Clause 19 - New Agreements Amending or Replacing the Northern Ireland Protocol

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 20th July 2022.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause 21 stand part.

Amendment 50, in clause 22, page 11, line 16, at end insert—

“(1A) A Minister of the Crown may not exercise any power to make regulations conferred by this Act unless a Legislative Consent Motion approving a draft of the regulations has been passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

This amendment would prevent a Minister of the Crown seeking to use powers conferred by this Act to make regulations unless and until the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly to said regulations has been obtained.

Amendment 51, page 11, line 16, at end insert—

“(1A) A Minister of the Crown may not exercise any power to make regulations conferred by this Act before a Minister of the Crown has presented a draft of the regulations to the UK-EU Joint Committee for discussion and has laid a full report setting out the details of those discussions before each House of Parliament and provided a copy to the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

This amendment would prevent a Minister of the Crown seeking to use powers conferred by this Act to make regulations unless and until said regulations have been presented by a Minister to the UK-EU Joint Committee for a discussion and a report detailing those discussions had been laid before each House of Parliament and a copy provided to the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Amendment 55, page 11, line 16, at end insert—

“(1A) A Minister of the Crown may not exercise any power to make regulations conferred by this Act in contravention of views agreed by the North-South Ministerial Council on EU matters, including those regarding future policies, legislative proposals and programmes under consideration in the EU framework as provided for in Paragraph 17 of Strand Two of the Belfast Agreement.”

Amendment 53, page 12, line 15, at end insert—

“(6A) A Minister may not exercise the power to make regulations under subsection (6) with respect to a devolved authority in Northern Ireland unless the exercise of any power by that devolved authority is approved by the First Minister and deputy First Minister acting jointly—

(a) on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive,

(b) following a resolution by the Northern Ireland Assembly, or both.”

This amendment would prevent a Minister of the Crown seeking to use powers conferred by subsection (6) without the agreement of the First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland acting jointly has been. The First Minister and deputy First Minister may be acting on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive and/or following a resolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Clause 22 stand part.

Amendment 19, in clause 23, page 12, line 25, leave out from “to” to “unless” in line 26 and insert “draft affirmative procedure”.

This probing amendment would apply “draft affirmative” procedure in place of regulations being subject to annulment.

Amendment 20, page 12, line 33, leave out “draft affirmative procedure” and insert

“super-affirmative procedure (see section (Super-affirmative resolution procedure: general provisions))”.

This probing amendment would replace draft affirmative procedure with super-affirmative procedure (see NC6).

Amendment 21, page 12, line 33, leave out from “procedure” to the end of line 37.

This probing amendment would prevent Henry VIII powers (amending Acts of Parliament by regulations) being made using the “made affirmative” procedure.

Amendment 22, page 12, line 38, leave out subsections (7) to (9).

This probing amendment would remove the “made affirmative” procedure.

Clauses 23 and 25 stand part.

Amendment 2, in clause 26, page 15, line 41, leave out subsections (2) to (5) and insert—

“(2A) This section comes into force on the day on which this Act is passed.

(2B) The other provisions of this Act come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument appoint.

(2C) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (2B) may not appoint a day for the commencement of any section unless—

(a) a Minister of the Crown has moved a motion in the House of Commons to the effect that a section or sections be commenced on or after a day specified in the motion (‘the specified day’),

(b) the motion has been approved by a resolution of that House,

(c) a motion to the effect that the House of Lords takes note of the specified day (or the day which is proposed to be the specified day) has been tabled in the House of Lords by a Minister of the Crown, and

(d) the day appointed by the regulations is the same as or is after the specified day.

(2D) Regulations under subsection (2B) may—

(a) appoint different days for different purposes;

(b) make transitional or saving provision in connection with the coming into force of any provision of this Act.”

The intention of this amendment, linked to Amendment 1 to clause 1, is to require parliamentary approval for bringing into force any provisions of this Act.

Amendment 33, page 15, line 42, after “section” insert

“, section [consistency with international law]”.

This consequential amendment would bring NC11 into force on the day the Act is passed.

Amendment 3, page 15, line 44, at beginning insert

“Provided that the Northern Ireland Assembly has first passed a resolution indicating support for this Act,”.

