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Interpretation

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 8th January 2020.

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Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party, Belfast South 6:15 pm, 8th January 2020

I rise to speak to new clause 45, on the protection of the NHS from future trade deals, and new clause 59, on ensuring political representation for Northern Ireland in the European Parliament.

I suspect it goes without saying that I deeply regret the arrival of this point in the Brexit process. We still view Brexit as an extraordinary act of self-harm for Britain. We on our side of the Irish sea will suffer immense political, social and economic collateral damage. To protect ourselves, and indeed other regions of the UK, my hon. Friend Colum Eastwood and I have tabled amendments that would provide for impact assessments, prevent the diminution of rights, on which Stephen Farry has expanded very well, and give the Good Friday agreement institutions the flexibility they need to respond to the challenges that Brexit will bring. I do not need to remind Members that the Good Friday agreement is sovereign in Northern Ireland and has been endorsed overwhelmingly by the people—more so than anything else before or since. It is not just an ornament on the mantelpiece; it is a toolkit that can help us to weather the storm of Brexit, but it has to be given the powers, flexibility and opportunity to respond to the many challenges that we know are coming but the shape of which we do not yet know.

Ensuring European parliamentary representation for Northern Ireland is part of that. Thankfully, we will be within the regulatory orbit of the EU. Members will know that the Good Friday agreement mandates the Government to ensure no diminution of rights for people in Northern Ireland because of Brexit, but one of those rights, because they are Irish citizens and therefore will continue to be EU citizens, is the right to political representation in the European Parliament. There is therefore a duty on the Government to continue to provide that right for continuing EU and Irish citizens.

In many ways, the new clause merges amendments tabled by others around democratic oversight, transparency and parliamentary consent as this Brexit evolves. For the many reasons Members have laid out, if Brexit is to deliver even a fraction of what Government Members are promising, they should have no concerns about oversight and allowing people to see the process as it evolves. In matters of public policy, I have always found sunlight to be the best disinfectant. We must allow people to see how the processes are happening.

New clause 45 is self-explanatory. It seeks to protect the NHS from future trade deals and to ensure, if a future relationship affects the devolution settlement on health, that legislative consent is sought from the Northern Ireland Assembly—fingers crossed, it will exist again next week—and from the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales.

We have tabled several other amendments—and support amendments that mirror them—around a level playing field, the maintenance of workers’ rights, Erasmus and Horizon 2020, which are so fundamental to Queen’s University in my constituency, and safeguards for EU nationals living here.