With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Clause stand part.
This amendment changes the threshold for giving a Minister power to make regulations under this Clause. The threshold is amended to make it objective rather than subjective.
Clause 5 stand part.
Amendment 35, in clause 6, page 4, line 29, leave out “they consider appropriate” and insert “is necessary”.
This amendment changes the threshold for giving a Minister power to make regulations under this Clause. The threshold is amended to make it objective rather than subjective.
Clause 6 stand part.
Amendment 15, in clause 24, page 13, line 16, leave out from “to” to the end of line 22 and insert
“House of Commons draft affirmative procedure”.
This probing amendment would apply “House of Commons draft affirmative” procedure in place of regulations on tax or customs matters being subject to annulment.
Amendment 16, page 13, line 27, leave out from “procedure” to the end of line 32.
Amendment 17, page 13, line 34, leave out “draft affirmative procedure” and insert
“super-affirmative procedure (see section (Super-affirmative resolution procedure: general provisions))”.
This probing amendment would replace draft affirmative procedure on tax and customs matters with super-affirmative procedure (see NC5).
Amendment 18, page 13, line 36, leave out subsections (7) to (9).
This amendment is a probing amendment removing the “made affirmative” procedure on tax or customs matters.
Clause 24 stand part.
New clause 4—UK-EU Joint Committee: reduction of sanitary and phytosanitary checks—
“A Minister of the Crown may not exercise any powers conferred by this Act until a Minister of the Crown has sought an agreement at the UK-EU Joint Committee on reducing sanitary and phytosanitary checks and laid a report setting out the details of those discussions before each House of Parliament and provided a copy of that report to the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”
New clause 5—Super-affirmative resolution procedure: tax or customs matters—
“(1) For the purposes of this Act the “super-affirmative resolution procedure” in relation to the making of regulations subject to the super-affirmative resolution procedure is as follows.
(2) The Treasury or HMRC must have regard to—
(a) any representations,
(b) any resolution of the House of Commons, and
(c) any recommendations of a committee of the House of Commons charged with reporting on the draft regulations, made during the 60-day period with regard to the draft regulations.
(3) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Treasury or HMRC wish to make regulations in the terms of the draft, the Treasury or HMRC must lay before the House of Commons a statement—
(a) stating whether any representations were made under subsection (2)(a); and
(b) if any representations were so made, giving details of them.
(4) The Treasury or HMRC may after the laying of such a statement make regulations in the terms of the draft if the regulations are approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.
(5) However, a committee of the House of Commons charged with reporting on the draft regulations may, at any time after the laying of a statement under subsection (3) and before the draft regulations are approved by that House under subsection (4), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the draft regulations.
(6) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of the House of Commons under subsection (5) in relation to draft regulations, no proceedings may be taken in relation to the draft regulations in that House under subsection (4) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of that House.
(7) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Treasury or HMRC wish to make regulations order consisting of a version of the draft regulations with material changes, the Treasury or HMRC must lay before the House of Commons—
(a) revised draft regulations; and
(b) a statement giving details of—
(i) any representations made under subsection (2)(a); and
(ii) the revisions proposed.
(8) The Treasury or HMRC may after laying revised draft regulations and a statement under subsection (7) make regulations in the terms of the revised draft regulations if the revised draft regulations are approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.
(9) However, a committee of the House charged with reporting on the revised draft regulations may, at any time after the revised draft regulations are laid under subsection (7) and before the revised draft regulations are approved by that House under subsection (8), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the revised draft regulations.
(10) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of the House of Commons under subsection (9) in relation to revised draft regulations, no proceedings may be taken in relation to the revised draft regulations in that House under subsection (8) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of that House.
(11) For the purposes of subsections (4) and (8) regulations are made in the terms of draft regulations if the regulations contain no material changes to the provisions of the draft regulations.
(12) In this section the “60-day period” means the period of 60 days beginning with the day on which the draft regulations were laid before the House of Commons under section 24 of this Act.”
This new clause sets out the House of Commons super-affirmative procedure for tax and customs matters.
Amendment 24 would remove from clause 4 the measures that strip out the heart of the protocol, namely article 5, which relates to the management of the customs union and single market as they pertain to Northern Ireland, making it an excluded provision under domestic law. That, of course, would be a unilateral breach of the protocol, rather than working through negotiations to find durable solutions. The effect of that unilateral action would be to undermine Northern Ireland’s current unfettered access to both the single market and customs union for goods.
Fundamentally, there is no escaping the Brexit trilemma. When the Government decided to leave both the single market and the customs union, that required some form of interface to be put in place somewhere between the UK and the European Union’s economic zones, and that interface must be managed and mitigated as far as possible. The protocol offers relative opportunities for Northern Ireland compared with Great Britain, and they should be preserved and maximised. However, the protocol also poses challenges that need to be minimised.
The solutions must be mutually agreed, sustainable and legal. Northern Ireland businesses need certainty, and the only way through the process is negotiation. As someone who is at least a pragmatist or a realist on the protocol and who was a strong opponent of Brexit, I firmly believe that the European Union needs to be as flexible as possible, and that much more can be done in that regard—it is important that I put that on the record. At the same time, we must be brutally honest that the Government have been disingenuous in their approach to the negotiations over the past 12 months. Engagement has been extremely limited and, at times, counterproductive.
The Bill itself makes the prospect for negotiations even harder. Indeed, the passage of the Bill will probably make negotiations almost impossible. The European Union has been clear that it is tantamount to asking for negotiations with a metaphorical gun sitting on the table. By contrast, the key ingredients for progress are trust and partnership, but unilateral action undermines trust. Trust is central in two respects—first, to securing solutions in the first place; and, secondly, to ensuring their ongoing operation.
I want to highlight two particular solutions that are out there. A lot of Members have talked about them and, indeed, there has been a lot of commentary outside this Chamber as well. The first relates to red and green channels. On the surface, I think there is a lot of common ground between me and others from Northern Ireland, the Government and the European Union on something generally speaking along those lines. There is of course a major difference in the approach by which we get from A to B and reach such a conclusion, and I think that is the fundamental difference of opinion in relation to the Bill.
