Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Committee (7th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 14th March 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Murphy of Torfaen Lord Murphy of Torfaen Labour 7:00 pm, 14th March 2018

My Lords, I support the amendment so eloquently spoken to by my noble friend Lord Hain. I remind the House that we are three weeks away from the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement. Those two decades ago it was my privilege, as the political development Minister at the time, to chair a good part of those negotiations—but in 1997 I had been appointed by the Prime Minister to be the European Minister as well. There is a link between the two, which is why I wanted to speak to this amendment.

The committee of your Lordships’ House that looked at this matter some months ago concluded that common European Union membership had laid the groundwork for the development of the peace process. Indeed, the preamble to the Good Friday agreement says that the two Governments wished,

“to develop still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbours and as partners in the European Union”.

There can be no doubt that throughout the whole of that agreement the three strands—strand 1, which dealt with the internal arrangements within Northern Ireland; strand 2, which dealt with the relations between the north and the south of the island of Ireland; and strand 3, which dealt with east-west relations between the two countries of Ireland and the United Kingdom—and all the other elements of the Good Friday agreement were underpinned by that common membership of the European Union.

In strand 1, much of the success of the last 20 years has been based upon the European funding in Northern Ireland, not least of which was the actual peace money itself, which helped to produce peace, stability and prosperity in Northern Ireland. In strand 2, where these bodies north and south come together, much of what they did relied upon the common membership of the European Union, again with regard to funding but other issues as well. Strand 3 set up the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, both of which deal with matters affecting the European Union. In the paragraphs cited by my noble friend Lord Browne a few minutes ago, the Government themselves accept that the Good Friday agreement must be kept intact when Brexit occurs.

Another issue, perhaps not so legal but very important, is the fact that in my view the agreement would not have been successful if the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom had not entered the European Union together in 1973. That meant that time after time, day after day, even hour after hour, in Brussels and elsewhere, the two Governments could talk at ministerial and official level. That talking meant that the old bad relations between the two countries faded away, as, of course, did the border itself. The blurring of the border as a result of the events of the last 20 years has been hugely significant in not just economic and security terms but in psychological terms, because that border has gone in the minds of both nationalists and unionists. Its resurrection would be an absolute disaster. Whatever one’s views on Brexit, the idea of returning to what had been there before would be extremely backward looking.

The other issue to which my noble friend referred was that the Good Friday agreement is an international treaty. The two Governments of Britain and the Republic of Ireland are joint guarantors of the Good Friday agreement. The responsibility rests upon our shoulders to ensure that all the aspects of that agreement, which are as fresh today in my mind as they were 20 years ago, are guaranteed by the two Governments.

Senator George Mitchell, who will come over to Northern Ireland in a couple of weeks’ time to commemorate the Good Friday agreement, said a couple of days ago that there were 700 days of failure and one day of success in the talks which led to the Good Friday agreement. If we do not ensure that we deal with the border and respect all the aspects of the Good Friday agreement, we cannot allow the Brexit negotiations to put at risk the great worth and good that has come to Northern Ireland and, indeed, to Ireland and the United Kingdom, as a consequence of what we did two decades ago.