This amendment, together with Amendment 4, will make all operational aspects of the Bill dependent upon the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Amendment 4, page 15, line 45, at end insert—

“(3A) A motion for a resolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly referred to in subsection (3) must be tabled by either—

(a) the First Minister and Deputy First Minister jointly, or

(b) any Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

This amendment, together with Amendment 3, will make all operational aspects of the Bill dependent upon the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Amendment 47, page 15, line 45, at end insert—

“(3A) Regulations under subsection (3) may not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament, except that regulations under subsection (2) relating to tax or customs matters may not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, the House of Commons.”

This amendment would make all the commencement regulations subject to parliamentary approval.

Clause 26 stand part.

New clause 6—Super-affirmative resolution procedure: general provisions—

“(1) For the purposes of this Act the ‘super-affirmative resolution procedure’ in relation to the making of regulations subject to the super-affirmative resolution procedure is as follows.

(2) The Minister of the Crown must have regard to—

(a) any representations,

(b) any resolution of either House of Parliament, and

(c) any recommendations of a committee of either House of Parliament charged with reporting on the draft regulations, made during the 60-day period with regard to the draft regulations.

(3) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Minister of the Crown wishes to make regulations in the terms of the draft, the Minister of the Crown must lay before each House of Parliament a statement—

(a) stating whether any representations were made under subsection (2)(a); and

(b) if any representations were so made, giving details of them.

(4) The Minister of the Crown may after the laying of such a statement make regulations in the terms of the draft if the regulations are approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(5) However, a committee of either House charged with reporting on the draft regulations may, at any time after the laying of a statement under subsection (3) and before the draft regulations are approved by that House under subsection (4), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the draft regulations.

(6) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of either House under subsection (5) in relation to draft regulations, no proceedings may be taken in relation to the draft regulations in that House under subsection (4) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of that House.

(7) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Minister of the Crown wishes to make regulations order consisting of a version of the draft regulations with material changes, the Minister of the Crown lay before Parliament—

(a) revised draft regulations; and

(b) a statement giving details of—

(i) any representations made under subsection (2)(a); and

(ii) the revisions proposed.

(8) The Minister of the Crown may after laying revised draft regulations and a statement under subsection (7) make regulations in the terms of the revised draft regulations if the revised draft regulations are approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(9) However, a committee of either House charged with reporting on the revised draft regulations may, at any time after the revised draft regulations are laid under subsection (7) and before the revised draft regulations are approved by that House under subsection (8), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the revised draft regulations.

(10) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of either House under subsection (9) in relation to revised draft regulations, no proceedings may be taken in relation to the revised draft regulations in that House under subsection (8) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of that House.

(11) For the purposes of subsections (4) and (8) regulations are made in the terms of draft regulations if the regulations contain no material changes to the provisions of the draft regulations.

(12) In this section the ‘60-day period’ means the period of 60 days beginning with the day on which the draft regulations were laid before Parliament under section 23 of this Act.”

This new clause sets out the bi-cameral super-affirmative procedure regulations under the Act, except in relation to tax and customs matters.

New clause 11—Consistency with international law—

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must not make regulations under this Act unless both the conditions in subsections (2) and (5) have been satisfied.

(2) The condition in this subsection is that a Minister of the Crown has laid before both Houses of Parliament a consistency report from a qualified person in relation to the provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol that are, in consequence of the regulations, to become excluded provision (‘the provisions at issue’).

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), a ‘consistency report’ is a report as to whether, in the opinion of the qualified person, it is consistent with the international obligations of the United Kingdom for the provisions at issue to become excluded provision, and which—

(a) sets out the reasons for its conclusions;

(b) sets out the steps taken by the qualified person to obtain the views of persons appearing to the qualified person to have appropriate expertise in questions of international law; and

(c) attaches, or contains references to a publicly available version of, all materials considered by the qualified person in the course of preparing the report.

(4) For the purposes of subsection (2) a ‘qualified person’ is a judge or former judge of—

(a) the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom;

(b) the Court of Appeal of England and Wales;

(c) the Inner House of the Court of Session; or

(d) the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland.