While Ministers keep saying that there is broad-based support for at least some aspects of the Bill, I am firmly opposed to achieving those through unilateral action, because that is not actually a genuine solution. We have to recognise that there may be some differences over the details of what this may look like in practice, and we need to be open, frank and honest about those. A green lane may not necessarily mean a fully open door; there may still need to be some degree of a risk-based approach to how that is managed. However, I think the essential concept remains that processed or final goods destined to remain in Northern Ireland should not be treated as something posing a risk to the EU single market or customs union.
The second aspect I want to focus on is a UK-EU veterinary agreement. It may be that we do end up with something that is very bespoke for the Irish sea interface, but I think we should focus on what should be the first preference, which is a UK-wide solution. The UK retains very high standards for agrifood, and they are de facto aligned with those of the European Union, but because the legal regimes do not align, we end up with barriers—frankly, needless barriers. That makes it much more difficult than it need be to manage movements across the Irish sea, but it also poses huge issues for the entire UK economy. In particular, the agrifood sector exports to the European Union—indeed, the European Union is by far the main export market for UK agrifood producers —and we are seeing a major shortfall in agrifood exports as a consequence of Brexit and the absence of a veterinary agreement.
People talk about what I suppose are the two polar opposite approaches to a veterinary agreement: first, there is the Swiss model, which is based on dynamic alignment; and, secondly, we have the New Zealand model, which is based on mutual recognition. The nature of New Zealand’s trade with the European Union, given the geography and a more limited range of products, will be different from that of the UK, which has its own requirements. Frankly, however, it is absurd that New Zealand has easier access to Northern Ireland for agrifood than the UK.
The Government face a choice between continuing to pursue the hardest of hard Brexits, especially on agrifood, when it makes no sense to diverge whatsoever, and being pragmatic and considering some form of veterinary agreement. That veterinary agreement may well end up being unique. It will be a UK-EU solution: it will not be the Swiss model or the New Zealand model, but something else. A veterinary agreement has the potential to reduce agrifood checks across the Irish sea by as much as 80%, and that would go a massive way to addressing the heart of the issue. Parallel movements could also address the pets issue, which has been a source of contention for many pet owners across these islands.
On the veterinary agreement, an EU that has negotiated—in good faith, one assumes—with New Zealand and Switzerland, would negotiate in good faith with the United Kingdom. The point that the hon. Gentleman makes is a real one, but for many years, both the agrifood business and farmers have worked to the same common standards in the UK and the EU. We have not diverged so far, so could that not be part of rebuilding the trust that he spoke about?
Absolutely. I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. He has been a strong advocate for a common-sense approach to agrifood movements, as have many Opposition Members as well as some Conservative Members. The Government keep telling us that there is no intention of diverging or lowering agrifood standards, so there is no benefit whatsoever to holding out against the logical solution of a veterinary agreement.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman completely about the need for a veterinary agreement. Is one advantage of an EU-UK veterinary agreement that it would deal with the objections that were raised earlier by some colleagues from Northern Ireland about Northern Ireland being a rule taker for things that it had not agreed? If an agreement is for the whole UK, and Parliament agrees to it, does it not remove that objection?
I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Our first preference in all these matters should be a UK-wide solution, and only when that is not available, for whatever reason, should we consider something more bespoke for Northern Ireland. We are discussing the protocol, and I reiterate that this issue is very much in the interests of the entire UK agrifood sector, which is an export sector. Many Members talk with great pride about different industries in their constituencies, and all of those are struggling as a consequence of the impact of Brexit. I am labouring the issue of red and green channels, and the veterinary agreement, to point out that solutions are out there and that the measures in clause 4 and elsewhere in the Bill are not necessary. Solutions are there if people have the creativity and willingness to go out and grasp them, especially when that is fundamentally in the interests of us in the UK, as well as being of benefit to the European Union.
Reference was made previously to the Acts of Union, and I wish to clarify a couple of points in that regard as the situation changes over time. The Acts of Union of 1800 were between Great Britain and Ireland, and we are now talking about Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so that is one change we have seen via the Government of Ireland Act 1920, and the more recent Good Friday agreement, the Northern Ireland Act 1998, and the principle of consent, which is the bedrock of that. That is just a precursor, and while I agree fundamentally with the point just made—that our preference should be for a UK-wide approach and solution to some of these issues where possible—we must recognise none the less that Northern Ireland has always, from its inception, done things differently from the rest of the UK in economic matters.
Northern Ireland has always had devolved powers, right from its foundation, and on matters such as employment law or other issues it has had the right to diverge. Further to that, although I am not encouraging checks down the Irish sea, for various reasons throughout our history, including in wartime and other times of stress, there have been checks on certain movements across the Irish sea, including agrifood movements. Indeed, it is accepted practice that farm equipment is inspected. Ireland only really works as a single unit in terms of animal health, and before a lot of the controversy emerged around the protocol, that was an accepted fact for people from all backgrounds in Northern Ireland, as it was the most pragmatic way of doing things. In the same way, the single electricity market on the island has not been a source of debate, although it is a reality that Northern Ireland energy issues are distinct from those in Great Britain, and happen primarily on an all-Ireland basis.
To conclude, I will stress a couple of points. First, if the will is there, the means exist to resolve these issues without going down the route of unilateral action. Under the protocol, there is scope to progress a lot of those issues, including within the current negotiating mandate for the European Commission from the European Council. The question of medicines was progressed without a change in mandate, and the European Union went ahead and legislated for change. Secondly, issues can be addressed through supplemental agreements to the trade and co-operation agreement—the veterinary agreement probably fits that category best. A specialist committee has been set up for that purpose, so a vehicle exists to progress similar issues. While the UK Government have put forward their Command Paper, the European Union put forward its own proposals in October last year, and updated proposals last month.
