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Main power in connection with other separation issues

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:15 pm on 8th January 2020.

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Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons) 1:15 pm, 8th January 2020

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Roger, and I look forward to serving under your guidance. It is also a pleasure to follow Sir Robert Neill, who has given the Treasury Bench much to think about on the difference between subjective and objective tests, which I will bear in mind in my remarks.

I rise to speak to the official Oppositions’s amendments in this group. Amendment 1 relates to full transparency on the implications of the Northern Ireland-Ireland protocol. Amendment 4 would restore the clauses from the previous version of the Bill that related to negotiating arrangements for the protection of unaccompanied child refugees. New clause 1 would restore to the Bill the process of parliamentary scrutiny—it has been removed since the previous version of the Bill—over the process and outcome of negotiating the future relationship with the EU after we leave. I am sure that you will tell me if I stray from the topic of debate, Sir Roger.

The Opposition have tabled amendment 1 because the Government appear to be incapable of clarity about the implications of the Ireland-Northern Ireland protocol on the people of Northern Ireland and Great Britain, their jobs, their businesses and their way of life. That is too important to leave to chance. The people of Northern Ireland, and the people of the whole United Kingdom, need and deserve the transparency and accountability that the amendment proposes.

This part of the withdrawal agreement and the Bill have to be considered in the light of the historical context. The Good Friday/Belfast agreement was an extraordinary moment in the history of these islands and an awe-inspiring achievement of the incoming Labour Government of 1997 and of the latter period of the Major Government. Nobody my age could have thought that we would see peace in Northern Ireland in our lifetimes. The change to our way of life and the benefits to the people of Northern Ireland were unimaginable before the agreement. The Good Friday/Belfast agreement brought in a new era of peace and reconciliation.

The people of Northern Ireland, as well as its politicians across political and other divides, deserve our respect and admiration for how they have built the peace, worked to build united communities and created a way of life that seemed impossible a quarter of a century ago. Surely, no politician of any affiliation would want to destabilise that achievement—I am sure that that includes the Minister, Mr Walker, who is nodding. I am sure he needs no reminding—I will remind him anyway—that the Government have a legal obligation to adhere to the terms of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. That means no opt-outs, no wiggling and nothing other than solid, uncompromising adherence to and support for the spirit and the letter of the agreement, no matter how hard that may be. Too many people have sacrificed too much for peace for the Government to do otherwise.

These are no small matters, so it is troubling in the extreme that the Government do not seem to know their own mind or the implications of their own protocol. The consequences of a return to a hard border or divisions between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the fears emerging for people in Northern Ireland and the problems for businesses across the UK are all serious matters—hence our amendment. Businesses in Northern Ireland have spoken with one voice and are rightly concerned about the potential impact of border checks on goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. So, too, are businesses across other parts of Great Britain. Any business that currently sends goods to Northern Ireland should not have to expect border checks within the UK.

Businesses in Bristol West have already told me of their anxieties about checks between the UK and the rest of the EU27, but at least those checks were anticipated after the 2016 referendum. Those businesses should not have to expect border checks within the UK, between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Not only that but the Prime Minister has, at times, appeared at odds with his own Secretary of State on what the practical implications and, therefore, the trading and economic implications will be for the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom is enshrined in the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. We must honour that agreement, and the Government should not be afraid to be open about how they are honouring it. That is why we ask them to consider supporting amendment 1.