United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:08 pm on 14th September 2020.

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Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon 8:08 pm, 14th September 2020

As ever, it is a pleasure to follow Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson.

Like my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell, I think there is much in the Bill to admire. The general aims of the Bill and much of its content are absolutely necessary to ensure that the competences that return to the UK from the EU are put into UK law. However, like many people across the House, I have serious concerns about part 5 and the effect of those provisions on our international reputation, the rule of law and Northern Ireland.

Many people seem to be justifying part 5 as necessary to avoid an impact on GB-to-Northern Ireland trade. It is one thing to reject a draft treaty on those grounds; it is an entirely different premise to consider breaching existing treaty obligations, freely entered into by the Government. Some level of bureaucracy for trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain was and is the foreseeable and obvious consequence of the withdrawal agreement that we signed. That point was highlighted at the time, but it was justified as a way to move on to the next phase. Moreover, many of us were reassured at the time that technology would ensure that those checks would be simple and quick.

The withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, and the consequent effects on trade, were negotiated by this Government and were part of our election manifesto. If the Government believe that the EU is acting in bad faith, making threats to food supplies or critically affecting the integrity of the UK, there are already agreed mechanisms in the withdrawal agreement to deal with that. For example, if the Government believed that we could not import food into Northern Ireland, article 16 of the protocol specifically allows the UK to act at that point to remedy the problem however it wants to.

The UK has a proud reputation of upholding the rule of law, as many hon. Members have said, and has been a trusted international partner. This country cannot and does not break international law just because it does not like the compromise that it has signed up to. I was interested in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s remarks about regulations being made under these powers and the possibility of the House having a further vote. I would be interested to hear later from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend Michael Gove, whether the Government intend to table an amendment to that effect, because I think that doing so would reassure many people. Nevertheless, clause 45(2)(b), if passed, at the moment of Royal Assent would lead to a breach of international law and the withdrawal agreement. I say to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that there is still plenty of time for those of us who have concerns about part 5 to be reassured, and I look to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to give us those reassurances later this evening.