As Conservatives, we believe that this family of nations bound together by the Union forms the bedrock of our prosperity. Central to that prosperity is the freedom to trade unhindered across these islands—an internal market without barriers knitted together over 300 years. For the past 40 of those years, the framework underpinning our single market was EU membership but, now that we have left, it is vital that we set our own framework as we forge our future as an independent nation state.
In 1707, the Act of Union brought England and Scotland together. Of its 25 articles, 15 were economic in nature, including the creation of a customs and monetary union. The reasons that spurred us on 300 years ago still exist today: to unlock our full financial power by pooling and sharing our resources; to defend the security of our nations; to provide access across the four nations to our international trading opportunities; and to create an integrated economic internal market. Those four goals are just as valuable to the British people today as they were then, and the Bill will help to us achieve them. It will ensure that Scottish and Welsh businesses can continue to export their goods and services to their main trade destination—the rest of the UK— unhindered. That destination accounts for a greater proportion of their trade than the rest of the world combined.
The Bill also allows the UK Government’s spending powers to benefit all UK citizens—to join up and level-up infrastructure spending with UK-wide strategies to create a stronger economy for Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland—and it protects Northern Ireland’s position in our Union by ensuring that the Good Friday agreement is protected and that east-west economic relations are maintained.
I sincerely hope that the negotiations with the EU will, as intended, find a way to de-dramatise checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, either through the protocol or through a new free trade agreement. I was glad to hear the Prime Minister say earlier that we will continue to use the mechanisms—such as the Joint Committee—set out in the withdrawal agreement to resolve disputes. However, given the EU’s reluctance to uphold the withdrawal agreement’s clear and stated aim of ensuring that Northern Ireland businesses can have unfettered access to Great British markets, I support our holding the new powers in reserve.
Despite what those on the Opposition Benches might say, the Bill will give more control, which will flow to Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh. From fishing to farming to the environment, the devolved Parliaments will gain 74 powers across the different policy areas in the Bill. In fact, the Bill will be the greatest power-up of the devolved Parliaments since their formation.