(5) The condition in this subsection is that—

(a) the House of Commons has approved a resolution to take note of the consistency report on a motion moved by a Minister of the Crown; and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the consistency report has been tabled in the House of Lords by a Minister of the Crown and—

(i) the House of Lords has approved a resolution to take note of the report, or

(ii) the House of Lords has not concluded a debate on the motion before the end of the period of five Lords sitting days beginning with the first Lords sitting day after the day on which the House of Commons passes the resolution mentioned in paragraph (a).”

This new clause would prevent any clause of the Bill (or regulations made under it) that create ‘excluded provision’ from coming into force until (a) an authoritative and independent legal expert presents a report to parliament as to whether it is consistent with the international obligations of the United Kingdom, and (b) the House of Commons has passed a motion noting that report, and the House of Lords has debated that report.

New clause 12—Adjudications of matters pertaining to international law—

“No later than two weeks after any finding by any international court, tribunal or arbitration panel that any provision of this Act, or any action taken by a Minister in exercise of powers granted by this Act, is inconsistent with the international obligations of the United Kingdom, a Minister of the Crown must—

(a) report to each House of Parliament setting out the extent to which the relevant court, tribunal or arbitration panel has found that any provision of, or any exercise of power under, this Act is inconsistent with the international legal obligations of the United Kingdom; and

(b) set out what steps Ministers propose take in order to bring the United Kingdom into compliance with those international obligations.”

This new clause would provide that, if an international court, tribunal or arbitration panel found as a matter of fact that any actions taken by the government under the Bill were inconsistent with the UK’s international legal obligations, the Minister must report this finding to the House, and set out what steps the government will take to ensure the UK is in compliance with its international obligations.

New clause 16—Impact assessment—

“Within six months of a Minister of the Crown exercising any power conferred by this Act to make regulations, a Minister of the Crown must publish a full impact assessment of the effect of the regulations on businesses and consumers in Northern Ireland.”

This new clause would require a Minister of the Crown who has exercised any power conferred by this Act to make regulations to publish a full impact assessment of the effect of said regulations on businesses and consumers in Northern Ireland within six months.

New clause 17—Consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly—

“(1) A Minister of the Crown may not exercise the powers to make regulations conferred by this Act before a Legislative Consent Motion approving a draft of the regulations has been passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

(2) A Minister of the Crown must, at the end of the relevant period, seek a Legislative Consent Motion approving the continued application of regulations made under the powers conferred by this Act.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), the ‘relevant period’ is—

(a) the period ending four years after the powers are exercised; or

(b) the period ending eight years after the powers are exercised where the original Legislative Consent Motion was approved by—

(i) the support of a majority of Members, a majority of designated Nationalists and a majority of Unionists,

(ii) the support of 60 per cent of Members, 40 per cent of designated Nationalists and 40 per cent of designated Unionists, or

(iii) the support of two thirds of Members.”

This new clause would require a Minister of the Crown to obtain the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly in order to exercise the power to make regulations conferred by this Act. It would also require a Minister of the Crown to obtain the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the continued application of the said regulations within the relevant period. The relevant period would be four years unless the vote passes with a majority in any of the ways described in Clause 3(b), in which case the relevant period is eight years.

New clause 19—Expiry—

“(1) The powers conferred by this Act upon a Minister of the Crown will expire if the Northern Ireland Assembly passes a resolution pursuant to Article 18 of the Northern Ireland Protocol (Democratic Consent in Northern Ireland).

(2) A resolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly under subsection (1) can only pass with one or more of the following measures of representational support—

(a) the support of a majority of Members, a majority of designated Nationalists and a majority of Unionists,

(b) the support of 60 per cent of Members, 40 per cent of designated Nationalists and 40 per cent of designated Unionists, or

(c) the support of two thirds of Members.”

This new clause provides a sunset clause whereby the powers expire if the Northern Ireland Assembly does not vote to approve the continued application of the Northern Protocol in 2024 in the vote required by Article 18 of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Attends Cabinet)

Let me, for the last time, thank hon. Members who have spoken in the previous Committee stage debates. I remind hon. Members that, although 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 those practical problems.

