“(1A) This section applies only if the following conditions have been met.
(1B) The first condition is that a Minister of the Crown has consulted appropriately with representatives of Northern Ireland business organisations on the option to choose between dual routes.
(1C) The second condition is that a Minister of the Crown has reached an agreement with the European Union on the option to choose between dual routes.
(1D) The third condition is that the Northern Ireland Assembly has approved by resolution the option to choose between dual routes.”
This amendment would impose conditions before the option to choose between dual routes could be implemented.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Clause stand part.
Amendment 45, in clause 8, page 5, line 24, at end insert—
“only if the conditions in subsection 7(1A) to (1D) have been met.”
This amendment is linked to Amendment 44.
Clause 8 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.
Amendment 28, page 5, line 34, at end insert—
“(3) Before making regulations under this section, a Minister of the Crown must carry out an economic impact assessment of the proposed regulations, and conduct a consultation on the proposed regulations with any stakeholders whom the Minister of the Crown considers appropriate.
(4) The Minister of the Crown making regulations under this section must lay before each House of Parliament with a copy or draft of the regulations a copy of the relevant economic impact assessment and a report of the relevant consultation.”
This amendment would require an economic impact assessment to be carried out before a Minister could make any provisions for the dual regulatory regime.
Clause 9 stand part.
Clauses 10 and 11 stand part.
New clause 13—Report on dual access—
“A Minister of the Crown must, at least once in every three months from the day on which this Act is passed, lay before each House of Parliament a report stating what, if any, steps are being taken by Her Majesty’s Government to promote, uphold, support and facilitate dual access to the British market and European markets for Northern Ireland businesses either as a consequence of the exercise of the powers conferred by this Act or by alternative means.”
This new clause requires a Minister of the Crown to lay a report before each House of Parliament stating what, if any, steps the Government is taking to promote, uphold, support and facilitate access to both British and European markets for Northern Ireland businesses, pursuant to the powers conferred by this Act and any other powers.
“A Minister of the Crown must respect, reflect and support in UK-EU Joint Committee meeting proposals relating to the regulation of goods made by the North-South Ministerial Council and other North-South Implementation bodies to the Specialised Committee on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland pursuant to Article 14(b) of the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
This new clause seeks to require a Minister of the Crown representing the United Kingdom in UK-EU Joint Committee meetings to respect, reflect and support proposals made by the Strand Two Belfast/Good Friday Agreement bodies acting in their capacity as set out in Article 14(b) of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
New clause 15—UK-EU Joint Committee: report to Parliament—
“(1) When the UK-EU Joint Committee has discussed regulation of goods in connection with the Northern Ireland Protocol, a Minister of the Crown must lay a report before each House of Parliament detailing those discussions within 21 days of the meeting of the UK-EU Joint Committee at which those matters were discussed.
(2) Each such report must include information on how UK representatives adhered to and sought agreement with representatives of the European Union on relevant proposals—
(b) agreed by the North-South Ministerial Council or North-South Implementation bodies and made to the Specialised Committee, pursuant to Article 14 (b) of the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
This new clause would require a Minister of the Crown to report to each House of Parliament on meetings between the UK and EU in the Joint Committee within 21 days of each meeting and to include information on the regard afforded to any submissions from the Strand One and Strand Two institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement by UK and EU respectively.
Earlier in the debate on this Bill, we discussed solutions on which I think it is fair to say that there was some common ground, such as the idea of red and green channels. The problem was the means of getting there: threats or unilateral action from the Government, versus building trust and using negotiation. Never mind the means, however; dual regulation is fundamentally a very bad idea. The business community in Northern Ireland has expressed significant concerns about this aspect of the Bill. Notably, this includes the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association, the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, and Manufacturing Northern Ireland.
There are many motivations behind the Bill. However, the claim that it responds to the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland or the interests of the business community in Northern Ireland does not stand up to scrutiny. I remain very critical of the so-called engagement process from both the Foreign and Commonwealth and Development Office and the Northern Ireland Office. They have sought an echo chamber to reinforce their own agenda rather than consulting widely.
I thank the hon. Member for tabling amendments so that the issue can be debated properly and thoroughly, but this is where I start to disagree with him. One of the conditions laid down in amendment 44 is
“that a Minister of the Crown has reached an agreement with the European Union on the option to choose between dual routes.”
Does he seriously suggest that a Minister of the Crown—of Her Majesty’s Government—must seek the permission of the European Union on how we should trade within the boundaries of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? That is effectively what is being asked for.
Indeed. Unfortunately this is the outworkings of Brexit, which the hon. Member pursued. We have a protocol in place to manage the fall-out from that decision, and a whole host of implications will flow from it. I am very sceptical, as indeed is the business community, about the notion of dual routes, but if that were to be conceded in relation to any one set of products or commodities, it would have to be by negotiation with the European Union. If not, that flow of trade would not have recognition and it would not work for the business sector in question.
On consultation, I want to highlight the current run of propaganda videos coming from the Northern Ireland Office. We are joined by the new Secretary of State, whom I welcome to his place. Those videos focus very heavily on haulage, which of course does have some particular concerns, but that comes at the expense of other interest groups in the business community where there is a very different narrative. Of course businesses recognise the need for some modifications to the protocol, but more and more say that the protocol is working for them and they do not want those aspects to be compromised, undermined or ditched. Those are the voices that the Government are not listening to, never mind seeking to promote.
On the programme “Countryfile” on Sunday night, a farmer from my constituency, Sam McChesney, outlined very clearly that the Northern Ireland protocol is affecting him, and his lamb and beef. He cannot sell beef cattle across the water to the mainland in the way that he once did. He said that he wants to see changes to the nitty-gritty of the bureaucracy, red tape and small print that is affecting his business, and that if this continues as it is, he will not be in business. Will the hon. Member take a deep breath and think about what Sam McChesney said, and then he will think the same as us and ask for the changes that he wants to see?
I advise the hon. Gentleman to reflect on some of the things that the Ulster Farmers Union has been saying about this aspect of the Bill. He should listen to what the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association is saying—so if the gentleman he mentions is exporting meat, that is what his trade body is saying. Of course there should be no obstacle for anyone in Northern Ireland selling into Great Britain, but we are in danger of losing the ability for meat producers in Northern Ireland to sell into the Republic of Ireland and onwards into the European Union. [Interruption.] I will come to that in a moment, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to have some degree of patience.
We will also talk about the interests of the dairy sector in Northern Ireland. If the hon. Gentleman wants to reflect the views of his constituents, he will be aware that one of the major employers in his constituency is Lakeland Dairies, which, along with the wider dairy sector, is extremely exercised about this aspect of the Bill.
I have met the chief executive of Lakeland Dairies on a number of occasions, and I do so regularly, because it is a major employer in my constituency. He says that he can work with this process, and if changes to the Bill come through, he can also work with that. There are factories south of the border and north of the border. Lakeland Dairies wants a workable system and says that it can work with this. I am not sure who the hon. Member is talking to, but I talk to the chief executive regularly and he tells me that he can deal with the system and with the issues as they come forward.
We will talk about the dairy sector in much greater detail shortly. Indeed, it has given significant evidence to Committees in this Parliament. Whenever we talk about the dairy sector, it is important to bear in mind that this idea of the hon. Gentleman’s that we will end up with segregated production, north versus south, is not feasible. If that was to be introduced, the lead-in time would potentially be two to three years, and the costs would be between £200 million and £250 million, so the notion that this is an easy option is a major fallacy. Indeed, the notion that we want to spend extra money to reorientate an industry that works quite successfully at the moment is for the birds.
Indeed, and the dairy sector in Northern Ireland is absolutely clear. The provisions in this Bill are an existential threat to their business model, and we will come shortly to the consequences of that.
I thank the hon. Member for giving way; he has been quite generous, but it is important that we scrutinise the amendment. Will he explain to me how the dairy sector, or whatever other sector wished to trade with the Irish Republic, would be disadvantaged if it agreed to dual regulation—in other words, if it complied with EU regulations for the products that it wished to trade with the Irish Republic? Is the EU going to say, “We will not accept your goods, even though you’ve accepted all our regulations, you’re applying those regulations and your goods are safe to enter the EU”?
I strongly encourage the right hon. Gentleman to engage with the Dairy Council and listen directly to what it is saying. The issues and complications are manifold in this respect. They come, first of all, from the inputs to the dairy sector—we are talking about the grain, the veterinary medicines—
Let me finish the first point and then someone else can come in.
If those inputs are not compliant with EU regulations, the raw milk that is then produced cannot be accepted or certified by Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs vets as complying with annex 2 to the protocol, which sets out the various regulations that apply in that regard. Therefore, raw milk from Northern Ireland will not and cannot be accepted for processing in the rest of Ireland. A third of the milk produced in Northern Ireland currently goes south for processing, and that will be dropped.
I thank the hon. Member for giving way. I should just put on the record that I represent one of the largest farming constituencies in Northern Ireland; I was previously the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Agriculture and Rural Development Committee in Stormont; I have been one of the longest serving members of the British Veterinary Association in Northern Ireland; and, for the record, my son-in-law is one of Northern Ireland’s largest dairy farmers, so I have some knowledge of the agricultural sector.
The hon. Member has touched on the issue of veterinary products for Northern Ireland. Is it not the case that the European Union has strategically blocked the sales and advantage that would come to Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit, because it does not want Northern Ireland agriculture to be a success? Northern Ireland agricultural businesses are in direct competition with businesses in the Irish Republic, and up to 40% to 50% of all agri-medicines for veterinary products, agricultural use and pet use will be blocked at the end of this year, because the European Union wants to block it. The EU is not interested in talking or making a deal with Britain on this matter. In fact, the representative agency, the National Office of Animal Health, has said that more time is no longer required. We need this Bill to solve these matters with regard to veterinary science.
Order. I want to establish right from the outset that interventions should be brief by their very nature, not speeches in themselves. Mr Paisley, that was longer than some of the speeches I have made in this place.
I will briefly respond, and then hopefully I will make some progress. What the hon. Member has said is utter nonsense. The notion that there is some sort of conspiracy or plot to undermine the Northern Ireland agriculture sector is for the birds. The threat actually comes from this Bill and from Brexit. It does not come from the protocol; it comes from the notion of scrapping some provisions in the protocol, which are working on behalf of the sector. The sector is diverse and some people may have a different perspective on it, but I urge Members to listen to the representative business organisations that reflect the views of their members. The Dairy Council is adamant and very vocal in this regard.
The hon. Member is making a very good speech. It is not the EU that wants to change the rules; rather, we hear from some contenders for the Conservative leadership that they want to change the rules. They want to strip away regulation, as indeed do some members of the DUP. Is that not a concern for the agricultural sector?
