It is a pleasure to follow Richard Graham. We have been good friends for a long time, and I appreciate his comments.
The negotiations on our future relationship are crucial for Northern Ireland. As someone who has been involved in the political process for many years, I want the peace process in Northern Ireland to be sustained, but I am concerned that the Northern Ireland protocol fundamentally undermines Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom. People talk about protecting and preserving the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, but at the heart of that agreement was an acceptance of the principle of consent, and that Northern Ireland’s status would remain unchanged, save for the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland determining otherwise. The Northern Ireland protocol undermines that key, fundamental element of the Good Friday agreement. Indeed, we voted against the withdrawal agreement because it had the potential to create a customs border within the United Kingdom, which would be unacceptable. We will continue to work with the Government to mitigate that, to ensure unfettered access to the UK market, as promised by the Government, and to diminish and reduce any friction to the absolute minimum.
We continue to have concerns about the Northern Ireland protocol and the potential for tariffs to be applied on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, as well as about the paperwork and added burden for businesses as a result of entry and import summary declarations. We have concerns about regulatory checks on goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, including agri-food and manufacturing. Our fishermen in Northern Ireland may have to make declarations, including customs declarations, to the European Union. On agricultural support, I echo the comments of Mr Carmichael about the risk to our agricultural industry from cheap food imports. That is why we supported amendments to the Agriculture Bill. We will have to apply EU rules on VAT in Northern Ireland, and there is also the issue of state aid—I will not repeat the comments made by my right hon. Friend Sammy Wilson about that issue, which has implications for the UK as a whole.
We need the Government to ensure that the aims set out in the UK Command Paper remain a foundational requirement, and that those commitments are unmoveable and the minimum requirements we will have. Indeed, we want to go further and see greater flexibility demonstrated by Brussels regarding how the Northern Ireland protocol will be implemented. The UK Command Paper, for example, sees no requirement for export or exit summary declarations for trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. We agree with that, but we need to ensure that the EU does not hold a veto on these customs formalities.