Let me turn to the clauses under scrutiny this afternoon. Clause 19 gives powers to Ministers to implement a new agreement with the European Union as soon as one can be reached. A negotiated agreement with the EU remains the preferred outcome of this Government and this clause demonstrates that very commitment.

Clause 21 allows for preparatory spending undertaken to support the aims of the Bill to be made proper in the eyes of this place. This ensures that the Government can get on with delivering the new regime as soon as possible for the businesses and people of Northern Ireland.

Clause 22 sets out the general scope and nature of the powers contained in the Bill. This will ensure that the powers have the appropriate scope to implement the aims of the Bill, including setting out that regulations made under the Bill can make any provision that can be made by an Act of Parliament.

Regulations under this Bill may not create or facilitate border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which feature at the border either physical infrastructure, including border posts, or checks and controls that did not exist before exit day. I know that some Members are concerned about the possibility of border checks on the island of Ireland. This is the clearest possible way to show that this Government will not do that.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson DUP Chief Whip, Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business in the House of Commons)

Further to that point, will the Minister also assure us that, consistent with clause 1, regulations brought forward as a result of this Bill will not harm the integrity of the United Kingdom and will respect Northern Ireland’s place within the Union?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Paymaster General, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Attends Cabinet)

Yes, indeed.

Subsection (6) provides that a Minister can facilitate other powers under this Bill to be exercisable exclusively, concurrently or jointly with devolved Administrations to implement the aims of the Bill, and that is our intention where this is possible and appropriate.

Clause 23 sets out the process and parliamentary procedure for regulations made under the Bill, except for those in relation to tax, or customs, or commencement, which have been dealt with in other clauses by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. Clause 23 will ensure that the appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny is in place for the different arrangements that will be necessary for the functioning of the new regime.

I will now move on to clause 25, which sets out the definition of relevant terms in the Bill, including by cross reference to their definition in other pieces of legislation. This is a normal and regular feature of all legislation. Clause 26 makes a number of final provisions in the Bill relating to extent and commencement, which are a normal part of all legislation. That clause is vital to ensure the smooth commencement of the new regime and to give business certainty.

Moving briefly to amendments 50 and 53 in the name of Colum Eastwood. This would require approval from the Northern Ireland Assembly before the Bill could come into effect, but the Northern Ireland Assembly is not currently sitting and it is precisely because of this breakdown of institutions that we need this Bill, so I ask the hon. Member not to press the amendments.

Amendment 51 is in the name of the hon. Member for Foyle. This would require secondary legislation under the Bill to be presented to the Joint Committee. It is wholly inappropriate, in our view, to give scrutiny of UK domestic legislation to the EU in this way, as it would effectively give it a procedural veto, so I urge the hon. Member not to press that amendment.

Amendment 55 in the name of the hon. Member for Foyle relates to the role of the North-South Ministerial Council. As the hon. Member knows, the North-South Ministerial Council includes Members of the Government of the Republic of Ireland and, as I said yesterday, it would be wholly inappropriate and a wholly inappropriate role for the Irish Government potentially to veto the Acts of a sovereign United Kingdom Parliament. I therefore urge the hon. Member not to press the amendment.

I will consider amendments 19 to 22 and new clause 6 together. They are in the name of Richard Thomson. My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury covered similar amendments to clause 24 of the Bill during the first day of debate. I reiterate her comments that the normal affirmative and negative procedures for statutory instruments provide effective scrutiny for the House. I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman not to press his amendments.

I will touch on amendments 2 and 47 in a little more detail. They are tabled by my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill and seek to require a parliamentary vote prior to the commencement of the substantive provisions of the Bill. As I have outlined to the House, the EU is not prepared to change the protocol to resolve the problems we face, and there is no prospect of seeing a power-sharing Government restored in Northern Ireland if we are unable to tackle those problems. We need to bring in solutions as soon as possible to help the businesses and consumers of Northern Ireland. Additional parliamentary procedures would risk delays to the regime’s coming into force and undermine the certainty and clarity that we are looking to provide through this very Bill.