Absolutely; I concur very much with what the hon. Member says. Regulation sometimes has a negative connotation, but it is there to protect everyone’s interests and it is there for often very good and valid reasons. It is noticeable that we do not have the Foreign Secretary with us today—or indeed for any stage of the Bill, apart from the first hour—even though she has been very keen to promote it, for whatever agenda she has.
If I can make some progress, clause 7 essentially introduces a dual regulatory system for regulated classes of goods to which any provision of annexe 2 to the Northern Ireland protocol applies, including manufactured goods, medicines and agri-food. It envisages businesses having a choice over the regulatory route between UK requirements and EU requirements, or both.
On the surface, that sounds benign, but it is in fact unworkable. To be clear, there is an implicit element of acceptance that there will be different regulatory regimes, and maybe standards, in the concept of a red-green lane for Northern Ireland customer final destination goods that pose no threat to the single market. It is important to acknowledge that subtlety, but we are focusing in this debate on dual regulation that covers ingredients, components and goods that may enter the single market via further processing or as a final good. More and more businesses in Northern Ireland are exporting to the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the European Union. Since Brexit, this trade has grown significantly. That is market forces in operation, reacting to changing conditions. There is nothing malign about it whatsoever.
If this dual regulation were implemented, it would have major consequences. It would create chaos in many sectors of the Northern Ireland economy and increase the risk of economic crime, including smuggling. Even the Bill itself entails uncertainty for investment decisions, never mind the implications of its full application. It would mean Northern Ireland losing access to the single market for goods, both in practice, as companies in the Republic of Ireland or the rest of the EU would see Northern Ireland products as risky, and as a matter of law.
Such moves would threaten the comparative advantage that Northern Ireland goods currently have from unfettered access to both the Great Britain market and the EU single market. More widely, they raise the question as to how and where the interface between the UK economic zone and the EU single market will be managed. There is a commonality of consequences from the Government unilaterally trying to impose dual regulation, alongside similar measures to disapply article 5 of the protocol and annexe 2 to the protocol, and also the marginalisation of the European Court of Justice, which we will talk about tomorrow.
No doubt the Government and others will argue that GB and EU regulations will in practice be the same, just as they argued that their version of the management of movements between GB and Northern Ireland would protect the EU single market, but this neglects the fundamental point, which relates to the legal regime, in which there has to be either dynamic alignment or mutual recognition. That can be created and maintained only via negotiation, with an agreed means of enforcement. Many sectors of the Northern Ireland economy have both supply chains and sales that operate on both an east-west and a north-south basis. That can only be managed with one set of regulations.
Let us explore one particular sector in depth, the dairy sector, which a number of Members have already drawn me on. The dairy sector is heavily integrated across the island of Ireland. That reflects specialisation and economies of scale. It is an entirely sensible set of arrangements. Every year, about 800 million litres of raw milk, about a third of the entire output, goes to the Republic of Ireland for processing. There is full traceability of that milk. The milk is then often mixed with raw milk from south of the border. It can be mixed, as both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland milk is produced to the common EU standards and, crucially, recognised as such. It then goes in to final products, or sometimes into intermediate products that come back to Northern Ireland for final processing, for example at Lakeland Dairies in the neighbouring constituency of Strangford.
Can the hon. Member perhaps explain how the mixing of that milk will be changed by this Bill?
It is not unreasonable. It is basically common sense, because the milk cannot be certified as being in compliance with EU regulations, and therefore it will not be accepted.
The hon. Gentleman tempts me to refer to the time when his father famously said that the people of Northern Ireland may well be British,
“but our cows are Irish”, which recognised the integration of animal health and agriculture on the island of Ireland. It was certainly a wise comment from the hon. Gentleman’s father.
Final products go right across these islands, into the European Union and further afield. The Bill is a threat to the sector in that it would allow products to enter Northern Ireland that are not produced to EU standards. The biggest issue relates to grain, around 400,000 tonnes of which are imported in Northern Ireland annually, but seeds and veterinary medicines may also cause complications. Even if the imported grain, seeds and veterinary medicines are in practice produced to the same standards as the European Union, that still misses the point in terms of the legal regime.
According to the Dairy Council, if any of those inputs were used in the production of milk, it would mean that the raw milk could not be supplied to customers in the EU, as Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs vets would not be able to sign the necessary certificates to demonstrate that the milk had been produced in accordance with EU regulations and standards. Such an outcome would pose an existential threat to the Northern Ireland dairy industry.
The notion of trying to segregate inputs such as grain or milk produced to different standards or under different legal regimes is simply not realistic. Segregation would involve separate production, storage and cleaning. Tankers may collect milk from five to 10 farms into one tanker. The sector is already very efficient and works to very tight margins of 3% to 4%. It cannot absorb the additional costs of managing such segregation, and to do so would anyway make no sense. Indeed, it would involve substantially more paperwork and red tape, something I understood Brexit was designed to cut back on.
I have listened intently to the hon. Member and I am left confused by what he has to say. As I understand it, the dual regulatory system is a voluntary one, so what is to stop the co-operatives, which dairy farmers are part of, voluntarily agreeing to follow EU regulations under this system and abide by EU rules? The farmers are sending the milk in tankers to be processed in Monaghan, so it is processed within EU territory. What happens between the milk’s leaving the farm and its arriving at the processing centre in Monaghan that makes that milk incompatible with EU standards?
I think perhaps the right hon. Member was not listening fully. The point relates to the inputs in terms of grain, seeds and veterinary medicines. That is where the particular issue is. My point is that, if people decide not to do that, the scale of the segregation that would be involved in trying to accommodate that choice would lead to costs that the sector simply cannot afford.
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will have a chance to speak shortly.
The outcomes here will pose an existential threat to the Northern Ireland dairy sector. We are talking about potentially 800 million litres of milk that need to be accommodated somehow. The cows, of course, still need to be milked, and that begs the question as to where the surplus milk will go; that could pose considerable environmental challenges. It is simply not sustainable for farmers to retain animals that no longer have an economic purpose, so we could face a brutal cull of healthy cows. It would cost between £200 million and £250 million to create alternative processing capacity in Northern Ireland, and could take three years. Even if it made any sense to do so, by then the markets for Northern Ireland products would be long gone.
It is worth stressing that the island of Ireland has always been treated as a single unit for animal health. That makes huge sense, but dual regulation undermines it; there has not been dual regulation in the recent past. The same dynamic that applies to the dairy sector also applies to other aspects of agrifood, such as Northern Ireland’s very successful meat exporting industry. Any dual regulation in relation to feedstuffs and medicines undermines the ability to access the European Union in accordance with EU regulations.
Again, it is not realistic to segregate certain fields or farms for domestic Northern Ireland or Great Britain markets from those for EU markets, because—this may address the point by Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson—we will not have a situation where one farm says, “We’re only going to do Northern Ireland and Great Britain forever.”, and one says, “We are going to do the European Union.”
Because in a free market situation, businesses want to maximise their sales. No business wants to shut off one half of a market when it does not need to.
Overall, the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association estimates that agrifood provides £4.9 billion in terms of value added to the Northern Ireland economy and supports more than 100,000 jobs. Agrifood may be a small aspect of the economy across the United Kingdom, but it is massive in Northern Ireland, and it is worth noting that, if this Bill destroys the business model for many, there will be few alternatives for employment in many rural areas.
The same dynamic applies to manufacturing. Very few manufacturers seek to service a domestic market only. Any components in goods that are manufactured or processed in Northern Ireland that do not comply with the relevant parts of EU law will not be certified for export into the EU either for further processing or for final sale. Dual regulation may make things easier for suppliers in Great Britain supplying Northern Ireland. However, the needs of Great Britain’s suppliers would be better addressed via improved information and guidance, and of course the delivery of sustainable solutions around the red and green channel and a sanitary and phytosanitary agreement—or, even better, a full UK-EU veterinary agreement.
There are strong reservations, through to outright opposition, to this proposal for dual regulation within the Northern Ireland business community, and I urge hon. Members to listen to them. The amendment therefore provides significant safeguards against dual regulation in broad terms, but also the potential to facilitate dual regulation for any set of products or sectors where it makes sense. Consultation with the Northern Ireland business community is vital, as it has the expertise and on-the-ground knowledge. Agreement with the EU is necessary, as without a proper legal regime it would not work and indeed would be self-defeating. So is the agreement of the Northern Ireland Assembly, since this is notionally for the good of Northern Ireland and the Assembly represents a much more balanced perspective of the political views of the people of Northern Ireland.
Just to remind everybody, if you were not here from the very beginning I am afraid you cannot make an independent speech, but you are able to intervene on others. We have a list of everybody who is here. Just before I call Mr Ellis, can I ask hon. Members who wish to contribute on this first group to indicate their intention by standing up, so we can get a general idea? Thank you very much. That will be very useful.
I begin by thanking hon. Members for their participation in the debate so far. I remind them that, while the Northern Ireland protocol was agreed with the best of intentions, it is causing real problems for people and businesses in Northern Ireland, and this legislation will fix the practical problems that the protocol has created.
On the clauses under scrutiny today, clause 7 makes it clear that businesses will have a choice which regulatory route to follow when supplying goods to the market in Northern Ireland. It introduces a dual regulatory regime in Northern Ireland for regulated classes of goods to which any provision of annexe 2 to the protocol applies. That will create a new option to meet UK rules, compared with the existing protocol arrangements, whereby goods are required to comply with the relevant EU rules. Where the relevant requirements allow, it will also be possible for the same product to simultaneously comply with both UK and EU sets of requirements. Current traders have no choice but to meet EU rules when supplying goods in or to Northern Ireland. This obviously deters some companies, especially those trading exclusively within the United Kingdom. We have seen numerous examples of that already. It deters them from serving Northern Ireland due to the costs and administrative burdens of meeting this EU law such as retesting, re-marking and relabelling of goods, all of which are expensive, as well as the appointment of a representative to undertake administrative duties. All that bureaucracy comes at a cost, which is unnecessary for goods that are to remain on the UK’s market.
The dual regulatory regime provides businesses across the United Kingdom with choice. If a Northern Ireland business trades north-south in the island of Ireland, it can continue to follow EU rules if it wishes and sell its products in the EU and across the UK, because the Government have a commitment to unfettered access. However, if the model of a business is UK-focused, it can choose to follow UK rules and avoid the additional cost and burden currently applied to intra-UK trade.
My right hon. and learned Friend is right to highlight the significant frictions on trade within the UK that the protocol has caused. That has led the courts to conclude that there is a partial suspension of the 1801 articles of the Act of Union. Will the Bill fix that problem and ensure that the Act of Union remains fully on our statute book?
My right hon. Friend makes a powerful and valid point. The Bill will ameliorate a plethora of problems that have been caused by the protocol.
