Brexit: Irish Border - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:46 pm on 5th December 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat 2:46 pm, 5th December 2017

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what response they have received from the European Union negotiating team to their proposals on the Irish border problem.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union)

My Lords, there is much agreement between the UK and the EU on the proposals for how to address the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and Ireland in the light of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. We remain firmly committed to avoiding any physical infrastructure on the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We welcome the Commission’s commitment to this in its guiding principles paper.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat

My Lords, see how grateful the DUP is for the £1 billion of taxpayers’ money to keep Mrs May in power without any real mandate. Will the Minister please tell Mrs May what is now obvious: Brexit is becoming a total disaster and the PM must now save our country’s future and the precious Anglo-Irish agreement?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union)

I congratulate the noble Lord on having the foresight to get a Question on this on the Order Paper for today. He will be unsurprised to know that I do not agree with him. There was a referendum on the subject. We feel we have to respect the results of that referendum.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

My Lords, why was anybody surprised by yesterday’s negotiating car crash in Brussels? Unionists were quite legitimately always going to insist that they could not be put in a status distinct from the rest of the UK. At the same time, to maintain the Irish border as open as it has been alignment would be needed on trade, customs and regulation. Surely the answer is to apply that alignment across the UK, then the problem is solved.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union)

As the noble Lord is aware, we are leaving the customs union and the single market. Northern Ireland will be leaving them with us.

Photo of Lord Trimble Lord Trimble Conservative

Will the Minister agree that a lot of the problems yesterday stemmed from the fact that people were leaking inaccurate accounts of what was in the Government’s paper, and were not making it clear that the proposal for some form of regulatory alignment was heavily conditioned and of very limited application? If that information had been put into the public domain earlier in the day, would not things have gone much more smoothly?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union)

My noble friend speaks with great authority on this subject, having been one of the architects of the Good Friday agreement. We all know the political sacrifices he made to bring that about. I pay tribute to him for that. I do not think it would be helpful for me to go into a blow-by-blow account of whataboutery on the negotiations. We are only half way through the negotiations. We will come back and make a Statement when we have agreement, but at the moment this is an ongoing, delicate situation.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, it is the turn of the Liberal Democrat Benches.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I had always understood that if you are not in the customs union you cannot have frictionless trade; there would have to be some form of documentation and checks. Will the Minister confirm that or explain to us what sort of magical technological solution there is that can provide frictionless trade without common membership of the customs union?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union)

My Lords, we have always been very clear that the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland require unique solutions. That is recognised by the European Commission and it is recognised by Ireland. Michel Barnier has said that. The model that we use for the Northern Ireland-Irish border will not necessarily be a precedent for what happens elsewhere.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, this really is not acceptable. It is the turn of the Cross Benches, then we will hear from the Labour Benches—but one Member of the Labour Benches.

Photo of Lord Kilclooney Lord Kilclooney Crossbench

My Lords, as one living on the border with the Republic of Ireland, I ask whether the Minister is aware that most people in Northern Ireland welcome the Government’s proposals for maintaining the common travel area, for having no physical structures at the border and for 80% of our trade not to be controlled by customs. Can he confirm that, even today, in the context of membership of the European Union, Irish customs and United Kingdom customs operate not at the border but on either side of it?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union)

The noble Lord speaks with great authority on this subject and I know he has contributed a lot to the peace process over the years, which is something we want to maintain. There is a lot of truth in what he has said.

Oh!

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, I am afraid, with that kind of approach, we will hear from the Conservative Benches.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Chair, International Relations Committee

My Lords, is there not some confusion here between regulatory alignment and regulatory recognition? Is not the latter principle one on which there is perfect freedom for the whole United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, to make arrangements for outside trade in due course for continuing the smooth and reasonably frictionless low or non-border controls in Northern Ireland? What is the problem?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union)

Of course, the wording is very important, but I am very clear that alignment is not the same as having no diversity.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

My Lords, does the Minister accept that nobody has asked him to give a “blow-by-blow account”, which is how he referred to the questions he had been asked? Noble Lords have asked him to give a straight explanation, first, of what went wrong and, secondly, of how the Government propose to rectify it.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union)

I thank the noble Lord for his helpful question. We are trying to reach agreement at the moment. This is an ongoing negotiation. We were always very clear that Monday was the first staging post towards this. I have no doubt that there will be further discussions towards the end of the week. When we have reached agreement, we will come back and report it to the House.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, should we not heed the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, but at the same time remember that in the referendum on 23 June last year a significant majority of the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union)

The referendum was held on a UK-wide basis, and the people of the UK voted by a majority to leave the European Union.