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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 14th March 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative 8:00 pm, 14th March 2018

My Lords, I support Amendment 198, so excellently spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, to which I have added my name. I also support Amendments 215, 218 and 219. I commend the many excellent speeches made in this debate.

The Good Friday agreement was premised on a balanced approach to healing and rebuilding three sets of broken relationships. The noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, and my noble friend Lord Patten have outlined these three groups: first, the communities within Northern Ireland; secondly, the north-south relationship; and thirdly, east-west. These three groups of relationships are intertwined and the reality is that it is a whole. If you impact one part you affect the balance of the whole thing.

There is of course an economic dimension to this but it also has an important social dimension. We have signed an international agreement committed to repairing, rebuilding and protecting the people on the island of Ireland, and to co-operation among the communities, north and south. The open, frictionless border is a crucial part of this and it simply cannot be squared with leaving the single market and the customs union unless there is full regulatory alignment.

Protecting the Good Friday agreement should be the reddest of the Government’s red lines. The Good Friday agreement is essentially about co-operation and partnership. As the noble Lord, Lord Empey, said, it has developed over time—it is not exactly the same—but that was always the aim of that agreement, and those developments need to be protected if our Government are to continue to honour our commitments and obligations to the people of Northern Ireland.

The common regulatory standards mean that business in goods and services can operate freely on the whole island. Six areas of co-operation are identified: education, agriculture, environment, health, transport and tourism. This covers pretty much everything. EU regulations govern north-south co-operation, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain, mentioned the 142 areas of co-operation which would be impacted if there were not regulatory alignment or belonging still to the single market and the customs union. When summing up, can the Minister confirm to the Committee whether this is the final number of areas identified, and how many of those have the Government identified solutions for if we leave the single market and customs union and do not have full regulatory alignment?

This is an Achilles heel of Brexit. The Prime Minister has already committed to full regulatory alignment. We have heard that the opportunity to remain, for example, in the European Economic Area would solve the east-west issue as well as helping the north-south. As we have already committed, and the Prime Minister’s words reflected, that there should be no hard border, and to reassure the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland that we are a country which upholds its commitments to international agreements, I hope my noble friend will support the amendment or bring back an equivalent on Report.