As my right hon. Friend knows, by providing an alternative UK rules route to market in Northern Ireland, clause 7 protects the integrity of the UK’s internal market. Clause 8 ensures that the protocol no longer prevents a dual regime such as that introduced by clause 7. It makes provision to exclude EU law where it would prevent goods made to UK rules from being placed on the market in Northern Ireland in accordance with clause 7. It means that goods made to UK rules can be supplied in Northern Ireland in accordance with clause 7 to enable the functioning of this dual regulatory regime.
Clause 9 provides a Minister with the powers to make provisions through secondary legislation to ensure the effective working of the dual regulatory routes in Northern Ireland. The dual regulatory regime will need to take into account the results of engagement with business, which we have already undertaken and will undertake much more of, and it will need to be able to evolve over time as UK and EU regulatory regimes change. The default dual regulatory regime may also need to be amended to ensure that it works effectively for different types of goods—for example, should it be required to ensure that specific highly regulated goods regimes can function effectively. So clause 9 is needed to ensure that goods are compliant throughout the supply chain for traders operating under this dual regulatory regime, whichever route is chosen, and it will therefore safeguard the interests of consumer safety and biosecurity arrangements and maintain appropriate public health standards. The clause is essential to ensure the effective working of the dual regulatory routes and protects the integrity of the UK’s internal markets as well as the EU’s single market.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm what the default position will be if a business has not made an election? Will it operate under EU law unless it positively chooses to use UK regulations? What will the process be for making this choice? Will someone have to file a document with an authority to say that they intend to use UK regulations when they make goods in Northern Ireland? Will there be a public register? Will it be an entirely private choice for a business? Will no one know publicly what they are doing?
The first thing to state clearly is that no business will be forced to do anything. They will not be obliged to choose one over the other. It will be up to businesses to do that. One power we will give to Ministers in due course, when the Bill has passed, is to make regulations that will fit in most neatly with businesses’ wishes and desires.
If I may, I will make a little more progress.
I will move on to clause 10, conscious as I am of the Second Deputy Chairman’s admonition about speed. The clause defines the types of regulatory activity covered by the dual regulatory regime established in the Bill. This provides clarity on interpretation of the Bill’s provisions in relation to the dual regulatory regime and makes the scope of that regime clear.
Clause 10(4) provides that a Minister of the Crown may, by regulations, make provision about the meaning of “regulation of goods” in this Bill, and that includes changing the effect of other provisions of the clause. We want to ensure that the sale of goods made to UK rules in Northern Ireland is not prohibited due to a particular aspect of regulation falling outside the meaning of “regulation of goods” in clause 7. So the power ensures that goods will be able to benefit from the dual regulatory regime.
This issue is very important because, before January 2021, goods travelling from GB to Northern Ireland had to fulfil four criteria to be loaded on to a lorry and transported to shops or outlets in Northern Ireland. Since January 2021 there are 15 compliance points, including heavy paperwork responsibilities. Is the point not that those matters will now be removed and we will be back to where we were in 2021—with frictionless trade in the UK?
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful and succinct point.
Clause 11 gives Ministers appropriate powers to ensure that the regulatory regime in Northern Ireland operates for goods in any given sector, ranging from ball bearings and ice cream to lamp posts, gas cookers and children’s toys—myriad different items, but also intermediate goods such as chemicals. All are regulated in different fashions. We want to ensure that they can all operate effectively. So the powers in clause 11, which I know are controversial in the eyes of some hon. Members, allow a Minister to prescribe a single regulatory route for specific sectors, including a UK-only route with no application of EU law, for example. This can also apply to part or all of a category of goods or to some or all of a regulatory route. We consider the clause vital in ensuring that the dual regulatory regime can be tailored to the needs of industry and ensure the smooth running of the new regime for all sectors.
It is on the point that the Minister just raised. If I heard him correctly, he just said that the Government were taking a power to prescribe which regulatory route should be chosen. Earlier, he said that it would be entirely a matter for businesses to determine which they chose. Just so the House is clear, the Minister is saying that it is a free choice unless the Government decide that it is not a free choice.
No. Businesses will not be obliged to follow any particular route. They will not be forced to follow either UK or EU regulations. It is a choice, and I should be able to expand on that later.
Amendments 44 and 45 are in the name of Stephen Farry. As I have said before, the Government are engaging broadly on the issues created by the protocol with stakeholder groups across business and civic society in Northern Ireland, in the rest of the UK and internationally. I have been to Belfast in recent weeks to discuss this with some industries. We will give plenty of notice to those affected. The clauses need to provide stakeholders with certainty that the Government will swiftly deliver the solutions that we have outlined to the problems that the protocol is causing.
Our preference remains to reach a negotiated outcome with the EU. I emphasise that our door remains open. We need a lasting solution to these issues to restore stability in Northern Ireland and a working Northern Ireland Assembly based on the consent of the communities. Her Majesty’s Government have made proposals that would address the issues with the protocol. So far, I am sorry to say, the European Union has not been willing to agree to those, but there is no reason why it could not do so. We hope that it changes its mind. We are always open to discussions, and we want a shared solution—I cannot be clearer than that. However, amendments 44 and 45 risk tying the Government’s hands behind their back. On consent, I respectfully point out that the Northern Ireland Assembly is not sitting at the moment. It is exactly because of the breakdown of the institutions in Northern Ireland that this Bill is needed. We need to see the restoration of the institutions as quickly as possible. Further to that, I confirmed previously to the House that we hope the institutions will be restored soon and that it will be possible for the Northern Ireland Executive to bring forward, for example, a legislative consent motion. I therefore ask the hon. Member for North Down to withdraw the amendments.
We have been spun the narrative that this is about the consent and the engagement of Northern Ireland. Although, of course, businesses are up for ways to ease the frictions imposed by Brexit, these provisions are far in excess of anything that anybody has asked for.
On the specific issue of restoring the Assembly, it is very vague as to what it will take for the Democratic Unionist party to go back in. Has the Minister any understanding of what the bottom line is for those people who walk around with scarves around their faces and create the protests that the Northern Ireland Office seems so engaged in? Do we think that they will happily accept green and red lanes, or will that be the next problem?
May I put it this way? The Sewel convention applies to this Bill, as it does to all Bills of the UK Parliament which intersect with devolved competence. I respectfully point out that the Northern Ireland Assembly is not sitting at the moment. It is exactly because of the breakdown of the institutions in Northern Ireland that we are where we are right now and this Bill is actually needed. We need to see the restoration of the institutions as soon as possible. I hope that goes some way towards answering the hon. Lady’s question.
Forgive me, but I must make some progress. I am sure that there will be another opportunity to intervene.
Let me turn to amendment 36, in the name of Mr Lammy. I addressed this point previously, so I shall be brief. It would potentially circumscribe the ability to design dual regulatory routes under clause 9 to preserve the unity of the UK’s internal market. Given that there are more than 200 pieces of goods regulation applied by the protocol, those powers are needed to ensure that the regime can function effectively in practice for each class of goods. The dual regulatory regime is necessary to remedy disruption to GB-NI trade, which will only worsen as the EU and UK rules diverge over the course of time. The arrangements will also need to be updated over time to reflect changes in UK and EU regulations, so Ministers will need appropriate discretion to make policy decisions in doing so. The right hon. Gentleman may well not agree with me, but I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
I turn to amendment 28, also tabled by the right hon. Member for Tottenham, who I do not think is in his place. The Government have engaged broadly on the issues created by the protocol with stakeholder groups across business and civic society in Northern Ireland, as well in the rest of the UK and internationally. As the House will know, the Bill provides specific powers to establish a new regime in Northern Ireland, which addresses the issues with the current operation of the protocol. We are engaging with stakeholders on the detail of how those powers are to be used and will give plenty of notice to those affected.
The Government have already begun a detailed programme of engagement to inform the specific design of the regime in Northern Ireland that will be created by this Bill. Furthermore, clause 9 is designed to provide stakeholders in Northern Ireland with certainty that the Government will deliver the solutions that we have outlined to the problems the protocol is causing. It is essential that this power can be used quickly if needed. Although in normal cases the Government will engage with stakeholder groups in Northern Ireland, and already are engaging with them, there may be occasions when the urgency of a situation means that the Government need to act swiftly. The amendment risks tying the Government’s hands behind their back.
Does the Minister note that, while the Opposition are now asking for an economic assessment of the protocol Bill, they did not seek any such economic assessment before they voted for the protocol? Even when the economic consequences were evident, they then still pursued the path of supporting the protocol. It does seem a bit hypocritical to ask for an economic assessment of this Bill while ignoring the economic impact of the protocol, which they support.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point, and it is one with which I tend to agree.
The full details of the new regime will be set out in and alongside regulations made under the Bill, and that includes economic impacts where appropriate. The regulations will be the product of engagement with business. We are going to talk to people to ensure that the detail of the new regime is as smooth and as operable as possible. That is what we are getting on with now. The House will have the opportunity to scrutinise these regulations in the usual fashion, under the normal parliamentary procedures. An additional requirement for the Government to lay an assessment and a report each time, which is what this amendment asks for, would clearly not be necessary. That is why I ask the right hon. Member not to press the amendment.
Let me move on to new clause 13 in the name Colum Eastwood. I argue that this new clause is unnecessary. The hon. Gentleman’s new clause would create a statutory obligation for the UK Government to publish, at least quarterly, what steps are being taken by Her Majesty’s Government to promote, uphold, support and facilitate dual access to the British market and European markets. The Government already publish a host of information on trade, and it is not necessary, in my submission, to duplicate existing publications on a quarterly basis and lay them before Parliament. The dual regulatory regime provides businesses across the UK with choice. If a Northern Ireland-based business trades north-south on the island of Ireland, then they can continue, as now, to follow EU rules and sell their products in the EU and across the UK, because of the Government’s commitment to unfettered access. But if their business model is UK-focused, they can choose to follow UK rules and benefit from the opportunities afforded there. I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman not to press his new clause.
Finally, let me turn to new clauses 14 and 15 in the name of the hon. Member for Foyle. These new clauses are, in some aspects, unnecessary, and, in other aspects, inappropriate. As the hon. Gentleman knows, article 14(b) of the protocol already requires the specialised committee to
“examine proposals concerning the implementation and application of this Protocol from the North-South Ministerial Council and North-South Implementation bodies set up under the 1998 Agreement”.
That is an entirely appropriate and valuable role. The hon. Gentleman’s new clauses, by contrast, would create a statutory obligation for the UK Government to “support” proposals relating to the regulation of goods made by the North-South Ministerial Council and other North-South Implementation bodies.
That would cede control over the UK Government’s stance in the Joint Committee to a council on which the Irish Government—the Government of an EU member state—sits. The hon. Member can surely see that this would be wholly inappropriate. In any case, as part of our “New Decade, New Approach” commitments, the Government already ensure that representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive are invited to meetings of the Joint Committee, which discusses Northern Ireland specific matters, and these are also attended by the Irish Government.
