The Prime Minister said that the Northern Ireland protocol was a very, very ingenuous scheme—sorry, a “very, very ingenious scheme”. I will say it one more time, because it is worthy of repetition. He said it is
“a very, very ingenious scheme”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 666, c. 594.]
It is almost Trump-esque in its rhetoric, and as we find so often with populists around the world, it is very easy to make far-fetched promises, but it is much harder to deliver them in practice. Reality is biting the Prime Minister and it is biting him hard.
As we have seen this afternoon, things have not exactly gone to script. The Prime Minister has been turning up at Prime Minister’s questions in recent weeks wishing he was facing a former leader of the Labour party. This afternoon, he got one and my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband wiped the floor with the Prime Minister, so much so that he had to scurry away back to his office, so badly battered and bruised was he. He was not even able to defend the Bill. He probably had not read it, because it is certainly clear from what he has said in recent days that he had not read the withdrawal agreement or the Northern Ireland protocol. Even this afternoon, he still did not understand the content that he has signed up to.
Contrary to there being a remainer plot, the script simply does not work. We have left the European Union. We are no longer members of the European Union. We are not going back. The only question now is whether we have a trade deal with the European Union that puts to bed so many of the difficult, thorny, challenging, but not insurmountable issues that many of us warned and argued over recent years would arise. The Prime Minister can hardly be surprised.
What I am surprised by is the scale of their misjudgments and their incompetence, even by this Government’s standards. With one decision, they have shaken the foundations of the Good Friday agreement, threatened the prospects of a trade deal with the European Union, and risked the prospects of a trade deal with the United States of America. With that, they have jeopardised future prosperity, jobs and the economy when we are facing the worst recession in hundreds of years. They have given further cause for grievance to the nationalists and threatened the Union. The irony is that a Bill that is supposed to strengthen the Union actually threatens its future. Perhaps worst of all, it threatens the standing and reputation of our country around the world, not only in the eyes of our allies, but in the eyes of our enemies, too.
I ask Members on the Government Benches: what has happened to the Conservative and Unionist party of Disraeli, Churchill, Macmillan and Thatcher? I cannot think of a single former Conservative Prime Minister who would behave in this way. I just say to them that, from experience, it is hard standing up to your own side when they are doing something wrong, but you will be doing the right thing by opposing this Bill and will sleep more soundly for it.