Turning to amendment 47 specifically, it would also set a concerning precedent that, when the legislature has passed legislation, the Executive are not free to bring it into force. That freedom has been a long-standing rule and one that a Government of any party would not wish to depart from. Furthermore, the amendment deviates from the previous one in that, rather than offering this House a single future debate on the issue at hand, it hands an effective veto on most of the Bill to the other place. I understand that some may find that an attractive outsourcing of opposition and a way around the conventions governing relations between the two Houses. However, the Executive , as my hon. Friend is well aware, is grounded in this honourable House and must be able to commence legislation they have agreed with Parliament. I urge him not to press his amendments.

I come now to amendment 33 and new clause 11, in the name of Mr Lammy. He is right to raise the important question of the relationship between this Bill and the United Kingdom’s obligations in international law. However, the consistency report that he proposes in his amendment, is unnecessary in our view. The Government have already been clear that the proposals of this Bill are consistent with international law, so I ask him not to press his amendment or the new clause.

I respectfully point out to Stephen Farry regarding his amendments 3 and 4 that, while we need to see the restoration of the institutions as quickly as possible, it is exactly because of the breakdown of those institutions that this Bill was needed in the first place. That is why we cannot have a resolution of the Assembly before it comes into force. His amendments, by contrast, would allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to constrain the UK Parliament’s power to legislate, even if that legislation relates to a reserved matter. That cannot be right; it would be wholly inappropriate under the devolution arrangements, and for that reason and the others I have mentioned I respectfully urge the hon. Gentleman not to press his amendments.

Moving on to new clause 12, and coming rapidly to a conclusion, this new clause is not necessary, as we have been clear that proceeding with this Bill is consistent with our obligations in international law and in support of our prior obligations to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. The Government have published a summary of our legal position alongside the Bill and would robustly defend our position in any relevant legal proceedings, should they occur. I therefore ask the right hon. Member for Tottenham not to press this new clause.

New clause 16, tabled by Claire Hanna, would require an impact assessment to be published within six months of making regulations. We are currently engaging with businesses on the detail of regulations, but we need flexibility so that any regulations brought forward as the product of that engagement ensure that the new regime is as smooth and operable as possible.

Penultimately, new clause 17, tabled by the hon. Member for Foyle, would allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to constrain the UK Parliament’s power to legislate on reserved matters. As I have said before, that is inappropriate under the devolution settlements.

New clause 19, tabled by the hon. Member for Foyle, would remove the powers provided by the Bill in the event of a Northern Ireland Assembly vote for continued application of the protocol. This would freeze in place a muddied set of arrangements in Northern Ireland and remove the ability of the UK Government to manage them, so the new clause should also be withdrawn.

This Bill provides a comprehensive and durable solution to the existing problems with the Northern Ireland protocol. The Government remain open to a negotiated outcome with the EU on the protocol, but the urgency of the situation means that we cannot delay. We must act to preserve political stability in Northern Ireland and fulfil our duty to uphold the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. I therefore recommend that these clauses stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development) 5:30 pm, 20th July 2022

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Dame Rosie, for the second part of this debate. I will speak to new clause 12 in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

In the debate so far, we have focused, rightly, on the Henry VIII powers that the Government seek to gift themselves, but of course the problems with this Bill stretch far beyond the sweeping powers that Ministers are attempting to take. We seem to have forgotten at various points during its passage that this is a Foreign Office Bill because it relates to an international treaty and our international obligations. Indeed, there are many crucial issues at stake in that regard, because, as has been recognised by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, the Bill is incompatible with international law. It is not just those who have spoken up in the House who have said that. The Bingham Centre states unequivocally:

“The Bill is in clear breach of international law” and that the breach is “without legal justification”. It, along with many others, has argued that the Government’s so-called defence of the Bill, grounded in the doctrine of necessity, is completely baseless. As the shadow Foreign Secretary my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy set out in great detail on Second Reading—many more have done so subsequently —each of the elements of the justification for the doctrine of necessity fall flat. This is a difficult situation that we all want to see resolved, but it is not a situation of grave and imminent peril, no more than the doctrine of necessity is an excuse for countries to abandon other responsibilities or dig themselves out of holes.