Does the Minister agree that the North-South Ministerial Council and other architecture of the Good Friday agreement provide solutions to addressing some of the issues around democratic deficit and input of civic society? Does he acknowledge that the North-South Ministerial Council is not currently operating because strand one and strand two of the agreement are being held to ransom by the DUP?
I do not accept the characterisation of the hon. Lady’s point.
The aspects of new clauses 14 and 15 obliging the Government to lay reports before Parliament are also unnecessary. The Government have already committed to—and do—lay written ministerial statements in Parliament before and after each meeting of the Joint Committee. We also provide explanatory memorandums on matters to be discussed at Joint Committee meetings. I therefore urge the hon. Member for Foyle not to press new clauses 14 and 15.
My hon. Friend Nigel Mills asked in an intervention about businesses having a choice. Businesses will, of course, have a choice by default. He asked about processes. We are engaging with businesses. We may need to tailor regulatory routes in some cases, but businesses will have a choice by default.
To conclude, the Bill on which this honourable House is spending up to 18 hours in Committee provides a comprehensive and durable solution to the existing problems with the Northern Ireland protocol by giving businesses a choice over which regulatory route to follow when placing goods on the market in Northern Ireland. I therefore recommend that the clauses under consideration stand part of the Bill.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship once again, Mr Evans.
I shall start by responding to a point made by Sammy Wilson. To clarify, the Labour party and I voted against the protocol when it was before the House. In fact, we walked through the Lobbies together on this issue. I am surprised he does not remember such a memorable occasion—it is quite a rarity, it must be admitted. I hope that when he comes to speak, he will correct the record, because we have a good relationship. It is one that I value and that I hope will continue.
For the record, will the hon. Gentleman tell us the stance of his party on the protocol today?
First, I am slightly disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman did not take the opportunity to correct the record from his previous intervention.
My stance and that of the Labour party on the protocol is very clear: it needs to evolve, to change and to be improved, and that should be done by all lawful means. This Bill is not lawful. Of course, Mrs May, the former Prime Minister, said on the Floor of the House just a few days ago that in her opinion it was unlawful. We heard from a former Attorney General in the last day of debate that he felt it was unlawful.
For that reason, the Labour party believes that although we voted against the protocol in the first place, now that it is in domestic statute and part of an international treaty, the responsible thing to do is to negotiate a way forward. What we cannot do is repeat the debates of previous days. We need to stick to the clauses before us. Today, we are talking about—
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s giving way. The issue of lawfulness, which he put on the agenda today, has to be addressed. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is the only Committee to have taken evidence on the lawfulness, or otherwise, of the protocol under international law. For the record, it was stated:
“no, it does not violate international law. It does not violate the protocol.”
I have heard people who should know better saying that it does, but I am afraid they are wrong. They are obviously not international lawyers. The evidence given to this House by the emeritus professor of public international law at the University of Edinburgh, who advises the Government and the Opposition, says that it does not break the law. Why does the hon. Gentleman persist with this inaccurate point?
Again, I will not repeat the debate from the first day of Committee, when all those issues were explored in detail. It is a shame to hear the hon. Gentleman say that of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, whom I know he respects. She said in the House that she asked herself three questions:
“First, do I consider it to be legal… Secondly, will it achieve its aims? Thirdly, does it…maintain the standing of the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world? My answer to all three questions is no.”—[Official Report,
I am going to move on, because we need to stick to the clauses before us. I will give way once, but I promise, Mr Evans, that I will then crack on with the business before us.
Hopefully it will be a very helpful intervention. Does the shadow Secretary of State agree that it is important for Members to reflect fully on the evidence that was given to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee? The last time Ian Paisley made reference to it, at least one of the people who gave evidence expressed concern, along with other international lawyers, that what was said did not fully reflect the subtlety of the arguments put before the Committee, which were not as simplistic as the hon. Gentleman said.
I am very grateful for that intervention. For the record, I think that all the interventions I receive here are helpful. They are certainly in the spirit of the debate that this place exists for. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is right, and I am grateful to him for setting the record straight so that we can move forward.
Today, we are considering clauses 7 to 11, which deal with the dual regulatory regime the Government want to set up for Northern Ireland. Amendment 28 would require a Minister to carry out an economic impact assessment and a consultation before making any regulations for a dual regulatory regime. Some parts of the Bill indicate that the Government have been listening to problems that businesses and consumers in Northern Ireland are facing. In those areas, the Labour party is clear that the EU must show more flexibility to deliver the progress that businesses in Northern Ireland need.
However, in proceeding with the dual regulatory regime, the Government demonstrate that they are ignoring the voices of most businesses. We saw that in the Government’s press release about Second Reading. It revealed, alarmingly, that the Government had only just begun
“a series of structured engagements with the business community, to discuss and gather views on the detailed implementation of the Bill.”
That had happened in recent days—not recent weeks, months or years, but in recent days. Businesses I know that are taking part in the process have asked for a commitment from the Government that they will publish the results in a report. I hope that the Minister will give that assurance from the Dispatch Box today.
Instead of taking the time to develop a policy that works for businesses, the Foreign Secretary is doing what the Government have done from the start: they have been so preoccupied negotiating with the various factions in their own party that they neglect to engage meaningfully with the stakeholders and partners who are the only ones able to unlock the progress our country needs.
Declan Billington, the chief executive of John Thompson and Sons animal feed manufacturers and co-chair of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, said, when asked for his assessment of the proposals,
“I cannot actually answer the question because when I say, ‘Lift the bonnet under the bill and show me the detailed policies that we can engage with,’ I hear conversations about co-design and, therefore, I cannot benchmark.”
This is absurd. Instead of coming up with serious proposals, the Government are simply asking businesses to do the hard graft for them. In a damning assessment, the trade expert Sam Lowe described the proposed dual regulatory regime as
“a solution looking for a problem: it is near-impossible to find a business in Northern Ireland advocating for it.”
There are many reasons businesses are not calling for a dual regulatory system. High on the list is the shift in the burden of responsibility for ensuring that goods do not enter the EU off the Government agencies and on to the 75,000 individual Northern Ireland businesses. That might work for retailers, but exporters and businesses with highly integrated all-island supply chains see it as an almost existential threat. Again, the Government have been clear that their preferred outcome for the protocol is a negotiated solution. Such unserious proposals undermine the common ground in other areas.
The dissent in Tory ranks complicates the situation further. Several prominent Conservatives, including the Attorney General, have said that they want the dual regulatory regime to be scrapped in favour of mutual enforcement down the line. The irony of asking for mutual enforcement is that it requires absolute trust between the UK and the EU. It would take serious negotiation and deep good faith to achieve it. It is pure fantasy to think that we can get there with this Bill, which unilaterally rewrites the agreement we have.
The dual regulatory regime raises more questions than it answers. If I understand the Government’s position correctly, a firm can decide to operate under one regime or the other. Say, for the sake of argument, that UK regulation banned a particular ingredient for a food product, but it was not banned by the EU. Is it my hon. Friend’s understanding of the Government’s proposals that it would be legal for a firm in Northern Ireland to sell that product with the banned ingredient in the rest of the UK, so long as the company claimed it was operating under EU rules?
I am always very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his interventions in these debates; they always add a great deal. He has, with his forensic mind, picked a situation that shows one of the many absurdities thrown up by this Bill. It will, in practice, mean a huge amount of complexity for businesses across Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Some businesses will find it impossible to answer the questions he has raised, and will be deterred from trading on current terms, simply because they are worried about infractions from one of the markets or the other, or indeed about how the two interact. That is an area that I will move on to.
I listened with great interest to the exchanges with Northern Ireland Members a few moments ago about the dairy trade, and to the interventions by Ian Paisley. I am straying into the same territory now as I quote the representative body for the dairy sector. I encourage all Members to read the written evidence that the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland submitted to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee just last week. This is a hugely important industry for Northern Ireland. There are over 3,200 dairy farming businesses there, which contribute at least £1.5 billion a year to the economy. It is very good to know that the hon. Member and his family are part of that success for Northern Ireland.
In the words of the Dairy Council,
“The NI Protocol Bill represents a threat to the IoI”— the island of Ireland— dairy value chain through the proposal for a Dual Regulatory Regime…which will open the potential for products used on dairy farms in the production of milk to be imported from GB without having to adhere to EU standards.
The IoI dairy value chain operates on the basis that NI and RoI milk are produced to the same EU standards”.
It also stated:
“Annually around 800m litres of milk, about one third of total NI production, moves to RoI for processing. NI does not have sufficient processing capacity to process all the milk produced in NI, so anything that damages or limits the dairy value chain would have serious consequences for the NI dairy sector.”
At present, Northern Ireland vets issue certification that the Republic of Ireland vets accept for each consignment of milk.
After I have made this point, I will, because I am always interested in the hon. Member’s views on this issue.
What the Government are proposing would impose additional layers of bureaucracy to prove that every step of the milk processing complied with EU standards. This would be disastrous for the dairy industry; it would require segregation of milk at every stage and push the sector into negative growth in Northern Ireland.
On that technical point, as the hon. Member will accept, the protocol is an example of red tape being used to tie up commerce. Given what he has just said, does he accept that a commercial opportunity is being set aside, and farmers are not being allowed to take it?
The hon. Member talks about what I said, but all I did was quote the words of the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland; I was not expressing my views. When I talk about an industry in Northern Ireland, I of course try extremely hard to listen to the people on the frontline who represent that industry. Of course I take into consideration his experience, and the frontline experiences of his family.
My amendment 28 says, “Let’s listen to those on the frontline and get the Government to do an assessment before we do something that could have radical consequences for the sector.” I understand that the hon. Member has first-hand experience of talking to people, and of living in a family of people, who are affected by this. Expert opinion fed to me contradicts that view. What is the logical conclusion? Before we move forward with a set of regulations that could ride roughshod over the dairy industry in Northern Ireland, let us take the time to make an assessment. We should have an impact assessment, lay it before the House, and debate it before we pass a law that could radically impact the industry.
The hon. Member has to be very careful in listening to bodies that claim to be representative of an industry; those at the top of the body very often have their own agenda. Let us look at the logic of his argument. A third of Northern Ireland’s milk goes for processing in the Irish Republic. In other words, some businesses in the Irish Republic are dependent on an awful lot of milk, which they cannot produce in their country, from Northern Ireland. If we have a system of dual regulation that ensures that the milk is as safe tomorrow as it was yesterday, and as safe after the Bill goes through as it was before the Bill, does he not think that businesses and Government in the Irish Republic will accept that Northern Ireland milk is essential for those industries, and so would not seek to put a barrier in its way?
