Northern Ireland Protocol

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:26 pm on 15th July 2021.

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Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green 1:26 pm, 15th July 2021

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin on securing it; it is long overdue, but through his persistence we have achieved it.

It is also a pleasure to follow Carla Lockhart. Before I get on with my own thoughts, I want to pick up on something she said. She is quite right that if anyone reads the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, they will see, first and foremost, that the border is not specifically mentioned in it. We have had all the wonderful great and good wandering around demanding that the agreement stand, when in fact the border is never once mentioned. Secondly, there has always been a border—my right hon. Friend Mr Harper has made the point that there is a border for VAT, excise and currency. The whole point that the hon. Member for Upper Bann makes is right, and it stands, but that is the bit that has gone missing.

The more something is said and the bigger the lie, the more people believe it—but it has been a lie from start to finish, which has meant that there has been no rational discussion of exactly what will happen under the protocol and thereafter. The protocol itself has failed to support the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, is creating division and does not really keep an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Lord Trimble has been quoted several times. I have to say that it is only in this country that a Nobel peace prize winner is not really given great distinction. Interestingly, when we took Lord Trimble to Brussels, he was treated with the utmost respect; when he spoke, Mr Barnier and everybody else fell silent and agreed with him. He said that the arrangements that needed to be in place were those that I will come to later—essentially, mutual enforcement. As he says, not only does the protocol

“shatter Northern Ireland’s constitutional relationship with the UK,” as has been referred to, but it subverts the very agreement that they keep on saying that they want to preserve: the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. It is breaking that agreement and directly setting one part of the community against the other because of the way in which it is implemented and because of its very nature.

The protocol simply cannot stand. I disagree with the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend Simon Hoare; I do not think that this is just about a group of people picking away at it and trying to object to it on ideological grounds. The reality is that, practically, it does not work—and if it does not work, it has to be radically changed or replaced. I am for replacing it.

The other bit that has come out of this is that the EU has become very partisan. A claim was made that somehow the British Government have to be completely independent of this, but they are the Government of Northern Ireland as well. The reality is that the European Union has become very partial. It has sided with one side of the argument and has driven this as a weapon aimed at the Brexit negotiations from start to finish.

I went with a team of people to see Monsieur Barnier, and, as was said earlier, we presented mutual enforcement to him at the table. That was before the British Government got in a mess over their arrangements in 2018 and came up with that poor resolution. The EU team listened, and we corresponded with them for at least another two to three weeks about where this could go. It was interesting that they were open-minded about it until the UK Government decided that they were going to go for equivalence and all the rest of it, and it did not work. They were very keen on the proposal and knew it would work. This is the point I make: there is another solution that will work.

It is worth reminding those who keep saying, “Well, you all voted for this,” that we voted for it because we knew it was not permanent. That was made clear in every single article: article 184 of the withdrawal agreement, article 13 of the protocol and, importantly, paragraph 35 of the political declaration, which envisages an agreement superseding the protocol with alternative arrangements. The idea that this is somehow set in stone and we only have to work to make it better is an absurdity in itself.

It is something to watch the Irish Foreign Minister almost boasting that diversion of trade is taking place which will only settle the natural order of things through the supply chains—these new realities. This is a breach of article 16, and it is very clear that he has admitted that. That is exactly what is going on, and it should have never been agreed to in the first place.

I want to turn my attention now to what the alternative is. We now have a situation where there are two and a half times more checks at the border in Northern Ireland than there are in Rotterdam. Northern Ireland represents 0.5% of the total population of the EU, but it now has 20% of the EU’s customs checks and more checks than France in total. This is quite ludicrous and an utter disaster. The solution, therefore, is to move to mutual enforcement, where both sides take responsibility for their own requirement to uphold the other side’s regulations. We do not need a border, but if prosecutions need to take place, the UK will prosecute those who transgress, and the EU will do the same.