Similarly, the Government’s proposed actions are not the only way possible to resolve the issue. Although imperfect, there are clear mechanisms within the protocol for resolving disputes, meaning that the passage of this Bill is not the only way to resolve these challenges. Indeed, the Government themselves continue to maintain that they seek a resolution with the EU through negotiating, which is of course what Labour Members would want to see. Therefore, not only is this Bill a clear obstacle to these apparent efforts, but for as long as a solution is even remotely possible through negotiation, breaching the obligations of the protocol cannot be the only way to protect the UK’s interests. We have discussed at great length the fact that trust is at an all-time low with this Government, and this will do nothing to help to rebuild it. Unilateral action will not find us a way forward. Either the Bill is necessary because the Government are certain that negotiations will not lead to any kind of resolution or they still hope for a breakthrough with the EU, rendering the Bill unnecessary under the doctrine.

Given this confusion and the flawed justifications offered, we have tabled new clause 11—although we do not seek a Division at this stage—which would prevent powers of the Bill from coming into effect until an authoritative and independent expert set out whether it is consistent with international law. The Government keep stating their position, but that is their interpretation. The problem is that we do not trust the Government on this, and neither do many others outside the House, while many have criticised the Bill from an independent perspective, so it is important that we understand all those views. An independent expert could make a determination on the legality of this issue before any clause unilaterally altering the protocol came into effect.

There was a time when having to table an amendment to this effect would have been unthinkable—a time when we would have legitimate political differences here in the Chamber but would never wilfully break with our international obligations as a first recourse. As I said, we do not intend to seek a Division on new clause 11, but I hope the other place will look carefully at the Government’s legal justifications to see whether they stack up. I do not believe they do and neither do many others.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Has the hon. Gentleman or his party ever once lobbied the EU in public or in private to shift its position to accommodate the very reasonable grievances and to deal with its illegalities under the protocol?

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

I do not agree with the last part of what the right hon. Gentleman said, but actually I sat around the table with EU ambassadors and, indeed, the EU ambassador to the UK to discuss these very issues just weeks ago, so I have sat down in private, and we have said so publicly on a number of occasions. The right hon. Gentleman should be reassured on that point.

It is not just Members on the Opposition Benches who have talked about the incompatibility with international law; Government Members have done so, too. The former Prime Minister, Mrs May said:

“My answer to all those who question whether the Bill is legal under international law is that…it is not.”—[Official Report, 27 June 2022; Vol. 717, c. 64.]

The Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Simon Hoare said:

“Respect for the rule of law runs deep in our Tory veins, and I find it extraordinary that a Tory Government need to be reminded of that.”—[Official Report, 17 May 2022; Vol. 714, c. 550.]

Beyond this House, the Taoiseach has said:

“Unilateral action to set aside a solemn agreement would be deeply damaging”,

and would

“mark a historic low-point signalling a disregard for essential principles of laws which are the foundation of international relations.”

Is that what global Britain has come to mean to this Government?

The Bill must comply with Britain’s international obligations, or we risk a collapse of our global reputation, discord with allies at a time of crisis in Europe and the risk of a raising of trade barriers during a cost of living crisis where billions are already struggling to make ends meet. That is why we want to see new clause 12 put to a separate vote today, because a piece of legislation that runs even the remotest of risks of breaching the UK’s international obligations should never pass this House, but we must be prepared if it does.

Under new clause 12, if an international court or tribunal found that actions taken by the Government were inconsistent with the UK’s legal obligations, the Government would have to immediately set out to Parliament what steps they would take to rectify the breach. Quite simply, once the Bill is passed, if the Government’s actions are found to be unlawful, it is only right that a Minister is brought to the House to explain how that has come to be and what they will do to put it right. The Government should not be afraid of that measure, because if their arguments hold sway, it would not be needed, although many others out there disagree with the position they have taken. There must be a mechanism to ensure that we can urgently restore our compliance and mitigate further damage to our global reputation, if indeed this Bill is found to be unlawful. We should not need to be pushing for this change, but if the Government insist that this is their chosen course, Members are duty-bound to do everything in our power to ensure that the Government do the right thing.

In the TV debates in the latest Tory leadership contest, the Foreign Secretary has been boasting about this legislation as an example of her effectiveness and her ability, but we see it differently. If she were so effective in her role, she would get back around the negotiating table, rather than countenance the UK breaking the international legal framework it should be championing, with huge impacts for Britain’s wider reputation and effectiveness. [Interruption.] The Minister, who I have a great deal of respect for, is chuntering from a sedentary position, but the collapse in trust in this Government has been made clear to us. With this zombie Government, it is likely that that trust has fallen to an even lower level.

