specific questions for the Secretary of State. First, what overall impact assessment have the Government made for the Northern Ireland economy? What assessment have they made for trading ports and airports in Scotland, Wales and England? Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs estimates that each declaration for shipments from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will cost between £15 and £56, and Border Force says that a “minimum amount” of electronic information will be required for movements from west to east. When will the Secretary of State be able to give certainty to businesses about what the checks will be and how they will be undertaken? If the Justice Secretary was right when he told “Newsnight” that there would be checks from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, when will we know the detail of what those checks will be, rather than their being superficially dismissed as of no importance?

In the end, the Government have to put an end to this confusion. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that he will make an early statement to the House about the full impact of the checks in both directions? Does he accept the warning of the Chief Constable about the potential impact and do the Government take that seriously? If so, what is their assessment? Finally, I have to ask about a political point, although it is an important one: does the Secretary of State believe that the Prime Minister himself at last understands the impact of his deal on Northern Ireland and on the relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of our country?