The point I am making is quite clear. There is a difference of opinion here, and I think it is unwise to reject out of hand the representative body for the dairy sector in Northern Ireland. Let us engage with that. I have been very respectful of the right hon. Gentleman’s view, but I make the point that that was the second intervention from him, and I did ask him to correct the record in relation to his previous intervention, when he said something that was categorically untrue about my voting in the past. I hope that when he makes his next intervention he will do the right and honourable thing, which is to correct the record unequivocally and recognise that I voted in the polar opposite way to the way that he said I did.
The best way for us to resolve these issues is to have an independent assessment of the impact on different sectors that might be negatively affected—or certainly affected—by the legislation. It would be irresponsible not to, because there is such a difference of opinion.
Talking of putting things on the record, would the shadow Secretary of State join me in standing up for the credibility of Mike Johnston, who leads the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland? I stress that no one here has any evidence whatsoever that he has any motivation other than standing up for the interests of his industry.
I am certainly very grateful for the intervention, and to the witness for giving the benefit of his insight, wisdom and experience to a Select Committee of the House—insight gained from his membership of his organisation. All submissions to this place are welcome, and must be received in the spirit in which they were given to the House. However, it is the role of Government to deliver, and I urge the Government and Ministers to deliver in the way that has the least chance of negatively impacting a sector as important as the dairy sector in Northern Ireland. We are talking about the dairy sector, but it is just one of many sectors that could be negatively impacted if the Government get the implementation of the Bill wrong.
The Dairy Council for Northern Ireland estimates that processing all the milk that Northern Ireland produces would take three years and up to £250 million of investment. Let us be clear that we are debating a proposal that would cripple a part of the economy that supplies basic consumer goods and is working well. The proposals would take a wrecking ball to this key sector in the middle of a cost of living crisis, wreaking havoc on businesses and driving up prices. It would be a different debate if the Government were saying that they are introducing a dual regulatory regime because they do not want Northern Ireland to have dual market access any more, and this was the first step towards that, but that is not what Ministers are saying.
“cuts the processes that drive up cost for business”—[Official Report,
and allows business to choose which market they want to use. That is the exact opposite of what businesses are saying that a dual regulatory regime would achieve in practice. It is self-explanatory that moving to a dual regime would lead to more administration. The clue is in the name: dual regulation, under a dual regime, means double the number of processes that a business could encounter.
I fear the shadow Secretary of State is approaching this on the premise that the dual regulatory system will be compulsory. As I understand the Government’s proposal, it is for each business—and sector, indeed, if it so wishes—to decide whether it wants to opt in or opt out of this system. Businesses and sectors could decide to opt into the UK system only or the EU system only, or both. The idea that every business and sector will have to adopt both sets of regulations is simply not true.
I am grateful for the intervention. I make two simple points: first, I used the word “could” encounter, not “would” or “be compelled” to encounter. Secondly, let us take a business that might be operating in both markets. It would be forced to undertake the bureaucracy required by both markets. He says that is optional. Of course it is, but it is not optimal if a business that is operating perfectly contently and successfully—perhaps even growing, and creating more wealth, opportunity and jobs in Northern Ireland—wants to withdraw from one of the markets just to avoid the paperwork. It would not be forced; I understand that. It would be voluntary, but let us not kid ourselves that withdrawing from one of the markets simply to avoid bureaucracy or red tape would not have any impact on jobs, prosperity and wealth in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland does not operate in a vacuum. A business in my constituency is no different from a business in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. If a business in his constituency wants to sell goods in the EU single market, is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that that business can apply British standards, even if they are different from EU standards, and sell those goods in the EU without complying with EU standards? Of course not. Businesses in Northern Ireland have to make commercial decisions. If they want to sell goods to the EU, they must comply with EU standards. If they want to sell goods in the UK, they must comply with British standards. That is the way the commercial world works. That is the way it is regulated. Let us not pretend that we are creating a new regime here for Northern Ireland businesses, and that if we want to sell goods both in the UK and the EU, we need only one set of standards. That is not the case.
I am not quite sure where to start with that intervention. The right hon. Gentleman suggests we take the instance of my community in Hove and Portslade, on the sunny Sussex coastline. If businesses there are exporting to the EU, then of course they have to do all the additional red tape that has been imposed by the particular Brexit deal negotiated by this Government, but they do not have to do so if they are selling locally. This is the problem we have at the moment: we are suggesting a dual regime for the domestic Northern Ireland market, so it is not the same. Those who trade within Sussex—there is such fantastic produce grown, compiled, sold and retailed there—would not expect to have two regulatory regimes forced on them in Sussex. I do not think we should conflate exporters with those who produce for the domestic market. That is the problem we face in Northern Ireland; producers there are certainly being forced, in that situation, to make a choice. I am not suggesting that anybody is being forced to trade under both regimes. They can unilaterally decide to withdraw from one of the markets and perhaps downscale their business. But let us move on.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being most generous. The argument has been put by the Minister and others in the Chamber that businesses in Northern Ireland would be entirely free to choose whether they use one regulatory system or the other, but according to the explanatory notes, clause 11
“allows a Minister to prescribe whether the dual regime should no longer apply to a specific class of regulated goods. It also provides a power for a Minister of the Crown to modify the different regulatory routes available in Northern Ireland.”
In other words, the Government are taking for themselves the power to turn off the choice that they advocated that businesses should have, as an argument for voting for the proposals.
Again, my right hon. Friend makes a fundamental point about the weakness of the Bill. It is basically a one-sentence Bill. Paragraph (a) in clause 1 states that the Bill
“provides that certain specified provision of the Northern Ireland Protocol does not have effect in the United Kingdom”.
That is the heart of the Bill. The rest of the Bill is, as he says, powers for Ministers to act as they will into the future. That is a fundamental problem. We have heard time and again throughout the passage of the Bill that it repatriates the most enormous powers not to British traders and not to the regions of Britain and Northern Ireland, but to Ministers directly. It creates huge uncertainty. As I said earlier, businesses recognise that they cannot prepare, because they do not know how Ministers will implement the powers they have into the future. At the moment, all they are saying is that they want those powers to make use of as they see fit.
Let us move on. If goods in Northern Ireland can be made to GB standards or EU standards, a Northern Ireland manufacturer with a presence in both markets could find themselves having to make goods to both standards because of customer demands. That will all have to be administered by a combination of Westminster and Stormont. There is also the issue of allowing businesses to continue to have market choice. According to the Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group, the biggest issue with a dual regulatory regime is that it causes significant reputational risks to Northern Ireland exports sold into the EU market, which could damage access. Our amendment 28 is simple. It would require the following:
“Before making regulations under this section, a Minister of the Crown must carry out an economic impact assessment of the proposed regulations, and conduct a consultation on the proposed regulations with any stakeholders whom the Minister of the Crown considers appropriate.”
A report on those exercises would then have to be laid before Parliament. It should not be controversial to ask the Government to do that before proceeding with proposals which could have such a devastating impact on businesses in Northern Ireland.
I rise to speak to, or at least draw attention to, amendments 19 and 22 in my name, and to speak to the other amendments that have been discussed.
On amendments 19 and 22, I do not intend to rehearse in any depth the arguments I put forward on day one, except to say that even if the Bill was not at risk of being in breach of international law, in our view it still gives Ministers far too much power to proceed without adequate reference back to this place and opportunities for scrutiny by Members. I make that point again for the consideration of the Treasury Bench; no doubt they will instantly dispose of it, but nobody can accuse me of not having made it again.
On amendments 44 and 45, it seems to me entirely reasonable that Ministers should be required to consult appropriately on the impact of dual routes, and to make sure there is an agreement with the EU and the option to choose between dual routes so that the dual routes procedure can operate as intended. It also seems to me to be perfectly reasonable to refer back to the directly elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland in the Assembly on how they might wish such a mechanism to go ahead or to work, so we are supportive of amendments 44 and 45.
On amendment 28, ensuring that an economic impact assessment is carried out before proceeding with a dual regulatory regime seems to me to be the very essence of common sense. If only we had carried out a thorough economic assessment before stepping into this morass in the first place, it might have given people some pause for thought.
Finally—I said I would be brief—new clause 15 would require the House to be informed timeously of the details of discussions in the UK-EU Joint Committee when they involved regulation of goods in connection with the protocol, and to be given details of the regard that has been offered to the strand 1 and strand 2 arrangements. That seems a perfectly sensible way to ensure that consent is in place and that the views of all relevant stakeholders have been properly taken into consideration before such a momentous step is taken.
We entirely support those provisions and, if they are selected for separate decision, we intend to walk through the Lobby in support of them.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the various amendments. I say to my honourable friends and colleagues from the Alliance party and the Social Democratic and Labour party that, in all their contributions to debates on the Bill, I have yet to hear once any acknowledgment of the impact of the protocol on the Unionist community in Northern Ireland and its sense of identity, including its sense of identity within the United Kingdom. There has been no recognition from either party of the importance of these issues for the people I represent and how that has contributed significantly to the breakdown of power sharing in Northern Ireland and the breakdown of the North South Ministerial Council. If we are going to find a solution, I have to say, with respect to my colleagues, that simply focusing in on what I accept are important points while ignoring the elephant in the room will not take us anywhere close to finding a solution that restores political stability in Northern Ireland.
I think Members across the Chamber would concur, and Hansard will certainly show, that I and others are acutely aware of the discombobulating and disturbing impact on many of a Unionist background. We have put on record many times our concerns about the symbolic effect of borders, which is why we worked so hard and for so many years to ensure that there is a borderless solution. We regret that not all parties joined us in that fight. Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that many of us are concerned that his party, in legitimate pursuit of the rights of those with a strong Unionist identity, utterly ignores the majority of people who support the protocol in some form and is disregarding the majority of people in Northern Ireland—a comfortable majority—who wish the Northern Ireland Assembly to be up and running and who wish MLAs, MPs and others to find a negotiated, not a unilateral, solution to this impasse?
I welcome the intervention from the hon. Member, for whom who I have a high regard. It is important that she placed on record a recognition of the concerns of Unionists, but she mentioned the word “majority” at least twice, and I find that interesting. She will no doubt scold me for quoting John Hume, as she did my hon. Friend Carla Lockhart, who is with us this afternoon. I have said on the record that even though I would have had many differences with John Hume, I came to respect and understand his very clear view that in a divided society such as Northern Ireland, consensus, not majority rule, is the way forward. As a Unionist, I accepted that any political institutions that were to operate in Northern Ireland and that could command broad support had to operate on the basis of that consensus. The consensus has broken down because of the protocol’s impact on the Unionist community.
Does the right hon. Member acknowledge that it feels duplicitous to many people for him and his colleagues to say repeatedly that the protocol requires cross-community consent but that Brexit does not—that the protocol means that this Bill is fine because it has a Unionist party’s consent, even though all the other parties, representing a number of other traditions, do not support it? Does he acknowledge that there is a bit of give and take? Many Unionists would like this argument to end, but does he understand that you cannot in the same breath make the argument for consensus while completely discounting every single elected representative of a nationalist or other identity?
