The withdrawal agreement is a profoundly self-contradictory document, and never more so than in respect of Northern Ireland. It declares ringingly, for example, that Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom, whereas the substance of it is that it is part of the customs territory of the European Union. Similarly, it provides that Northern Ireland should have unfettered access to the mainland British market, but at the same time it sets up arrangements to frustrate that. These provisions can potentially have the most serious adverse consequences on the integrity of the UK market.
The position is that unless provisions to the contrary are agreed in the joint committee or in the future relationship negotiations, trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will be severely impeded. Checks will apply to goods passing between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and the EU customs code will apply to Northern Ireland, potentially meaning tariffs applied on goods passing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Part 5 of the Bill amounts to a safeguard against the potential consequences of this state of affairs. Of course, if a free trade agreement can be concluded, there will very probably be nothing to worry about. An acceptable free trade agreement could subsume the withdrawal agreement and thus the problem, and put relations between the UK and the EU on a more regular footing.
The EU is crying foul at the publication of this Bill, but the fact is that the EU’s own conduct in the negotiations has simply not adhered to the provisions of the withdrawal agreement. As Sammy Wilson pointed out, these obligations move in both directions. The agreement provides that both parties should attempt to negotiate a free trade agreement acting in good faith and using best endeavours. The political declaration provides that the negotiations should respect UK sovereignty and the integrity of the United Kingdom market. However, the EU’s conduct has not reflected the obligations it has under the withdrawal agreement. It has refused to discuss anything apart from its own red lines of fisheries and the so-called level playing field. It is therefore essential that we should put in place measures that will protect us and our internal market in the event that the negotiations do not result in the sort of free trade agreement we are seeking.
It would be contrary to the national interest of this country if this Bill were not passed. The consequences for our constituencies and the livelihoods of their residents would be very serious if the Bill were not enacted, and it therefore has my full support.