If clause 4 remains as currently drafted, including the excluded provision, there will be a series of consequences—indeed, there will be consequences from the Bill itself—both for the UK and, in particular, for Northern Ireland. Those will include the undermining of the rules-based international system; setting a very bad precedent by breaching international law; and the risk of a very damaging set of EU retaliations, right through to a full-on trade war. Sadly, we are already seeing the consequences for UK academics and researchers who have been excluded from Horizon Europe. Research has been a real success story for the UK, so the costs are already clear in that regard—costs that are being paid for something that is not necessary, is unworkable, and is counterproductive.
For Northern Ireland, the effects of clause 4 will be as follows: it will undermine our access to the single market and the customs union. It will create more and more uncertainty for businesses as to the legal regime under which they are operating. It will pose dilemmas to members of the Northern Ireland Executive about how they conduct their duties. Finally—I say this with a degree of trepidation—it will beg the question of how and where the interface between the UK economic zone and the European Union economic zone will be managed. The answer to that question may well pose even greater challenges and difficulties.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to follow Stephen Farry; I agree with some of what he said, if not, perhaps, some of his conclusions. I think that, of all the contents of the Bill, the Government are on the strongest ground when it comes to the clauses we are now debating, and that the EU could have found a way of agreeing with the UK Government how to fix this problem. In the protocol, it was agreed that Northern Ireland was in the UK customs territory, and only goods that were at risk of going into the single market needed to be inspected as they crossed the Irish sea. We ended up with the EU seemingly interpreting everything as possibly being at risk of going into the single market, which produced a ridiculous level of tests that would never be acceptable to the Unionist community of Northern Ireland and are doing the economic damage and causing the tensions we have seen.
It should be obvious and acceptable to both sides that it has been agreed that Northern Ireland will have a foot in both camps: a foot in the EU single market and the EU customs zone, and a foot in the UK single market and the UK customs zone. The only way to make that work is to accept that there is a porous border, where there is no way of exercising the usual level of control that the EU would insist on at its other single market borders around Europe. The key questions for everyone to focus on are these: what goods are we really worried about? What goods have a real risk of crossing that border without being checked—without having the customs declarations and the duty paid, or the various other checks that are required? Finally, how do we put in place measures that can mitigate that risk, and make people on both sides of the border happy that nothing is crossing that border that poses a real threat to the integrity of either market?
To be fair, the UK Government have been extraordinarily generous, not just at the Irish border but at the Dover-Calais border, by not introducing the checks we could have introduced and which we would expect to see at a normal border, because we largely trust goods that are in free circulation in the EU, even if they are not absolutely consistent with UK regulations, either now or in future, or perhaps there is a theoretical customs issue, even though we have a zero-tariff, zero-quota deal, and there may be some duty payable because of rules of origin. We have been extraordinarily relaxed in accepting that those risks are much lower than the risks of trying to impose the burden of huge amounts of checks.
Until we get the EU into the mindset of accepting the same position in relation to goods circulating in Northern Ireland, there is no solution, because at some point there will have to be a border with checks and processes somewhere. We know it cannot be on the island of Ireland. We accepted that trying to make the EU put the border between the European mainland and the island of Ireland would be a horrible situation that the Republic of Ireland could never accept and effectively mean that it had left the single market by mistake, which the Irish Government would never entertain. It always looked to most people that there was the prospect of a compromise by doing something down the Irish sea, where goods spend several hours on a ship allowing for inspections and for declarations to be made, but that it had to be done sensitively and only on the things that were really at risk, otherwise we would end up with the problem we have now, where the Unionist community will not accept it and there is too big a dividing line between the UK mainland and Northern Ireland.
I support what the Government are trying to do and some kind of red and green channel is the right solution. I think the problem we have is that we have extraordinarily little detail about how it will work and how we satisfy the EU that the data we think we can collect and give it is sufficient to get it in a place where it will not have some horrible overreaction. We have not managed to reach an agreement. In fact, I understand it will not even look at our database and the data we could share to see if it is enough to get it there.
We have what looks like a theoretically attractive solution that is the right end position, but we have no idea how to make it work on the ground. We are going from a position where it looked like the EU was going to accept trusted trader exemptions, where everything must be checked and declared unless we have pre-agreed that certain traders are trusted and therefore we can exempt them from it, almost to a position where, if I read red and green right, everything is exempt unless either the trader self-declares that he will go into the single market, or we presumably do some risk-based inspection and spot something that should have been in the red channel in the green channel. It is a stretch to think we will get the EU happy with that without its having serious trust in our internal identification processes.
Then there is the difficult scenario of what happens when somebody changes their mind: goods go into Northern Ireland to be sold in a Northern Ireland store, and then they get low on stock in the Republic of Ireland and decide they want to move them into the Republic. The goods will not have been checked and they will not have done the customs declarations. What will the process be? Where do they go to get the goods checked so that they can legally move them across the border? Or do they just move them, nobody ever checks it, it is all fine and that is that? Again, I would be surprised if we get the EU happy about that. We are going from a position where goods are in free circulation on the island of Ireland, to a position where goods may not be in free circulation on the island of Ireland. How do we fix that?
I urge the Government, as the Bill progresses, to publish the processes for exactly how that will work, and how we can have an effective international border and make the red and green lanes work, so that we can show we are really trying to identify the goods most at risk of cheating or abusing the rules to try to get around them. If we can do that, there is scope to negotiate with the EU and get to the end point that we will inevitably have to get to. Unless the EU wants no border at all or a border on the island of Ireland, it will have to make the system work. That has been apparent for the couple of years since we knew this was coming, but we need to have in place trust between the EU and the UK Administrations, and we need to have the working arrangements and trust between the Irish and the UK authorities in Northern Ireland, so they can work together, trust each other to do joint inspections and share information on a real-time basis—all those common working practices that we have not managed to get to, due to the tensions on both sides, and where we need to get to.
The question we have to ask is: does proceeding with the Bill help us to get towards negotiating a compromised, pragmatic end position or does it make that harder? Fundamentally, I suppose the Government’s answer will be, “We have tried to get the EU somewhere sensible on this matter for the past year or more and we have not managed it. So we will put in place these arrangements and the EU will have a choice: either come and work with us and get to the stage where you are happy with the processes that we have in place and the data we can share with you, or it is just tough—accept what we will offer you.” I sincerely hope, before we do this on a unilateral basis, that at least in this area, where it looks like a compromise should be achieved, we manage to put in place something that both sides are happy with.
