European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 pm on 20th December 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham 12:00 pm, 20th December 2019

I echo the final sentence of Mr Evans but not much else of what he said.

The Prime Minister was understandably very anxious to hold the general election before the Bill was scrutinised. As we go through the Bill in detail, the impact of his agreement on the UK will become apparent. The agreement will do a lot of damage to our constitution and to our economy, and Government Members will have a lot of explaining to do to their constituents as those impacts become apparent in the years ahead.

I want to raise two points. First, I want to deal briefly with an important subject that I raised with the Prime Minister in the House on 19 October. I asked him whether he understood the worries of manufacturing exporters, as set out by their organisation, Make UK, about new rules of origin checks and other red tape that his deal will impose on them. He answered:

“The reason I am not worried about that is that there are no new rules of origin checks.”—[Official Report, 19 October 2019;
Vol. 666, c. 594.]

But that is not what his deal says. Paragraph 22 of the political declaration, which he negotiated, refers to

“appropriate and modern accompanying rules of origin” for the proposed free trade agreement, in direct contradiction to what he said in the Chamber. Of course, the reality is that there will have to be rules of origin checks to stop products from countries outside Europe entering the European Union via a UK free trade agreement.

Secondly, I want to talk about a subject—it has been aired already in the debate—where again the Prime Minister’s statements contradict directly the agreement that he has negotiated. The withdrawal agreement’s protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland—in paragraph 4 of article 5—states

“The provisions of Union law listed in Annex 2 to this Protocol shall also apply…in respect of Northern Ireland.”

Annex 2 comprises 34 pages and lists what I count as 287 separate items of EU law that will continue to apply in Northern Ireland but not in the rest of the UK. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley was celebrating exiting the customs union, but of course Northern Ireland will not exit the customs union.

The first of those 287 items of EU law is the European Union customs code, which will continue to apply in Northern Ireland after the UK has left the EU, and that will have far-reaching consequences for Northern Ireland. I pay tribute to the hon. Members for North Down (Stephen Farry) and for Belfast South (Claire Hanna), who both made fine maiden speeches highlighting some of these issues. In an earlier intervention I quoted from the Government’s own impact assessment. Paragraph 241 states:

“Goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will be required to complete both import declarations and Entry Summary (ENS) Declarations because the UK will be applying the EU’s UCC— the Union customs code— in Northern Ireland.”