Clause 28 - Functions of the CMA under this Part: general provisions

Part of United Kingdom Internal Market Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 15th September 2020.

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Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 4:15 pm, 15th September 2020

My hon. Friend makes a vital point, one that I think is shared by Members across the House who recognise how vital GB is to the Northern Ireland economy, and to helping it grow and flourish.

Let me put more flesh on the bone on how vital the internal market is. We have had an increase in freight and vehicle traffic to and from Great Britain for nine consecutive years. Some 532,000 units move out of Belfast harbour to GB. That is absolutely critical to understanding how our economy works. I understand, Sir Graham, that you will want me to move on to our amendments and their effect, but when 65% of what Northern Ireland purchases is from GB, we get an idea of how big and important the GB economy is. That is the point my hon. Friend Carla Lockhart makes. We make £13.3 billion worth of purchases from GB every year. Consider the size of the Northern Ireland economy, with 1.7 million people. We make almost £14 billion of purchases from GB—not from Europe, not from the south of Ireland, not from the United States of America, not from any other European non-EU country, but from GB. Getting this Bill on the internal market right is therefore vital to us. The amendments will ensure that our country either flourishes or fails.

I believe that Members of this House want to see a flourishing Union. We have different interpretations of what that Union is about, and I have to respect those different interpretations, but I believe that the Members from Northern Ireland plead earnestly to ensure we have a flourishing Union. The amendments that my party is bringing forward are about making sure that our Union flourishes and that the finances within it flourish. In terms of foreign and direct investment, after London, Northern Ireland is the single largest part of the United Kingdom that benefits from foreign and direct investment. Therefore, getting trade deals in place is equally important to us, but the Bill is the foundation stone.

Each of these amendments has an impact on the economy of Northern Ireland, and many would have a good impact, but some less so. We want to ensure that the power to disapply or modify export declarations and other exit procedures is implemented fully. We cannot have something that puts Northern Ireland at a disadvantage in terms of its trade and how it operates. In terms of clause 44, on the notification of state aid for the purposes of the Northern Ireland protocol, we want to ensure that Northern Ireland is treated the same as the rest of the United Kingdom. We cannot have a situation where Northern Ireland’s opportunity to flourish from state aid rules from GB would be changed.

Let me give a specific example. The House has been debating for some time the issue of free ports, and there is an attempt to identify the best places for free ports across the whole United Kingdom. I would love some of those free ports to be in Northern Ireland, whether it is up in Londonderry at Foyle, in Belfast harbour, in Larne or in Warrenpoint. I would like to see those areas identified as potential free ports.

Under the protocol, our southern neighbour, who has different economic objectives—set aside its politics—from Northern Ireland, could object in the EU to Northern Ireland having a freeport and stop Northern Ireland having a freeport. Given that the UK Government appear to be looking at free ports as a way to drive the economy forward post Brexit, Northern Ireland could be completely disadvantaged because of the predatory financial interests of a country that wants to look after itself—namely, the south of Ireland, at the behest of the EU. That would be utterly disastrous. Whenever Ministers are considering these issues, I hope they will recognise that we welcome this Bill because it will prevent the attempt to tie Northern Ireland into a protocol and a withdrawal agreement that could damage financial and economic opportunities that would benefit all of us.

Some people put about the idea that this could damage the Belfast agreement. No matter what side we are on in terms of the Belfast agreement of 1998, at the end of the day, we should all be on the side of wanting to ensure that Northern Ireland’s economy flourishes, because it is through jobs and employment that people gain satisfaction and contentment. If we have contented people, we will not have people being dissatisfied, with community tension rising and problems flowing from that. Getting these economic aspects correct will ensure the peace that people cherish and therefore the principles of the Belfast or Good Friday agreement, which Members have enunciated their love for.

I have absolutely no doubt about the sincerity of those who have tabled amendments on how they want to see their part of the United Kingdom operate, but I hope that the Prime Minister is sincere in what he is bringing forward. I hope that Northern Ireland is not going to be used as a pawn in this, and I say that in all sincerity. The Government cannot afford to do that to the emotions of the people of my country. They cannot kick them up and down, turn the volume up and down and not expect a reaction. It is far too fraught with people’s concerns about their economic wellbeing to do that.

If the Government implement this Bill, I appeal to them to implement it with the sincerity with which we are reading through these clauses and agreeing with them. Do not use us as a pawn to extract some other general concession from the EU and then desert Northern Ireland. Once bitten, twice shy. If you fool me once, shame on you, but if you fool me twice, shame on me. There will be no shame on the Ulster Bench in this matter. We are warning the Government: treat us with sincerity, as we are entitled to be treated.

This problem protocol lies behind many of the amendments that have been tabled today. Some Members have objected to the protocol because it is perceived as discrimination against Wales and Scotland, disadvantaging those regions of the United Kingdom compared with Northern Ireland. I would say to my colleagues in the House from those parts of the United Kingdom, that the protocol actually damaged Northern Ireland, and fixing it now is the best way to move forward. We should stop and think about the idea that people can one day support the protocol as if it is the best thing ever, when for the last while we have heard objections to the protocol. The protocol is the problem and it needs to be adjusted and changed, and we need to address that.