I will speak briefly to some of the other amendments. I will not rehearse the arguments we have already made about the Henry VIII powers and the related amendments that we discussed in the earlier debate, except to add that many reasonable amendments have been tabled, including amendment 2 by the Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Robert Neill. Taking back control for this Parliament should mean that parliamentary approval is required for operationalising provisions of this Bill.

Equally, we support the principle behind amendment 3 in the name of Stephen Farry, which would make the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly required—we all want to see the Assembly functioning again—and ensure that the views of all communities are heard and considered before unilaterally making changes with wide-ranging implications, as this Bill does. Both those amendments would undo the real power grab by this zombie interim Government, trying to approve large numbers of unaccountable powers in areas of huge sensitivity. It is simply not the way to proceed. I will seek a Division on new clause 12, but we will not press new clause 11 at this stage. I look forward to hearing the contributions of others in this debate.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Dame Rosie. I am grateful to the Minister for the constructive approach he has taken, as always, and I am grateful, too, to the Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office, particularly the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend Conor Burns, who is not in his place. He has been very helpful in a number of discussions we have had. I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to his place for the first time in the Chamber.

The reason behind my two amendments, 2 and 47, was well rehearsed on Second Reading and on the first day in Committee, so I do not seek to repeat that. As the House, and my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench, know well, I have misgivings about the Bill, as do a number of right hon. and hon. Members, and I cannot say that that has changed. My right hon. and learned Friend says that amendment 47 is unprecedented. With respect, it is unprecedented for regulations to breach international law; that is why I tabled the amendment. However, he and I, and everyone in this House, hope that we will never get to that stage; of course, by far the best outcome would be for negotiated changes to the protocol, which we all want, to be brought into force. Those with whom I have engaged, on both sides of the Irish sea, have good will and are men and women of honour; I hope that that will enable us to find a window for that negotiation, if the Bill passes its stages in this House.

Of course, the Bill would then go to the upper House. As the Bill was not in an election manifesto, that revising Chamber will be entitled to look with considerable care at the issues that I and others have ventilated in these debates. The best outcome would be if that never became necessary, for the reasons that we have all rehearsed.

I have set out the caveats, have said where I hope this matter will go, and have said that it will be troubling if the Bill needs to go through the whole parliamentary process and ever needs to come into force; I hope it is made redundant by a negotiated change. In that spirit, I will not press my amendments to a Division.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

I will speak to my amendment 3, and some others. The Bill is notionally about the good of Northern Ireland, but we cannot escape the reality: it is not supported by the majority of people or businesses in Northern Ireland, which rather prompts the question: why is the Bill going forward, if it is so unwanted there, and is seen as damaging to the wider community and the economic life of the region?

We could discuss consent to Brexit and the protocol, and how we got here, but I will not give into that temptation. I will focus on consent to where we are on the Bill. Brexit, the protocol and any modifications to it are matters for the UK Government and the European Union to work through in negotiations. Northern Ireland is not directly party to those negotiations. The issue of the consent of Northern Ireland, and specifically the Assembly, is recognised in article 18 of the protocol. I believe that was inserted into the protocol at the insistence of the UK Government, rather than the European Commission, so the Government have recognised the importance of the views of the Assembly.

The Government talk about the importance of Unionist concerns, and of getting some degree of cross-community consent, but the bottom line is that the Government are working towards a minority agenda. It is fine to have a debate about whether the aim should be majority consent or cross-community consent, particularly in the context of a divided society, but I am not aware of any democratic society in the world where progress is based on the views of a minority.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

Well, obviously, that is about to happen in Northern Ireland, if the Bill goes through its stages. We cannot escape the reality that a majority of MLAs have signed a letter making it very clear that they do not support the Bill. I urge all Members of this House, and of the House of Lords, to respect the views of the people of Northern Ireland, who have a direct mandate. Obviously, we have a group of MPs here who represent Northern Ireland, though some of them do not take their seats, which is regrettable. The views of the DUP are not the views of Northern Ireland. Of course, we have to address the views of the DUP, alongside the views of others, in trying to find a way forward, but it is not consistent with democracy to allow that view to dictate what happens to the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