I am grateful to be called, Dame Rosie. We are examining clauses 4 to 6 and 24. It is hard to approach the Bill on a line-by-line or even a clause-by-clause basis, because so much of it relies on unspecified regulations that the Minister can make in future. In the words of Parliament’s Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the Bill is
“a skeleton bill that confers on Ministers a licence to legislate in the widest possible terms. The Bill unilaterally departs from the Northern Ireland Protocol and enables Ministers to depart from the Protocol even further. The Bill represents as stark a transfer of power from Parliament to the Executive as we have seen throughout the Brexit process. The Bill is unprecedented in its cavalier treatment of Parliament, the EU and the Government’s international obligations.”
Clauses 4 to 6 are supposed to be the legal basis for the Government’s proposed green and red lanes for goods destined for Northern Ireland and the EU. The clauses unilaterally scrap the relevant parts of the protocol that deal with goods, movement and customs. The green and red lane proposals represent a solution that the EU should consider and, indeed, on which everyone seems to agree. Goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland that are staying in Northern Ireland should not face the same checks and paperwork as goods going into the single market. However, unilateral domestic legislation will not bring the green and red lanes into fruition, because in order to work, the proposals rely on sharing data and providing safeguards with the EU. It is inappropriate to place them in the Bill when they should be the focus of ongoing negotiations.
It is hard to understand how the Government’s proposals for green and red lanes and the EU’s proposals for express lanes cannot be reconciled. First, let us consider the Government’s proposal. They are proposing goods destined for Northern Ireland from Britain be exempt from checks and paperwork. The safeguard that the Government offer the EU is that traders will have to be registered with a trusted trader scheme and commercial data will be shared with the EU to monitor the risk of abuse. Let us now consider the EU’s proposal. It is proposing an express lane. That would reduce checks on goods staying in Northern Ireland based on a trusted trader scheme and commercial data sharing. If the prolonged uncertainty for Northern Ireland were not so damaging, the situation would be laughable.
It should not be impossible to negotiate a solution that is acceptable to both sides. The Labour party has long called for a bespoke veterinary agreement that would make the negotiations even simpler. We support amendment 24 because it would stop this unhelpful unilateral action in an area where there is a clear landing zone for a negotiated agreement. Businesses in Northern Ireland want certainty, but the Bill says practically nothing about what will replace the parts of the Northern Ireland protocol that will be excluded.
Clause 5 gives Ministers the power to make any provision that they consider appropriate in connection with any provision of the Northern Ireland protocol to which clause 4 relates. Traders and businesses will be watching this debate and wondering what on earth the details of the Government’s proposals actually mean in practice. Once again, it appears that the Government are not trying to be constructive, but are obstructing the path to a solution on the protocol. Trying to unilaterally force red and green lanes instead of finding an agreement on them is the best example of this. Negotiations are necessary and are still an option, so we simply cannot support that.
I rise to speak to amendments 15 to 18 and new clause 5. I will just have a quick canter through them, because they are quite technical.
Amendment 15 would apply House of Commons draft affirmative procedure in place of regulations on tax or customs matters being subject to annulment. Amendment 16 would prevent Henry VIII powers from being made on tax or customs matters using the made affirmative procedure. Amendment 17 would introduce the super-affirmative procedure set out in SNP new clause 5. Amendment 18 would remove the made affirmative procedure for tax and customs matters.
The SNP is proposing the super-affirmative procedure on what we regard as a point of principle: the Bill gives Ministers far, far, far too much power. Notwithstanding any of the unlawfulness inherent in it, it simply gives Ministers far too much power to act without reference back to elected Members. We think that that needs to be remedied, so under new clause 5, the super-affirmative procedure would ensure that the Treasury and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs
“must have regard to…any representations…any resolution of the House of Commons, and…any recommendations of a committee of the House of Commons charged with reporting on the draft regulations” and must give details of any representations made. The new clause would ensure that approval for the draft regulations is given by Members of this House, rather than by Ministers. There are some important issues at stake.
I turn to the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s seventh report of this Session. I have to say that the Committee’s publications are very worthy, although they are not exactly on my bedtime reading list every night. I am sure that the shadow Secretary of State, Peter Kyle, would agree; his highlighter pen has clearly been over exactly the same sections of the report as mine. What it says early on bears repetition:
“The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill…confers on Ministers a licence to legislate in the widest possible terms…The Bill represents as stark a transfer of power from Parliament to the Executive as we have seen throughout the Brexit process. The Bill is unprecedented in its cavalier treatment of Parliament, the EU and the Government’s international obligations.”
Quite apart from the unlawful nature of what is being proposed, it seems undesirable, if not improper, to vest quite so much power in the hands of Ministers.
I will keep my remarks brief, but I will just briefly touch on Opposition amendments 34 and 35, which appear to have a similar ethos to ours: they would remove Ministers’ ability to act on a subjective rather than objective basis. I also commend new clause 4 and amendment 24; Stephen Farry spoke very eloquently about the benefits that could come from taking a UK-wide approach once again on these matters.
I have certainly been doing my bit, in every forum to which I have had access, to make the case for putting a sanitary and phytosanitary deal in place. Not only would that solve many of the problems inherent in the protocol, but it would make things much better for my constituents in the north-east of Scotland, the seed potato growers and those who are involved in the food and drink industry more generally. It seems such a pragmatic thing to do that it beggars belief that we have come so far down the road of the Government saying that they wish to negotiate without anything like it being concluded. It seems to me that Ministers would be knocking on an open door if they went to Brussels with it.
The DUP has not tabled any amendments to the Bill. We do have some reservations, especially about the regulations that Ministers may introduce to give effect to measures set out in the Bill. Nevertheless, we want the Bill to go through the House intact.