I have no desire whatever to replace Unionist discontentment with nationalist discontentment in Northern Ireland. I recognise that a solution to these issues must be capable of commanding broad support and of dealing with the concerns that arise, not just for Unionists. If, for a moment, we can set aside the process—I think that is what incurs the wrath of some about how the Government are going about this—and look the Government’s proposed solution, I believe we will see that it is capable of addressing the concerns of the European Union and its need to protect the single market and its integrity. What it does for Unionists, however, is to respect the integrity of the UK internal market.
When I hear Stephen Farry explaining his opposition to the Bill—I use this only as an example; I am not saying that it is the totality of his opposition—by saying that because one third of milk production in Northern Ireland crosses the border to be processed, we cannot find a solution that respects the integrity of the UK internal market, I am simply at a loss to understand the logic of that argument, because it completely ignores the right of this United Kingdom to regulate its own market. We do have that right, as a nation. We took that right upon ourselves when, in a referendum, the majority in this country voted to leave the European Union. I understand the point that the hon. Member for Belfast South makes. If we could turn the clock back, she would argue, no doubt, that in such a referendum there should be a need for cross-community consent in Northern Ireland, but the fact is that that did not exist—it was not argued for at the time—and the result of the referendum stands.
Therefore, we must make the best of this, but the best of it is not the protocol, because the protocol seriously inhibits the ability of the United Kingdom to regulate its internal market. The former Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, made the point that it goes beyond that: it actually undermines the Union itself. In respect of article 6 of the Acts of Union, which gives every citizen in this United Kingdom the right to trade freely within our own country, stating that there shall be no barriers to trade between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, the protocol undermines the Union. It undermines Northern Ireland’s ability, as part of the United Kingdom, to trade freely with the rest of our own country.
The SDLP is acutely aware of the sensitivity of people’s identity, but does the right hon. Member agree that having customs checks
“doesn’t mean that you change the constitutional status of a part of the United Kingdom,” and does he agree that he said that on
Absolutely. The customs checks I was referring to were in the context of proposals that the Government had introduced in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill—and that they proposed to introduce in the Finance Bill—which would have removed the need for customs checks on goods circulating within the United Kingdom. My point to the BBC at the time was that customs checks on goods moving into the EU do not represent constitutional change, but what does represent constitutional change, as confirmed by the High Court and the Court of Appeal, is placing those checks on goods staying within the United Kingdom.
My party and I have been consistent on this point. If the hon. Lady refers back to the speeches made when the protocol was debated in this House, she will see that the view of the Democratic Unionist party has been clear from the outset that the protocol, if unchanged, would threaten Northern Ireland’s place within the UK and impact our ability to trade with the rest of our country, and that we opposed the notion that we could have customs checks on goods moving within the UK internal market. That has consistently been our position, because that alters our constitutional status as part of the United Kingdom.
I believe that what the Government propose is a serious endeavour to correct that problem and address that difficulty, to ensure that we can regulate our own internal market and that where goods are moving within the United Kingdom and staying within the United Kingdom, they are not subject to customs checks, which, in our opinion, are unnecessary.
As the Minister rightly indicated, clause 7 introduces a system of dual regulation in Northern Ireland. I will not repeat what I said to the shadow Secretary of State, Peter Kyle, but I listened very carefully to what he had to say. If a business in his constituency wants to export goods to the United States of America, it must comply with US standards. It is the same for businesses in any part of the United Kingdom wanting to export to the EU: they must comply with EU standards.
I will use the example of the dairy sector to set out what is different for Northern Ireland. Farmers in my constituency who are part of the Lakeland Dairies co-operative have their milk collected in tankers at their farms in County Down and County Antrim and driven to the processing plant across the border. Very often, that milk comes back to Northern Ireland and is sold on our supermarket shelves, so we need a bespoke solution for the dairy sector. Dual regulation does not prevent that from happening. In fact, it enables it, because although one third of milk crosses the border, two thirds of it remains in Northern Ireland for processing. It is as if we are ignoring the reality that the majority of farmers in Northern Ireland do not send their milk across the border to be processed; it stays in Northern Ireland, and much of it is sold in Great Britain. No provision has been made for that.
This is our difficulty, and this is why the concept of dual regulation is important. Dual regulation is a compromise—a compromise between my desire for British standards to apply throughout the United Kingdom and the desire of some in business, and political parties from Northern Ireland, for us to take measures to protect cross-border trade. My party wants to ensure that we do protect cross-border trade, and I believe the concept of dual regulation allows us to do that, although we need to understand how it will work in practice for each sector. I do not believe it is beyond the capacity of the dairy sector to present the Government with proposals for a bespoke solution based on this concept that will work for all dairy farmers—not just those who sell their milk across the border, but those who have their milk processed within Northern Ireland and want to sell it into Great Britain.
I think that where there is a will, there is a way. We are happy to engage with Mike Johnston—whom I respect—and the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland and to talk this through, and I welcome the fact that the Government are now engaged in consultation with business. I do not pretend, as a politician, that I have all the answers—I recognise that there will be some difficulties—but let us identify those difficulties and find solutions, because it is in finding solutions that we will move towards the restoration of political and economic stability in Northern Ireland and give businesses the certainty that they are crying out for.
I do not see how the choice brought about by a system of dual regulation will harm the Northern Ireland economy in the long run. In fact, I think it will help us to maximise the potential of dual market access, and will enable businesses and sectors to make choices that constitute commercial decisions. My right hon. Friend Sammy Wilson made an important point. Yes, regulation is important, but in the end, business thrives on its ability to make commercial decisions, and to take advantage of what my hon. Friend Ian Paisley described as the commercial opportunities.
Of course regulations change, but one of the difficulties I have is that the Northern Ireland dairy sector is now subject to regulations over which I, as a representative of many farmers in my constituency, have no say. When my dairy farmers come to me and say, “Jeffrey, we are concerned about these regulations coming from the EU”, where do I go with that? Do I go to the Minister in Stormont and say, “There is a problem here”? Yes, I can do that, but the Minister has no control over how those EU regulations are drawn up, and it is the same with the Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs here at Westminster. There is a democratic deficit that needs to be addressed, and we believe that there are solutions in what the Government are proposing which will help to take care of not only the regulatory issue, but the democratic deficit that flows from it.
Clause 9, as the Minister said, is designed to give effect to the aspects of the Bill that will require further regulation. Let me say to the Minister and his colleagues that I think it important for both business and politics in Northern Ireland for the draft regulations to be published as soon as the initial consultations with the business sector have been completed. It would be helpful to see what the Government’s thinking is, in respect of the schemes that they intend to introduce—not least those relating to the green and red lane concept—but also in respect of matters such as dual regulation. We could then look at the regulations and suggest changes, or the industry and business sectors could suggest changes, and hopefully we would come up with solutions that worked within the concept of the Bill’s aim of delivering solutions to the problems created by the protocol. I therefore urge the Government to publish the draft regulations at the earliest stage possible.
Let me now turn to the amendments tabled by both the Alliance party and the SDLP. While I understand where they are coming from, I tend to agree with the Minister. I think that much of this is unnecessary, and that we can work out much of the detail when we see the regulations. We would certainly not be in favour of fettering the Government in respect of their ability to regulate the UK internal market by requiring them to seek permission from the EU every time they wanted to change the way in which they regulate it. I would not expect the EU to accept the UK Government having a veto over how the EU regulates its internal market, given that we have left the European Union, but the EU must accept that the UK has the right to regulate its own market. I do not think we should be imposing requirements that necessitate the approval of the European Union for the internal regulation of the UK internal market, except perhaps where there is a cross-border element.
That brings me to the North South Ministerial Council and the SDLP’s amendment, which would effectively almost hand a veto to the North South Ministerial Council in respect to this. That is not something we would, or could, support. I recognise that the council can be a forum within which we discuss practical issues with the Irish Government and how those problems might be resolved, and it might be a forum in which ideas can come forward.
If the right hon. Member agrees that the North South Ministerial Council would be a good forum for discussing some of these issues, maybe he would allow it to meet.
I am as anxious as anyone to get back to having those discussions, and once the confidence of the Unionist community has been restored—the Bill has the potential to help us to do that—we will be back in our place. I simply say to Colum Eastwood, as I said to Claire Hanna, that we must recognise that this is not just about the practicalities of trade; for Unionists it goes much deeper than that, and we need to address this. We need to find a solution to this that rebuilds confidence and restores the need for consensus in our politics, and that applies to the North South Ministerial Council. What I cannot accept, and what my party would not agree to, is giving the North South Ministerial Council a veto over what the UK can do to regulate its internal market. I do not think that is right or appropriate. It would have an impact on the delicate constitutional balances that are part of the Belfast agreement.
The right hon. Member makes an interesting point, and I think he is right when he says that it is not just the practicalities of trade that are damaging confidence within the Unionist population, but does he believe that this will be enough to keep those people who are out on the streets happy? There will still be checks, and that constitutional issue that he has will not go away as a result of this Bill.
We are seeking to find a solution that works for everyone, and we are listening to what business is saying, just as the hon. Member for North Down and the SDLP are rightly doing. I accept that there will not be a solution that everyone in Northern Ireland will agree with.
I do not believe that accommodating checks on goods moving from the UK to the EU represents a constitutional change to our status as part of the United Kingdom, but I do believe that carrying out customs checks on goods travelling from GB to Northern Ireland and staying within the United Kingdom does have a constitutional impact on our position within the United Kingdom. I make a distinction in that respect. The question then is where and how you do those checks. We are prepared to look at what the Government are proposing, which is why I asked them to publish as soon as possible their proposals for the so-called green lane and red lane approach so we can see what that means in practice and how it might work, and to consult the Northern Ireland political parties and the business community on the practicalities of all this. But, in my opinion, removing the bureaucracy, the checks and the restrictions on the movement of goods within the UK internal market answers the question raised by the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet: this will resolve the issue around article 6 of the Act of Union, which says there should be no barriers to trade within the United Kingdom itself.
Although I understand the concerns that have been raised about the practical workings of this Bill, I believe it offers a potential solution that addresses the real and genuine concerns of not only Unionists in Northern Ireland but many in the business community. Yes, some in the business community say that the protocol works for them, but many say the opposite.
We are looking for an outcome that respects Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom, that respects the core principles of the Belfast agreement, including the need for consensus, that removes the barriers to trade within the United Kingdom, that offers a practical solution to goods crossing into the European Union and protects the integrity of the EU’s single market, and that enables business to have a real say in how those solutions are designed.
We will not be supporting the amendments because we do not believe they are necessary to achieve the required objectives.
I rise to speak in support of amendment 28.
