United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 14th September 2020.

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Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 9:15 pm, 14th September 2020

I first raised the issue of the Northern Ireland border on the Monday after the referendum—I have skin in the game, with family on both sides of the border. I have watched every twist and turn of events since. I despair at the language, at the deep ignorance, at the disregard for fragile settlements and for the 1.9 million people who live there who, frankly, deserve better.

The Tories got themselves caught up in a toxic triangle of the ERG Brexit, the differential rules across the Union and their obligations under the Belfast Good Friday agreement, and the Prime Minister chose his party. He did so through the protocol and now we need to make it work, because he agreed the differential rules across his precious Union.

I take a lot of interest in the constitutional settlement across these islands. I am vice-chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, and I have visited many of those legislatures: in Edinburgh; Cardiff; Belfast; Dublin; Jersey; Guernsey; Sark and the Falklands. Those places reflect their history as part of the United Kingdom family. They take great pride in it and in what we do, and they are watching.

I read the White Paper in July with some dismay. In the past two decades in particular our constitution has changed, but after reading that White Paper it felt as if nothing had changed in 200 years. The Acts of Union that got us to this place did not just happen: they were violent; they were disputed; and they involved an awful lot of money and land passing hands. There are different readings of our history, which has resulted in many years of debate across these islands. It is an evolving dynamic situation and one that is actually very precious and it is something of which we need to be mindful.

I am also a member of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. This summer, we expressed our great reservations about the Bill, particularly with regard to the speed of the consultation and the constitutional aspects. It is primarily an economic Bill, but it is also deeply constitutional. We have asked for an independent monitoring body to report directly to the House of Commons, as we are concerned about the provisions in the Bill and the need to take account of the intergovernmental relations that are coming.

Last week, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster appeared before the Committee and we were told that the Dunlop review would be published before the Bill hits the statute book at the end of this year. It is a case of putting the cart before the horse. It would have been much better to have these discussions and a respect for the common frameworks before bringing this Bill forward. The Government need to dial down the rhetoric. They need to get back to the negotiating table, and they need to treat this Parliament and the devolved legislatures with much greater respect.