Having listened to Stephen Farry, I could have understood it if his amendment had come from the Labour party. After all, we know that the Labour party really wanted to remain in the EU and would love to get back in the EU; it is pushing to keep Northern Ireland as close as possible to the EU so that it could eventually be a foot in the door for the rest of the United Kingdom. I could also have understood it if it had been a Liberal Democrat amendment. The hon. Member’s amendment, which would be similar in effect to new clause 4, tears at the very heart of the problem. Rather than addressing the problem of the protocol, it seeks to ensure that that problem remains.
The protocol has caused two issues in Northern Ireland. The first is the democratic deficit. As a result of the protocol, Northern Ireland is subject to a list of EU measures which—in annex 2 of the protocol—goes on for 82 pages. Those 82 pages do not contain the details of the law; they are merely a list of the EU laws, directives and regulations that apply to Northern Ireland. Moreover, not only the historic regulations themselves but any changes in those regulations apply, and there will be no opportunity for politicians in Northern Ireland to have any say on them. They will have no opportunity to amend them; they will not even have any say in whether they are enacted, no matter how damaging they may be to the Northern Ireland economy. That is what causes the democratic deficit, and the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for North Down is intended to ensure that that situation remains.
In our earlier debate, we talked about the need for consent and the need for accountability. In fact, in his own speech the hon. Gentleman talked about how terrible it would be for Ministers to take on the powers in the Bill, because that would take away the right of this Parliament to make any decisions and have any say. Yet he was quite happy to move an amendment that would remove the powers in the Bill to ensure that that list of EU regulations—82 pages of them—should no longer apply to Northern Ireland unless it is deemed necessary. He is quite happy for the Bill to be amended to leave those in place. We have elected an Assembly in Stormont. I know that people complain about the fact that it is not sitting, and of course it is not sitting because of the protocol; but even if it were up and running, it could not do anything to deal with the problems caused by the protocol, because it does not have a say on them.
That is the first problem, and stemming from it is the second: the range of issues contained in article 5, which the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for North Down seeks to keep in place. What is article 5 all about? It is all about the fact that laws in Northern Ireland are different from, and will become more different from, laws in the rest of the United Kingdom. Goods coming to Northern Ireland from Great Britain will have to be subject to checks either if they are made in Great Britain under different rules and regulations, or if they come from third countries into Great Britain and then into Northern Ireland, and maybe go into the Republic. If passed, the amendment would leave unaddressed both the issue of the democratic deficit and the problem of EU checks, with all the impact that that has on businesses in Northern Ireland.
It has been claimed—we have heard much about this today—that what we should be doing, instead of acting unilaterally, is negotiating. Why do the Government not negotiate on all the things that they wish to do in the Bill? Why, for example, do we not secure a veterinary agreement with the EU? Well, we have been trying to do that. Indeed, Lord Frost told the House of Lords last year:
“On the question of a SPS or veterinary agreement, we proposed in the TCA negotiations last year that there could be an equivalence arrangement between us and the EU. Unfortunately, the EU was not open to that. We continue to be open to such an equivalence arrangement, if the EU is interested in it.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
The EU has not shown any interest.
I note that in an intervention Tony Lloyd asked why it should not happen, because, after all, we were starting from common standards. I think he was also the one who asked why, if the EU could do it with New Zealand, they could not do it with the United Kingdom. Therein lies the problem. The EU has no intention of changing the protocol. The protocol was first of all a punishment and, secondly, a Trojan horse for ensuring that the EU still had influence on fiscal policy, industrial policy, VAT and all other kinds of policies in the UK. So of course it is not going to give up. It can go and do agreements with New Zealand at the drop of a hat, but after 300 hours of negotiation and numerous papers being provided as a way forward, it remains resolute that it will not do an agreement with the UK.
Of course, we could align ourselves totally with the EU veterinary regulations, but then what is the point of Brexit? If we did that, who would ensure that we abided by those regulations? The European Court of Justice. Again, we see what the aim and objective would be. If we go down that route, we will allow the protocol to be used to limit the freedom that we as a country sought to get through Brexit.
My right hon. Friend is talking about misinterpretations of the protocol. There are those who repeatedly say that the protocol provides two-way trading access into the UK market and then into the Irish Republic and the EU market. Does he agree that it is not the protocol that provides that? What should provide it is, first, our membership of the United Kingdom and, secondly, our physical geographical position on the island of Ireland, with a 300-mile land border that nobody could seal to provide a hard border to prevent open access?
That is the whole point, of course, which is one of the reasons why the border is placed down the Irish sea.
A second point that has been made is that these changes in the Bill will have detrimental effects on Northern Ireland and the people of Northern Ireland and that we will not be able to have access to the EU single market. Well, given the fact that the biggest market for Northern Ireland by far is the GB market, I would much prefer that we ensured that our access and the flow of goods between GB and Northern Ireland was maintained, rather than the flow of goods between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. But those things are not mutually exclusive anyway, because the Irish Republic relies on that trade as well.
Our farmers are an example. The Irish cheese industry—and industries involving many other dairy products—could not exist without a supply of milk from Northern Ireland. The idea that, as a result of this Bill, the EU and the Irish Government are going to say, “Let’s have a trade war with the UK” is just fantasy. They sell more goods into the UK than we sell into the EU. Are they going to harm their own manufacturers? There is an interdependency for some of those industries between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Are they going to hurt that? Of course not. The idea that there will be some detriment as a result of these measures is one of those claims that cannot be proven, and logically one would believe that this would not happen.
The last point that has been made is that, if we put this Bill through, we will lose what flexibility there might be. That was another argument made in favour of these amendments. We are told that we have to have these amendments; otherwise, the EU will get angry and not negotiate with us. We are also told that the EU would be prepared to show some flexibility if there was a willingness to co-operate. As has already been pointed out, we have tried to co-operate with the EU for ages and it has not happened. As far as flexibility is concerned, there is no sign of that, even when it comes to the minutiae of dealing with the protocol. Companies in Northern Ireland that do not have stores in the Irish Republic are still subject to the same checks.
Only last week, headlines in the Belfast Telegraph indicated that a haulage company had to send back a lorryload of goods because there were vegetarian pizzas on that lorry. I never thought that vegetarian pizzas would be subject to SPS checks, but I was wrong. Milk is used to make the pizza bases, so there has to be a certificate, which has to be signed off by a vet to say that the milk is okay.