It is frustrating and worrying that, yet again, we are debating legislation that will violate an international agreement under a Government who have an alarming disregard for the rule of law. For the second time in the space of a few weeks, the Government are attempting to force a Northern Ireland Bill through this House against the express wishes of many people in the north.
The contempt in which this Government hold the views of people in the north of Ireland has become increasingly clear. They are simply pawns in this Government’s political games, yet the decisions taken today and tomorrow will have a massive impact on the lives of ordinary people across the Irish sea. Given that the Government forced through the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill just the other week, despite being opposed by every party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, it is a shameless act of hypocrisy that they are now using the lack of cross-community support for the protocol as an excuse for scrapping it, especially when the majority of MLAs have written to the Prime Minister opposing these plans, branding them “reckless”, and rejecting the Government’s
“claim to be protecting the Good Friday Agreement as your Government works to destabilise our region. To complain the protocol lacks cross-community consent, while ignoring the fact that Brexit itself—let alone hard Brexit—lacks even basic majority consent here, is a grotesque act of political distortion.”
Cross-community support has real meaning in Northern Ireland, and it is so poor that the Government are seeking to portray themselves as champions of bridging the divide when, just the other week, they were dismissing its importance out of hand. It is absolutely clear that the majority of legislators in the north believe that the measures in this Bill will come at a clear economic cost to Northern Ireland and that the protocol represents the only available protection for Northern Ireland from the worst impacts of that hard Brexit. It is therefore scandalous that this dying Government are dedicating their final days to riding roughshod over the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland in the name of policies that could have a detrimental impact on the local economy.
That is why I will be supporting amendment 28, as it would prevent the Government from making regulations relating to the dual regulatory regime until an economic impact assessment of the proposed changes has been carried out. The Prime Minister negotiated, signed off and campaigned on this protocol, which he promised to deliver—one of the many promises on which he has reneged. Now, in the death throes of his term in office, he is forcing through this Bill, damaging the credibility of GB. As he leaves office, his legacy remains a complete lack of respect for the rule of law, for international agreements and for the people of Northern Ireland. Sadly, the people of Northern Ireland will be poorer for it.
First, as the Opposition spokesman, Peter Kyle, seems to be very sensitive about any comments I make about his past voting behaviour, may I confirm that yes, of course, he walked through the Lobby with us in opposition to the withdrawal agreement? I am not so sure that his main motive was his objection to the Northern Ireland protocol. I suspect that the evidence since that date, the full support the Labour party has given to the protocol and its ignoring of many of the concerns that Unionists have probably confirm my view, and that of most people in Northern Ireland, that regardless of the initial trip through the Lobby in this House, the Labour party supports the protocol. Indeed, its amendments today would seem to indicate that it opposes any attempts to do away with the protocol. I hope that that is a sufficient assurance to him as to my position on his stance.
I want to deal with the three main amendments that have been debated today. The first is amendment 44 to clause 7, in the name of Stephen Farry. It is, no doubt, an attempt to ensure that the process and the concept of dual regulation never takes place. Yet what is the purpose of clause 7? It is threefold. First, it is to ensure that the democratic deficit that exists in Northern Ireland is wiped out. That deficit relates to the EU regulations and laws currently on the statute book as a result of annexe 2 of the protocol and the prospect of any of those 82 pages of laws being changed in the future. Those changes would apply to Northern Ireland without any say from this House, the Northern Ireland Assembly or the business community in Northern Ireland, whether they were detrimental or not.
For the life of me, I cannot see how the continued imposition of that part of the protocol is to the advantage of Northern Ireland. Indeed, I note that some who are opposing the Bill are doing so on the basis that the regulations provided for in the Bill would be implemented by Ministers here, without reference, they say, to the Northern Ireland Executive or Assembly. It seems okay for EU laws to be imposed upon Northern Ireland without any say, but it is an “affront to democracy” when UK Ministers impose regulations on their own country. One has to look at the motives of those who are opposing this clause and ask: are they and do they continue to be the agents of the EU, wishing that we could remain in the EU, even knowing that the people have voted not to remain in the EU? They are trying to circumvent the wishes of the people of the United Kingdom.
Secondly, these regulations apply by and large to firms that will never trade with the EU. Some 95% of firms in Northern Ireland do not do any trade with the EU, yet they are required under the protocol to abide by EU regulations. This Bill genuinely gives the best of both worlds to firms in Northern Ireland, because those that do not trade with the EU will now be freed from having to abide by costly EU regulations, which may even be detrimental to their business.
At the same time, those that wish to trade with the EU will be able to volunteer to accept EU laws, even though those EU laws have not passed through the Northern Ireland Assembly or been subject to scrutiny. Regardless of the fact that those laws have not been scrutinised, or that they may have detrimental effects, they will volunteer to comply with the regulations. If that is the case, that addresses the concern expressed by the hon. Member for North Down and others—here again, the hon. Member for Hove is wrong—[Interruption.] I think the record will show that the hon. Member did say that businesses would be forced to adopt those regulations. No one will be forced to adopt them. They will make a commercial decision: do I wish to trade with the EU? If I do, I will volunteer to comply with the regulations.
One of my arguments about the Bill is that the clause on dual regulation is probably unnecessary. If a firm decides to trade with another nation, by definition it will have to apply the regulations that are required to sell goods in that country. There is no need for a firm such as Caterpillar in my constituency, which sells generators to Africa, China and America, to adopt dual regulation with the countries to which it sells the generators. It simply makes sure that it adopts and includes the relevant regulations when producing its products, because otherwise it could not sell in those countries. Nevertheless, the Government have decided to include this measure, to give an assurance to the EU that firms that trade from Northern Ireland into the European Union via the Irish Republic will be compliant with EU regulations. They will make that decision. People talk about the Government not honouring the protocol, but this is another way in which they have sought to honour an objective of the protocol, namely that the EU single market will be safeguarded. It will be safeguarded because firms will make a conscious decision to abide by the regulations, whether they are manufacturing chairs, sofas, beds or milk.
I am very touched by the concern that the hon. Member for North Down has for the agriculture industry. I wish he would transfer that concern to some of the climate zealots in his own party, who are demanding that we stop eating beef, drinking milk and using dairy products, and that laws are passed to ensure that people cannot enjoy the kind of sunny day we are experiencing today. I wish only that his concern for the farming industry in Northern Ireland was as consistent as he claims it to be, because I do not think it is. Indeed, some of the climate policies that his party has been promoting in Stormont would have devastated the beef industry, the pig industry, the sheep industry, and the dairy industry in Northern Ireland.
Amendment 13 would require a report on dual access. Substantial information is produced on trade across the border. That is why we know that only 0.4% of EU trade comes through Northern Ireland—we have the statistics. That is how we know that only 5% of businesses sell to the Irish Republic, and that five times more of our exports go to GB than to the Irish Republic. There is already extensive reporting, so I do not know why there is any need for further reports. There also seems to be concern about the impact that the measure would have on the European market. Well, I think the role of this Government is to protect the UK market, not to have concerns about what happens in the EU market. The EU can look after its own market—we have left it—and decide what is good or bad for it. This Government do not have a job to promote the EU market; they do have a job to protect and promote the UK market.
Amendment 14 would require that the North South Ministerial Council debate the regulations and come to a conclusion, and then that that conclusion be reflected and supported by the UK Government and the Joint Committee. There are two fundamental flaws in this. First, the North South Ministerial Council does not have a role in dealing with issues that are reserved matters here at Westminster; it only has a role in dealing with those aspects that are under the remit of the devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government. So this would extend the role and the remit of the North South Ministerial Council by allowing and requiring it to comment on issues that are reserved to the United Kingdom Government. Secondly, the United Kingdom would then be required to reflect and support the view of the North South Ministerial Council. Let us not forget that although people talk about the all-Ireland economy, the Irish Government are in competition with the Northern Ireland economy and with the UK economy. How can we reasonably expect something that may be agreed at the North South Ministerial Council that may be detrimental to the UK economy to be supported by UK Ministers?
Does the Member acknowledge that the North South Ministerial Council, when it is not being held to ransom, is already a consensus-based forum, and that our amendment speaks to proposals agreed there that would therefore be agreed by his party? Does he not understand how hollow the words about respecting the Good Friday agreement in all its parts sound when a vital part of it, strand 2, is denigrated in this way? Does he further acknowledge, as his party leaders have done, that there are potential mechanisms within strand 2 of the agreement and within the North South Ministerial Council that can give voice to Northern Irish interests?
That brings me to my next point—that introducing reserved matters to the North South Ministerial Council would mean that the controversies that have currently stopped it working, and stopped the Northern Ireland Assembly working, would be imported into the North South Ministerial Council so that we would not get the kind of agreement that the Member talks about. Amendment 14 would reinforce the impact that the protocol has had on the current institutions of the Belfast agreement and bring them into the remit of the North South Ministerial Council in future.
New clause 15 goes down the same route of introducing an input for the North South Ministerial Council, and another barrier to the introduction of dual regulation in the Bill, by requiring that the Executive endorse the arrangements—and in a way that, as we have heard, would exclude Unionists because the SDLP has now adopted majoritarianism with regard to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
A comparison was made with Brexit. Brexit was a majority decision. It was not a majority decision in Northern Ireland; it was a majority decision of the people of the United Kingdom as a whole. A referendum was held across the whole of the United Kingdom and it was binding in all parts of the United Kingdom, regardless of pockets where there was a majority for Brexit or a majority against it. If we had gone down the route of consensus on a referendum as suggested by the SDLP—which would of course be impossible—then what would we have done about London or other pockets across the United Kingdom? We cannot make that comparison between the dealings of this Bill regarding the arrangements within the Assembly and a referendum vote.
I hope that the Committee will accept the points I have made and will not vote in favour of those amendments.
It is an honour to follow my right hon. Friend Sammy Wilson.
There is no doubt that the Bill before us is a repair job, because Brexit was not completely done. It was not properly done in Northern Ireland, where we were left with a protocol that has caused untold problems, hence why we are back here today. People can say, “Oh, there isn’t really a problem with the protocol. Just get on with it.” However, we have now had I-don’t-know-how-many hours of debate because the protocol is not working. It has broken down and needs to be replaced, and that is the fact of the matter.
The Opposition spokesman, the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said that the Bill was a solution looking for a problem—I think that was how he characterised it. As funny as that may be, the protocol is a problem and it requires a solution, and we have a duty—indeed, a responsibility—to try and find that solution between us. The protocol is an example of red tape being used to tie up commerce. I will come to that point in some detail later, but the Government were warned that the protocol was going to be a problem. Indeed, the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland left the Government on the issue—that is the fact of the matter—because it caused problems for Northern Ireland and the Union that he and I both cherish.
