The Bill is necessary to secure free trade and prosperity throughout the United Kingdom, but the focus of much of the debate has not been on that; rather, it has been on the legality or otherwise of the Bill and the proposals before us. In response, it must be noted that Parliament is sovereign. Parliament is supreme. Parliamentary sovereignty is one of the cornerstones of our constitution and always has been. Legislation and the content of legislation, whether to pass it or otherwise, is for Parliament and Parliament alone.
The withdrawal agreement signed by the EU and the UK acknowledged that there might be difficulties with the Northern Ireland protocol. That was acknowledged earlier by Edward Miliband. The agreement states that if the application of the protocol leads to
“serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade”,
the European Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures. Provision was made for exactly this contingency in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2020, section 38 of which states:
“It is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign…
Accordingly, nothing in this Act derogates from the sovereignty of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.”
That was done because of the ambiguities of the withdrawal agreement relating to Northern Ireland. The agreement holds simultaneously that there will be unfettered access between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain after the transition period and that the EU’s customs code will have direct effect in the territory of Northern Ireland. At best, and at the very least, that is ambiguous; at worst, it is a direct contradiction, because it means that access would be fettered to one place but not to another. This was always going to have to be dealt with in subsequent negotiations.
The main clauses in contention this evening—clauses 42, 43 and 45—will come into effect only if the Joint Committee cannot reach agreement. We know that the Joint Committee negotiations have been going badly, particularly in relation to third country listings. It has become apparent that the EU is taking a direction that we cannot possibly support. We also know that the EU is fearful. Why would it not be? A strong, independent Britain prospering on its doorstep is not something the EU would necessarily welcome.
In saying that, I am sure that both sides in the negotiation want to secure a free trade deal, and I wholeheartedly support that outcome. A free trade agreement would be a win-win for both sides, but it must not be at the expense either of our independent sovereignty or of the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We must be honest: the EU is negotiating with its members’ best interests at heart, not Britain’s. It has always sought to use Northern Ireland as a weapon to gain leverage in free trade talks. We must give the Government the tools to push the EU in the direction of agreeing a strong free trade agreement. The Bill seeks to do just that, and I will support it unamended.