When a Spanish vet signed off the certificate, instead of writing an i as we would write it, he wrote the i as the Spanish would write it, which is apparently upside down and looks a bit like a v. When the lorry arrived in the port of Larne, the EU inspector looked at the certificate and said there was something suspect, not with the pizzas but with the form. The i was the wrong shape, so the pizzas and the rest of the load were sent back, and for what purpose? So the vet could make the i an English i, instead of a Spanish i. There are examples of this every day.
Anyone who tells me that the EU is flexible, and that this Bill will make it less flexible, ought to look at the evidence, which shows that the Bill is necessary because the problems have been apparent for two years now. There is a democratic deficit, and there are daily problems for people in Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson, the leader of my party, quoted the Consumer Council saying that 60% of consumers in Northern Ireland now cannot buy goods from GB.
The Bill is necessary, which is why we support it and want to see it pass intact. If it does, we believe it will be the first step towards dealing with the problems caused by the ill-thought-out protocol.
It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend Sammy Wilson and to hear his words of wisdom and his facts.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his place, and it is a pleasure to see him here. I know he has a deep interest in Northern Ireland. We very much look forward to working with him.
I am pleased to see so many Members take part and take an interest in Committee. The people of the Province are incredibly anxious that last week’s Government changes do not affect the passage of this essential Bill.
“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
The Alliance party would have us in this forever, but we are not going to be. This time we are leaving. We are checking out and we will not be staying.
I am concerned about where we are. My party has problems with the protocol when it comes to exports and imports. Agriculture is critical to my Strangford constituency. There are some 3,500 jobs in the sector, never mind the farmers who feed into the process. Lakeland Dairies has two factories in Northern Ireland and two factories in southern Ireland. It employs people north and south, and its milk and milk powder regularly travel across the border without doing anyone any harm. It boasts the highest standards in Northern Ireland and the highest standards in the Republic, too. I am pleased the Minister is here to put the Government’s case tonight.
My concern is that Northern Ireland will, again, be used as a battering tool, which cannot be allowed to happen. I know most Members of this House, and I make it my business to be friendly to everyone. In all honesty, I look upon everyone in this House as a friend. Some are exceptional friends, but I count you all as my friends. I always seek to be supportive when I agree, and I also try to be respectful when I cannot agree. Tonight, there are some on this side of the Chamber I cannot agree with and many on the other side of the Chamber I can fully support on this occasion.
For many, the temptation exists to beat the remainer drum. Some people on this side of Chamber do that, as they cannot accept the referendum result. They cannot accept the fact that the decision was made. I see the EU as an organisation with an insatiable thirst. It is like a giant sponge. It keeps on soaking all the goodness out of all the countries. It was soaking it out of us for a number of years, and the people of this country took a decision for that not to happen.
Northern Ireland is battered and bruised from the game of political football that has taken place with us as a ball at everyone’s feet. I wish to outline some things in relation to the strikes we have had, but first I want to come at this from the point of view of my constituency, where some 99.9% of businesses are clear: they see the problems with the deal made after Brexit and the border down the Irish sea as disadvantaging them greatly. That has increased the cost of their products by at least 25% and it has reduced the number of products they are able to access. It has stopped 200 businesses being able to carry out business with businesses in my constituency in this last period. This is all down to EU intransigence and bloody-mindedness. We have the highest standards in our agricultural produce and we want to ensure that that continues.
Tension in Northern Ireland over the past year and a half has been at its highest. It has been very obvious and visual in my constituency, and across Northern Ireland. I believe that this Bill, which has won the votes so far and I hope will win them later tonight and next week, has reduced the tension. Across Northern Ireland, we can see that people see a way out of this. Again, I want to put on record my thanks to the Minister, the Government and the Prime Minister for all that.
I want to talk about some of the strikes that I referred to. I do not mean strikes as in people not working; I mean strikes that people have tried to make, be it like a bat hitting a ball or a ball hitting a bat. It was stated that there would be no Irish sea border, but there clearly is one. That is why this Bill is so important. Checks on products in the Irish sea does not affect the Good Friday agreement, but checks on land borders would. Thousands of people attending rallies has proven the threat felt by one community, the Unionist community, the one that we represent. I also represent many people who do not necessarily vote Unionist, but they have also been restricted by the problems with the Northern Ireland protocol and the border down the sea prevents them from having the lifestyle and access to products that they once had. The Unionist community feel under threat, and it is not acceptable to ignore that and behave as if all is rosy in a garden filled with kindling wood and matches.
It is stated that the checks are just an extra bit of paperwork, but for my constituents they are lot more than that. Businesses are thousands of forms behind, and mainland businesses have stopped trading in Northern Ireland due to the hassle, meaning that suppliers ordering from China, India and any other nations are paying substantially more for the same products than Members in this Chamber. The prices that my constituents and those across Northern Ireland are paying are at least 25% higher in Northern Ireland than in any other large-scale supermarket. So for us in Northern Ireland the Bill is critical and vital, and it has to go through as it is, untouched.
I want to ask the Minister about those who have been involved in the bureaucracy, red tape and paperwork—the thousands of pages of paperwork for one item. Whenever the Bill progresses and is successful here, can those who have outstanding paperwork still to be processed disregard that? It is also stated that filling out a form to buy something should not make someone less British. That one still sticks in my throat. I look forward to seeing how people in North Dorset, for example, feel when they fill out a customs form to bring home their shopping from London. I know that is a bit absurd but it perhaps illustrates how we feel in Northern Ireland at this moment in time. The fact that someone is treating you as a third country does make you less British. That is very simple, very true and very much ignored by people who are in positions to know better.
The last period of time has been about not just the attitude to where Northern Ireland is as regards the border down the Irish sea, but the attitude of international delegations that have come and called us “planters”—they called us many things, probably worse names, but that comment was from people in the States who fundraised actively for IRA-Sinn Féin to plant bombs—along with a veiled threat from a President who refers to us as “Brits” in a derogatory manner, and we all know who that is: Sleepy Joe. That was another difficult direction to navigate, yet Unionists are expected to say nothing about the Good Friday agreement.