Of course, we were warning way back in October 2019 that the protocol would cause friction. A previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made it clear that there would be no friction at all and that it would be light-touch, but it has been heavy-handed and has caused problems, so today we are in a position of, “Yes, we told you so.” We now need to fix this, and I am delighted the Government are bringing forward some measures to fix it. We will see in the round whether they do, but we have to remove the frictions on trade, which are intolerable.
The Minister said earlier that I had made a powerful point about trade. I refer to a graph put together by the haulage industry, which shows that before 2021 there were four requirements to bring goods to Northern Ireland. First, trade transportation would be agreed, standard paperwork would be issued and completed, goods would be transported from GB to Northern Ireland, and then delivery would be completed, which is essentially the same process for taking goods from Scotland to Northern Ireland or Scotland to England.
Since 2021, an additional 11 measures have been put in place, including entry summary declaration forms, simplified frontier declaration forms and movement reference numbers—the carrier then populates goods details for the GVMS, or goods vehicle movement service, and then obtains goods movement reference numbers or GMRs. Goods would then be cleared for transport to Northern Ireland. There would then have to be supplementary declarations completed and duties would be paid on the at-risk goods, alongside a whole host of other measures.
I am delighted that the Minister said that those frictions would be removed, because they need to be removed. They have added considerable costs, as the leader of my party has demonstrated on numerous occasions, not only to doing business in Northern Ireland but for consumers in Northern Ireland. This discriminates against Northern Ireland. It adds costs for everybody in Northern Ireland, it is unfair and it is against our democratic rights. It is important to put that on the record.
In moving his amendment, Stephen Farry dwelt mainly on the impact on milk. There are a considerable number of dairy farms in the North Down constituency, so I know that he will have had representations from the dairy industry, but I think it is wrong for the Alliance party in Northern Ireland to pitch this as a “them and us” argument, because it affects every single farmer in Northern Ireland, including every single dairy farmer. It will affect them in slightly different ways, given how they have calibrated their businesses and which area they wish to trade in, but this should not be turned into a zero-sum game. I thought it was unfair of the Member for the Alliance party to parade Mike Johnston out as someone from the dairy sector who supports his point of view and not someone who supports our point of view. It is grossly unfair to characterise Mike Johnston in that way, because he is an absolutely honourable, decent gentleman, and he will tell hon. Members that the current protocol is not the answer to the problems either.
I am glad the hon. Gentleman is paying respect to Mike Johnston and his integrity. It was Sammy Wilson who alluded to ulterior motives behind some of the people fronting some of those organisations and suggested that they were not representing their members. I am not here to twist the Dairy Council to fit a particular narrative; both I and the shadow Secretary of State were simply reflecting what has been said by the sector to Parliament. It is important that we listen to those voices. On the subject of representing people, Jim Shannon made reference to Lakeland Dairies’ somehow being out of sync with the Dairy Council, so I will put on the record that during the course of this debate, I have had a message to say that Lakeland Dairies is in fact very much aligned with the position of the Dairy Council.
I thank the hon. Member for that point, but I want to make it clear that I listened to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim, who works with and knows Mike Johnston as well as I do, and he did not make any detrimental comment about Mike himself in any of the comments he made. He referred to other members and other motives, but he did not make any reference, derogatory or otherwise, about Mike Johnston. I think that is very clear. It is unfair to cast those aspersions.
It is not for us as politicians to say, “Oh, we’ll parade this body in front of Parliament; they’re for us.” That goes back to the zero-sum game of politics. Parading the Ulster Farmers Union and saying, “They’re on our side on this point,” is a cop-out of our political responsibilities. We have a duty as politicians to solve this political problem. The protocol is not a dairy milk problem; it has an impact on the dairy milk sector, but the protocol is a political problem that has caused these problems in the sector. We have a responsibility as politicians to solve the problem and to pull together to try to fix it, because it affects Protestant farmers, Catholic farmers and farmers of no religion the same way. It damages the potential for their business, and we should be pulling together to try to fix it. If this Bill does one thing to try to fix it, I will support that as a step in the right direction.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is certainly in full flow. It is important to strip this debate back to the businesses currently impacted by the protocol. We cannot look ahead of ourselves. Wilson’s Country and Glens of Antrim Potatoes cannot bring seed potatoes in to Northern Ireland from Scotland, and that will ultimately damage the potato industry in Northern Ireland in future years. AJ Power in my own constituency has said that the increase in costs is sixfold and is likely to be more when the UK Government input reduces. My hon. Friend makes an important point that those issues are impacting businesses now, and therefore we need this Bill to resolve some of them.
The point about seed potatoes is particularly interesting, because that represents the entire community in Northern Ireland—companies that employ right across the community and farms from across the community are all being detrimentally impacted in the same way as a result of the protocol. That is why it needs to be fixed.
We have heard some scaremongering about a mass cull of cows and suddenly milk in Northern Ireland becomes different milk because of paperwork, when the milk is being produced in the same way and the same green grass is being used to feed the cows to produce it. Not only is the milk being produced normally, but the same seeds and crops are brought in to feed the cattle, and it is very clear that none of that will change.
The commercial issues that I referred to and that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim touched on are very interesting: I think there are more dairy cows in County Cork than there are in the whole of Northern Ireland, yet County Cork and the Republic of Ireland still cannot produce enough milk. Therefore, they need a commercial relationship with Northern Ireland dairy farms to help them and to increase and encourage their businesses. The commercial reality is that we have to do business across the island. The idea that suddenly people will be able to say to farms in Northern Ireland, “Well, you can’t do business with us in the Republic of Ireland.”, when Republic of Ireland companies need Northern Ireland farm produce, highlights the commercial reality in all this.
Again, I go back to this point: the protocol is a political problem that is interfering in commercial and farming activity, and we have to pull it away from that and solve the politics around this.
The Bill does not change the cows, as the hon. Member for North Down seemed to imply. It does not change the grass that the cows are fed on. It does not change how the cows are milked, what lorries the produce goes into or what factories the milk is processed in. No, this is about Eurocrats stopping trade, not because the standard of the food has changed but because the paperwork might change. That is not a good basis on which to run any business, to run cross-border activity or to run cross-national frontier businesses. It is not. That is why the protocol should be changed and why the European Union should be ashamed of itself when it refuses to change some of the aspects of the protocol and to try to fix these matters.
The hon. Member for North Down has mentioned on many occasions the issue relating to veterinary products, pharmaceutical products and so on. A solution was agreed for human products, but the EU has blocked that solution for animals and animal welfare. It did so in such a manner that in a matter of months 50% of all veterinary products will be prevented from going to Northern Ireland. That will have a detrimental impact on farming, and the commercial aspect of that, on pets and on our income and our economy.
If ever there was a threat to cattle, it comes from the EU blocking veterinary products coming into Northern Ireland. That is the damage to our business. Do not take my word for it. Take the words of the National Office of Animal Health. It has been campaigning for this change and it has written to all the Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive and told us that this has to be changed. But there is no appetite in the EU to change it. NOAH says clearly that this is not about getting more time to negotiate. Time is over; time has run out. Indeed, the Government’s position is that they have been talking for a year and a half to try to fix this. Time is now over. Time is called on this matter. We have to have it resolved urgently and immediately.
Some references have also been made to manufacturing. I am proud to have one of Northern Ireland’s largest and most obvious manufacturing businesses—a world business in fact—in Ballymena, a part of my North Antrim constituency. Wrightbus has traded both before we were in the EU—before 1973— for 40 years after joining the EU, and since leaving the EU. It has been a successful world business. Why? Because of EU regulations? No. Because of British regulations? No. Because it makes the best product, and the best product sells. When it made poor products they did not sell. So because it makes the best product, it has at its feet a world market. It has been able to trade in the United States, all over Malaysia, in the middle east and in other parts of the world as well as the EU.
The idea that suddenly the protocol is making life easier or better for Wrightbus is wrong. The evidence from Wrightbus has been that, yes, it is getting good trade deals both inside the EU—in Germany and the Republic of Ireland—and outside the EU—in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. That is because of its product, but its product has been made costly to produce due to the impact of the protocol. It has made it more costly to get aluminium and other components into Northern Ireland from Great Britain. That adds to the manufacturing time, and time equals money. There is an impact on its product. While it is a market leader at present, as soon as it is challenged in that market lead, we will soon find out the pressure that that industry will be under.
It is very clear to me that in the Republic of Ireland there is a commercial interest in having some damage done to Northern Ireland’s trade. People do not like that being said, but it is a fact. The Republic of Ireland has breached regulations time and again. It is being investigated for a £200 million loan to Aer Lingus, which was brought to our attention in April. Since Brexit, I understand that the UK Government have set up an EU subsidy monitoring unit, which has asked for that £200 million loan to be investigated. It is causing commercial differences on the island of Ireland, to the point that the arm of Aer Lingus that operates out of Northern Ireland airports is being damaged by the grants and loans being given to its commercial arm in the Republic of Ireland.
Why would the Republic of Ireland do that? Well, it is in the interests of Dublin airport to get more passengers, but there is only one place it can get them from: the island of Ireland. If it is not getting enough passengers from the Republic of Ireland, it will have to take them from Northern Ireland. That commercial disadvantage has an impact on Northern Ireland and its trade. I am glad that that illegal loan is being investigated; I hope that the Republic of Ireland comes clean about it and is made to take it back, instead of giving unfair advantages to its companies in the Republic of Ireland.
That paragon of neutrality, Mr Leo Varadkar, has told us that the UK is not even-handed when it comes to the protocol. Well, I am glad that the UK is not even-handed, because the protocol is damaging part of the United Kingdom, but we are talking about a person who has single-handedly juxtaposed the security installations of Northern Ireland for the past 40 years with the allegedly commercial installations that need to be put in place because of Brexit. It is little wonder that people feel very annoyed and let down by people like Leo Varadkar, who effectively told lies about the process that would take place.
We have always had two currencies on our island, and two tax regimes. It is very clear to me that this matter will need to be solved urgently. I am therefore more than happy to support the Bill once again today, as a step in the right direction in getting us through the morass created by the Northern Ireland protocol.
I am grateful to all the participants in this important debate. Very briefly, I would like to reiterate the following points. No business, including in the dairy sector—I recently visited Lakeland Dairies in Belfast—will be worse off as a result of UK action. The Bill will force no change on any sector, but it will allow Ministers to respond to specific asks from each sector, if appropriate. I have heard strong views about the thoughts of sectors of the Northern Ireland economy, particularly dairy. Understanding such concerns is at the heart of our work; that is why we have been engaging with stakeholders, and will continue to.
May I place on the record my appreciation for the work of the business representative organisations in Northern Ireland, which are doing, and will no doubt continue to do, an important, worthy job on behalf of their members?
While the Northern Ireland protocol was, as we know, agreed with the best of intentions, it is causing real problems for people and businesses in Northern Ireland. This legislation will fix the practical problems that the protocol has created in Northern Ireland.
Question put, That the amendment be made.