The amendments do contain a running theme in that they seek to obtain consent for the devolved institutions, and Members have spoken at length about a perceived power grab. Those are issues that the Government must try to address cogently and they must try to reassure Members on that. It is very difficult for Northern Ireland Members to accept the arguments about making sure that the devolved institutions are entirely in step with all this, because the devolved institutions will never be in step with any of this for this reason: the devolved institution in Northern Ireland cannot make an opinion on this Bill because it cannot agree, it cannot find consensus. It is essentially gridlocked on this matter.

An amendment was drafted—it has not been selected —by the hon. Members for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) and for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) that would have required going back to an Executive that cannot agree or make an agreed statement on Brexit, the internal markets or any of those matters. I do not think we should push things to the gridlock in Northern Ireland. That is why we need legislation to come direct from Westminster and help us to make sure that we govern with the consensus of the whole House.

I was disappointed that the Member for Belfast South decided not to speak in this debate earlier and removed herself from the list. We understand the reason—the amendment was not selected—but I would have been interested to hear the points that the SDLP Members would make on why they would want to hand a veto to a deadlocked Executive or Assembly. The Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly need to focus collectively—I think they do focus individually—on businesses, and I hope that they will do that and ensure clarity on how businesses could operate under the Bill.

The one thing I hear every day from constituents—and I am sure it is the same for members of the SDLP, the Alliance party and my own party colleagues—is that they want clarity on how business should be done in Northern Ireland. Businesses from all across Northern Ireland have expressed concerns about the problem protocol and its lack of clarity. Indeed, some of those points have been well made in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, where we have sought answers from the Government on the clarity that is ultimately required. The report that we made to the Government showed where we need clarity. Will there be import declarations? Will there be entry summary declarations? Will there be safety and security certificates? Will there be export health certificates for everything? Will there be phytosanitary certificates and certificates of origin? If there are, who will pay for them? How will they be monitored—through a computer process, a desktop process? Will that be for every single good, or will it be for 2% of the goods that are currently moved? Please give us clarity on all of those matters, or do what the Bill suggests and remove the paperwork, remove the burdensome red tape, take it away altogether and let us trade.

I ask any Member representing an English constituency if they would tolerate having to fill in an export declaration form for goods that were moving from Yorkshire to London. They would not, so why should people and businesses in Northern Ireland have to tolerate filling in, or being threatened with having to fill in, declaration forms for that sort of movement of goods? It is not acceptable and will not be tolerated, and rightly so. The Government should address that.

I would also appeal to those people who have tried to be encouraged by what the US Congress have said about the Bill: that if the protocol is removed, they—the US Congress and the Speaker of the House—would do their best to block trade with the United Kingdom. Considering that the highest levels of foreign direct investment from the United States of America have come to Northern Ireland and benefit constituencies such as Foyle, the Belfast constituencies, my constituency and the Upper Bann constituency, who in their right mind would stand in this House and praise American politicians for trying to stop that trade?

I want to see a flourishing trade with the United States of America. We have benefited from it in the past. They have been our greatest friends. Now we have people trying, for the sake of the Bill, to influence America to stop doing trade with this United Kingdom. It is utterly preposterous. If people were to stop and think for one moment of the consequences and the impact that that would have on people’s employment and wellbeing, I think they would realise that making that crass political point serves no purpose other than to call for a blockade of trade and to damage people’s wellbeing.

We have tabled amendments on state aid rules. We want to ensure that Northern Ireland benefits from state aid in the same way as every other part of the United Kingdom. We do not want to have predatory actions from businesses operating in the Republic of Ireland to prevent financial assistance flowing to businesses in Northern Ireland. We want to see the same flow of state aid from Her Majesty’s Government that we are entitled to—nothing more, but I tell Members this: nothing less. We are entitled to the same; we are entitled to those benefits. If the Bill helps to repair that—I believe that our amendments, which will be debated tomorrow, will help to do that—I hope that we could see a significant change in the direction and climate of the agreement and what the Brexit agreement has heretofore put in place. Where there have been concerns about it, some of those concerns could be alleviated. We need to address those issues.

There are many other outstanding points in the Bill. We need greater clarity in clause 40, on the meaning of “special regard” for the authorities and for the flow of goods between GB and Northern Ireland. The Bill appears to make reference only to the mitigation of the challenges facing GB to Northern Ireland trade; there is no detail on how that might work in areas relating to the recognition of standards, goods and access to free trade agreements, or potential divergence between EU and GB standards.

We want to ensure that devolved Departments and businesses have greater clarity going forward. Can or will Her Majesty’s Government disapply Northern Ireland’s membership of the single market provisions from any goods? These are genuine questions that we need clarified, and I hope that the Government will provide that clarity. On clauses 41 and 42 and unfettered access—the point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann—that issue is catered for mainly in the context of Northern Ireland to GB checks and customs. Little is contained in the Bill about the GB to Northern Ireland focus. I would like to see more flesh on that point, so that we see both sides of the trading equation.

We welcome the fact that, under clause 43, the Secretary of State will have the ability to interpret state aid protocol provision, but we want further assurances that Northern Ireland will be in the same UK framework. Those matters are important to us, if we are to get fully behind the Bill and see it implemented in a way that will benefit our country.

Unfortunately, what appears to lie behind all this is the question that has dogged this Parliament and its predecessor: who governs the United Kingdom? Is it Michel Barnier? Is it the European Community? Is it this Parliament? I believe it should be this Parliament, and the people from all the nations of this nation coming together to govern us. I hope that will be the outcome.