I am very proud of being British, and I take it as a great slight when the President of the United States or anyone else thinks that British is less. I am proud to be British. I am proud to have served in uniform for Queen and country. I am proud of the blood that runs through my bones and body, which is as British as that of anybody in this Chamber. Others may not be as British as me, of course, but they have a right not be as British.
Maybe I misheard the hon. Gentleman, but I think he referred to Congressman Richie Neal, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee in the United States—somebody who would be very important in the discussion around a trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States. I just want to clear up this point, because it is important to get it on the record: was the hon. Gentleman stating that Congressman Neal was raising money for people to be bombed in Ireland? That sounded very much like what he said, and it is absolutely outrageous if that is what he said. Richie Neal has been a very strong advocate for and supporter of the peace process in Capitol Hill.
If I had known the hon. Gentleman was going to say that, I would not have let him intervene. I never said that. [Interruption.] No, I did not say that. I said that international delegations come and call us “planters”, and then I referred to others who fundraised actively for IRA-Sinn Féin to plant bombs. That is those who are supporters of Sinn Féin in America; they fundraise to raise a great deal of money.
The debate was not widened by me; it was widened by somebody else.
Let me be clear: I voted against that agreement, but I listened to its proponents tell us that it protected Unionism. One of those proponents—David Trimble, who sits in the other place—well understands the issue and has outlined how the Northern Ireland protocol has adversely impacted the Good Friday agreement, but we are asked to sit in silence when our economy, our buying power and our very identity is decimated by the protocol.
Richard Thomson had the opportunity to visit my constituency and understands the importance of fishing there. The Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation and the Irish Fish Producers Organisation are clear that the Bill will do away with the tariffs and red tape. How can it be right for a fishing boat to leave Portavogie, Ardglass or Kilkeel, get out of the harbour and get 2 miles off the shore, and pay a tariff on anything it brings back? The Bill will stop that. For those in Portavogie in my constituency of Strangford, and for those in Ardglass, Kilkeel and other places, I look forward to the days whenever we can grow our fishing sector, and create more jobs, opportunities and prosperity.
As the House discusses this legislation to begin the process to rectify the gross betrayal of Northern Ireland to get Brexit done, I ask Members please to remember the truths of where we are. I understand that there are those who did not want the referendum result. I understand that some want to remain tied to the EU. I understand the threats that are coming from Europe and latterly from the US. But the question is easy: are we a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? If so, the protocol must go. The Bill does not satisfy all that I want to see, but it does begin the journey. I am asking the Committee to travel with us, not against us: to call time on the kicking we have gotten as a political football between the EU and the UK. The EU has not negotiated common sense after 300 hours of discussions; it was never going to, or it would have happened already.
The reason we are here today is the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which was put forward by the Government and which my party fully supports. We need to make the changes. It is time to legislate this common sense to allow us all to move on together. The quicker that happens, the better. The people of Strangford want it and I want it, being British. I think all the people of Northern Ireland here are British, but even those who are not want it as well.
I wish to begin by thanking all Members who took part in the debate on Second Reading as well as in the debate in Committee that preceded this one. As we progress to the second day of the Committee stage, I want to reiterate some of the key points that go to the heart of why the Government have introduced this Bill.
The Northern Ireland protocol was agreed with the best of intentions. However, as Sammy Wilson has passionately set out, reinforced by Jim Shannon, unfortunately it is causing real tensions and problems for the businesses and people of Northern Ireland, including trade disruption and diversion, costs and bureaucracy. This legislation will fix the practical problems that the protocol has created in Northern Ireland. It will enable us to avoid a hard border, protect the integrity of the UK and safeguard the EU single market.
Let me address the clauses in turn. The Government’s intention is to introduce a new and different regime, including a green lane for goods remaining in the UK and a red lane for those destined for the EU. Clause 4 will allow the UK Government to implement such a regime for goods remaining in the UK and entering Northern Ireland. The clause, therefore, disapplies in domestic law certain EU law requirements and, with clauses 5 and 6, provides the powers for Government to remove many of the burdens currently placed on businesses by the extensive customs and regulatory processes that are required under the existing Northern Ireland protocol.
Clause 4 also defines “qualifying movements” that will be able to enter our proposed green lane. The subsections remove current burdensome processes for prescribed qualifying movements of UK or non-EU destined goods, and there is a power to define UK or non-EU destined goods. Clause 4 is central to our intention to rationalise the processes for goods moving into Northern Ireland. We have been clear that we do not believe it is appropriate to continue to require full customs and regulatory processes when goods are not even destined for the EU. This clause is part of what will allow us to put in place a more sensible and proportionate regime.
Our green lane and red lane proposals will form the basis of that regime. Engagement with businesses on the detail of the regime is already under way. We know that it is important that we listen carefully. It is the powers in clauses 4, 5 and 6 that will allow us to put it in place.
In respect of supermarket deliveries to Northern Ireland, it is really dead simple: those supermarkets sell only in Northern Ireland, so they would, of course, be appropriate for the green lane. But given the very large number of other businesses that send goods across to Northern Ireland, how do the Government propose to identify those businesses that are sending goods that are destined for the Republic and those that are sending them into Northern Ireland where they may be processed and then moved on to the Republic of Ireland? How will that work in practice?
Obviously, this is a matter that the Government have been considering very carefully. There are goods, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that will obviously be going to Northern Ireland. Businesses will also know that there is a significant category of goods that will not, and then there are the goods that may not be certain at all. That is something that the Government will be discussing with businesses during the consultation over the summer period, and it will be set out how those goods are dealt with. The hon. Member for Strangford asked us about reducing paperwork, and I can say that, of course, that is the intention of the future regime.
Clause 5 ensures that a Minister of the Crown has the power to make regulations in relation to any provisions to which clause 4 relates, with the exception of customs matters, which are dealt with in clause 6. Clause 5 is essential in enabling a Minister of the Crown to deliver the UK’s proposals for a new green and red lane regime. Taking a power to provide for the regime is required, and the precise detail of the regime will be guided by consultation with stakeholders.
