United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:43 pm on 14th September 2020.

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Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down 8:43 pm, 14th September 2020

We now have a different range of voices from Northern Ireland in this Parliament and I want to make a few things clear at the outset. The majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain. They also supported the wrongly maligned backstop and they now pragmatically recognise the need for the protocol, despite its challenges. To be very clear, the majority of people and businesses in Northern Ireland do not want the Government to break international law on their behalf.

Northern Ireland only works on the basis of sharing and interdependence. The problem with any form of hard Brexit is that it requires some form of interface between the UK and the single market and customs union. The protocol is the inevitable consequence of a hard Brexit, in order to address the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland and to protect the Good Friday agreement. We are working off decisions taken here in the UK, not something that the European Union has foisted upon us.

Indeed, I am deeply concerned that the Prime Minister and the Government are twisting and distorting the meaning of the Good Friday agreement for their own political ends. The principle of consent is certainly one major component of the Good Friday agreement, and it is entrenched in the withdrawal agreement, so the Union is not up for grabs in this situation. That is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland to determine in due course. The Good Friday agreement is, in fact, a broad range of relationships across our islands.

The protocol is, in effect, the bare minimum to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. If we default on that, we risk a return of some form of border in that context. The European Union is entitled to protect the integrity of the single market and customs union, and that will create a fresh form of tension.

It is pragmatically easier to manage an interface down the Irish sea than across the land border. We are talking about seven air and sea crossings versus 270 land crossings, and the number of daily movements on the island far outweighs the number across the Irish sea. However, we must do all we can to reduce that interface to a minimum—to make it a dotted line. The way to achieve that is through building trust and good faith with the European Union and by working through the mechanisms of the withdrawal agreement—the Joint Committee and, if necessary, the arbitration mechanism—rather than circumventing it. We need to define what flexibilities and modalities we can.

Through their action, the Government are risking having no future relationship with the European Union. That brings huge consequences for the UK economy and makes the impact of the Northern Ireland protocol down the Irish sea even more stark. I support a trade deal with the United States, which is the dream of many Brexiteers who are forgoing the relationship with the European Union. I am not sure that they are picking up that that is a complete dead end if the Good Friday agreement is compromised by this Parliament.