I rise to speak to Liberal Democrat amendment 21, new clause 1 and new clause 4. It will come as no surprise to this House that I have serious concerns about the Bill. As a Liberal Democrat, I believe passionately in devolution; the role of our regional governments in powering their communities is vital. If unamended, the Bill undermines that key function. Government must work for the whole UK. Food standards are a key example in that regard, and I am sure that most, if not all, Members of this House have been contacted by their constituents on maintaining our higher food standards. It is unacceptable that the Government should compromise on standards or harm British farmers by ramming through a damaging trade deal against the wishes of at least one of the nations of this United Kingdom—it is also unacceptable for all our constituents. The Government must co-operate with our devolved Administrations, and I urge Members from all parts of the House to support our amendments, which will strengthen our devolved Administrations.
This is my first speech on this Bill, so let me comment on its specific implication for Northern Ireland, an integral part of our family of nations. The Bill is intended to allow frictionless trade within our four nations, and of course it would not be acceptable to have a hard internal border between any of the component parts. On that point, I absolutely share the concerns of my colleagues on the Government Benches and of colleagues behind me, but the only reason there is any risk of a hard internal border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is the deal that the Prime Minister signed last year, which threw Northern Ireland under a bus—I never forget the anger from my Northern Irish colleagues behind me.
At the time, the Prime Minister called it a “fantastic” deal, so what happened to this oven-ready deal? He has now remembered that he has a responsibility to keep the Union together. The question is: what can he do, after his deal got us into this current mess? The Government have two options: they can renege on the withdrawal agreement, break international law and trash our reputation as a trusted trade partner, or they can uphold the withdrawal treaty, abide by international law and negotiate a deal with the EU that avoids the need for a significant internal border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The principle of the rule of law—a principle founded in this country—will be gravely compromised if this legislation is passed as it currently stands. The UK has a proud history of upholding liberal democratic values and setting a global example to stand up for the rule of law. Without significant alterations, this legislation will undermine our commitment to the rule of law. What does that say to the rest of the world about our values? It sends the message that we are ready to rip up agreed rules at a moment’s notice for political gain, not just to our would-be trading partners, but to authoritarian regimes around the world that are themselves determined to undermine the rule of law and promote the politics of division. The rule of law is under attack across the world, from unrest in Beirut to the horrific accounts of what is happening to the Uyghur population in China. The impending economic consequences of covid-19 are causing authoritarian regimes to grab extra power. This is the worst possible time to send the message that it is acceptable in some instances to break the law and go back on our word.
Getting a good deal with the EU—a deal that would avoid the need for a significant internal border—is eminently achievable and is plainly in the national interest. This is about regulatory alignment: closely following regulations on food and animal standards, workers’ rights and consumer rights, and competition rules. The closest working relationship with our European neighbours continues to be in all our interests. Now is not the time to undermine trust and negotiations held in good faith. The Government must finally put the interests of the whole United Kingdom first to protect the Union and uphold international law. Please support amendments 21, and new clauses 1 and 4.