Clause 6 ensures that the Treasury or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs can make regulations in respect of customs matters. It will ensure that, once this Bill gains Royal Assent, the Departments can put in place the arrangements needed to operate a coherent customs regime.
Clause 24 sets out the Parliamentary procedure to be followed in respect of the exercise of regulation-making powers related to tax and customs matters in this Bill. The clause provides that regulations making provision in relation to tax and customs matters are to be made by statutory instrument. Regulations would be subject to the affirmative or negative procedure, depending on their effect. These statutory instruments would come before the House of Commons only in line with the exercise of Commons financial privilege, usually given to tax matters.
Before I turn to the amendments, I will touch on a number of points that have been made by hon. Members across the House. My hon. Friend Nigel Mills rightly said that the Government have been very generous and practical in our approach to border checks, not only in relation to Northern Ireland, but more broadly. He is also right to say that we have tried to negotiate a way forward with the EU. We have spent 18 months doing that. We have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on the trader support service, we have spent 300 hours in negotiations and we have shared 17 non-papers. Unfortunately, the EU has not come to an arrangement with us, and that is why I stand at this Dispatch Box today.
I dispute what Peter Kyle says, that it is clear that the two positions can be reconciled. It is clear that they cannot. We have tried to do that, but we have not succeeded. The Foreign Secretary invited Vice-President Šefčovič to the Joint Committee when we announced this legislation. However, the EU proposals do not go forwards; they go backwards. Under the EU’s suggestions, sending a parcel will involve completing a form with more than 50 data fields. A grandmother who wants to send a gift to her daughter in Belfast will need to complete a customs declaration and a pet owner will have to pay £280 for a certificate to take their pet. I welcome the support for this Bill from the right hon. Member for East Antrim and the hon. Member for Strangford.
Dealing now with the amendments, I will first respond to amendment 24, tabled by Stephen Farry. I appreciate the intention of his amendment. However, it would be contrary to one of the core purposes of the Bill, which is to disapply in domestic law those parts of the Northern Ireland protocol that require goods remaining in the UK or not destined for the EU to complete burdensome processes.
The amendment would also mean that the “at risk” test would be left in place, which would mean that some businesses moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland would still be required to pay customs duty even when those goods remained in the UK. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Government’s intention is to put in place a different regime, one that is more proportionate and would remove the unnecessary burdens on business created by the protocol. I hope he will therefore withdraw his amendment.
On the points the hon. Gentleman made about the vet agreement, the UK remains open to a negotiated solution. We have put forward a number of practical solutions to resolve outstanding issues on SPS, but the UK has also been clear that we will not commit to dynamic alignment, which would compromise our sovereignty.
I turn now to amendments 34 and 35 in the name of Mr Lammy . The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, my right hon. and learned Friend Michael Ellis, addressed this issue briefly in the previous debate, so I will not labour the point. Replacing the requirement for a Minister to consider that regulations are “appropriate” in the use of the Bill’s delegated powers with a test of necessity risks our ability to put in place the right solutions to the problems the protocol is causing. In these clauses, that would potentially circumscribe the ability to design a green lane that will preserve the unity of the UK internal market. I expect the right hon. Gentleman will not agree with me, but I ask him to withdraw his amendments.
Amendments 15 to 18 and new clause 5, tabled by Richard Thomson, would remove the Government’s proposed parliamentary procedures for statutory instruments under the Bill relating to tax and customs matters. The amendments attempt, in some cases, to replace them with a new, so-called super-affirmative procedure. In other cases, the amendments attempt to limit them to the draft affirmative procedure, removing the possibility of the made affirmative procedure in cases of urgency.
The drafting of these amendments is defective, making it unclear precisely what procedure is intended to apply to different categories of regulations. However, I will address the principle behind them. As Members will know, true super-affirmative procedures for statutory instruments are vanishingly rare. The normal affirmative and negative procedures for SIs provide effective scrutiny for the House. The hon. Member’s proposed procedure is long, requiring months of consultation on draft SIs, and procedurally complex, but ultimately does little more than envisage a Committee of the House making recommendations and preventing an SI coming into force pending a vote by this House. The amendments would require the Treasury or HMRC to make statements about any representation they have received on the draft recommendations.
I hope I can reassure the hon. Member that the Government intend to consult on the policy—indeed, work is under way—and the usual tools of parliamentary scrutiny will allow him to seek answers about this from me and my ministerial colleagues. His amendments would simply slow down solving the problems facing the people of Northern Ireland and create a muddling precedent on perfectly effective parliamentary procedures. I therefore urge him to withdraw his amendments.
New clause 4, tabled by Colum Eastwood, would prevent the exercising of powers in this Bill until an agreement has been sought on reducing sanitary and phytosanitary checks in the EU-UK Joint Committee—the joint decision-making forum overseeing implementation of the UK-EU withdrawal agreement. In many ways, I agree with the spirit of what the new clause seeks to achieve, but where we differ is that I recognise that we have already exhausted this option. The Government have engaged extensively with the EU on reducing the burden of sanitary and phytosanitary checks both through the Joint Committee and through official-level channels. As I mentioned, we have had over 300 hours of ministerial and official discussions and spent a significant amount of money. Nevertheless, we were still prepared to get round the table with the EU, and we held further talks through the autumn to the turn of the year.
However, as we set out in the statement by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on
The Bill provides a comprehensive and durable solution to the existing problems with the Northern Ireland protocol. As I said, the protocol was agreed with absolutely the best of intentions, but it is creating real problems on the ground for people and businesses in Northern Ireland. It is creating trade disruption and diversion, and increasing costs and bureaucracy for traders. The Bill will fix those practical problems. It will enable us to avoid a hard border and it will safeguard the EU single market. I therefore recommend that the clauses in this group stand part of the Bill.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Committee divided: Ayes 212, Noes 285.
Question accordingly negatived.
Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 5, 6 and 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
To report progress and ask leave to sit again.—(Adam Holloway.)
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again tomorrow.