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All these kinds of things ensure that people want to see these issues nailed down in the Bill, rather than hear the promises that are made.
Our amendments fall into three categories. I want to deal mostly with the first group, on unfettered access to the UK market. The second group aim to ensure proper representation for Northern Ireland on the Joint Committee and specialised committees, which will be very powerful and will be able to make decisions that have a dramatic impact on Northern Ireland. The third group aim to ensure that the Northern Ireland Assembly is consulted in accordance with the Belfast agreement.
The Minister has argued that the Bill guarantees unfettered access to the UK market—the protocol does not stop it, and the Bill facilitates it—and yet, when one reads clause 21, it is quite clear that none of these issues has been hammered down. Ministers “may” make regulations to facilitate access to the GB market. If disagreements arise in the Joint Committee or if the terms of the protocol require there to be checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, Ministers may well compromise and decide, “We’re not going to make regulations. We have to balance the arguments up. We may make regulations, but according to the Bill, it is not necessary for us to do so.”
The Bill simply refers to regulations
“facilitating the access to the market”.
That access to the market may require businesses in Northern Ireland to undertake a huge number of checks, with costly administration. The term “unfettered access” is not in the Bill, and despite the promises that the Minister has made, no one yet knows what unfettered access means. Our amendments are designed to ensure, first, that the Bill states that Ministers must bring forward regulations; secondly, that those regulations must ensure unfettered access to the GB market, which is the biggest market for the Northern Ireland economy; and thirdly, that that unfettered access is defined in the Bill.