I have listened to the hon. Member outline to the Committee that the majority of people in the Northern Ireland Assembly are against the Bill. We hear him say that he recognises there are issues that need to be resolved, yet he was fully supportive of the Northern Ireland protocol and talked about its full implementation. He was supportive of New Decade, New Approach in 2020, yet he was against the provisions within it on the UK internal market. His party was against the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, against triggering article 16 when the conditions were met and outlined in the White Paper, and now against this Bill. When are we going to get to the stage where we actually resolve the issues in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down 5:45 pm, 20th July 2022

There is a lot in that intervention. I hope that I can address the hon. Member’s points in order. I have been consistent throughout this process in recognising that there is a need for pragmatism, but the bottom line has to be that outcomes are mutually agreed between the UK and the European Union, and they have to be sustainable and legal solutions. I very much supported New Decade, New Approach; I did not support the UK Internal Market Act, because that diverged from that. Of course I want Northern Ireland to have full access to Great Britain and Great Britain to have access to Northern Ireland, and to reduce the impediments as far as possible.

We have discussed at length on many occasions a range of constructive proposals to address the issues, including the red and green channel proposal, which can only be delivered through negotiations, and wider sanitary and phytosanitary measures—preferably a wider UK-EU veterinary agreement—to address movements across the Irish sea. Those are pragmatic solutions that would address the vast bulk of the issues raised by businesses, as opposed to the ideological matters of sovereignty spoken about by people in here or elsewhere in Great Britain; that is an important distinction to make. I regret to say that at various times, such solutions—particularly the veterinary agreement—have been rejected by Unionism, and I confess that I find that bizarre.

There are some genuine concerns about the implications of the Bill. There are major implications for Northern Ireland’s economy, particularly for the ability of businesses to access the single market. There are also implications for the UK as a whole. The UK’s international image will take an even further hit from breaking international law and undermining the rules-based international order, at a time when that is so important whenever we are facing down Russian aggression against Ukraine, and other countries around the world are potentially breaching international law—I am looking at China in particular, among a number of other situations.

The UK is also risking economic retaliation from the European Union, which I do not want to happen, but is a genuine risk if this legislation passes. At a time of major economic pressure in the UK as a whole, it is bizarre that anyone would seek to make the situation worse through a trade confrontation with the European Union.

It is absurd for people to vote for and proceed with the passage of the Bill—to take all that pain and those consequences—in the name of doing Northern Ireland a favour, when the majority of people and businesses in Northern Ireland do not believe it is a favour; indeed, they believe it is incredibly harmful. The Government have acknowledged that the Sewel convention should apply to this legislation, but also recognise that, unfortunately, in the absence of an Assembly, that becomes moot.

We are in a chicken and egg situation. The Government are saying, “We can’t talk about consent of the Assembly in the absence of the DUP,” but want the Bill to get the DUP back into power sharing. Of course, if amendment 3 were accepted, there would be a huge incentive for the DUP to go back into power sharing in order that eventual consent or otherwise could be considered by the Assembly, if warranted. There is a certain inbuilt incentive to put that challenge to return to the DUP.

My amendment would essentially link commencement of the Bill to the democratic vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly. We can discuss whether that should be a majoritarian vote or a cross-community vote in the Assembly, but either would be far better than a situation where we have a minority dictating an outcome. There is, in theory, an article 18 vote scheduled for 2024, and that covers the continued application of articles 5 to 10 of the protocol. That vote will become null and void if the Bill is passed and implemented, and in particular whenever large aspects of article 5 have become excluded provisions. Indeed, the Bill goes even further; it even allows Ministers to do away with article 18 votes on a legal basis, so that the views of the Assembly in 2024 could be absolutely taken away.

The amendment would ensure that the democratic voices of the people of Northern Ireland, as expressed through the Northern Ireland Assembly, were taken into account. If the Bill is genuinely about the good of Northern Ireland, respect will be given to the views of the Assembly.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 19 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 21 to 23 and 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.