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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 14th March 2018.

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Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour 8:15 pm, 14th March 2018

I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, to his post as a Minister and commend the empathy he has shown in responding to the debate, which I think the whole House welcomes.

I will not respond to the whole debate—the hour is too late—except to commend the marvellous, passionate eloquence of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. He would be able to get me to follow him on any theological journey, which is asking a lot of me. However, I regret that the Minister has not really responded to the questions put to him. For example, the Brexit Secretary said recently that there would be no problem monitoring imports and exports between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit and there would be no need for a hard border because we already do this for VAT purposes. But we can do it for VAT purposes now only because we are in the European Union’s VAT Information Exchange System—VIES. Outside the EU, we are out of that tracking system. Then, on Sunday, the Chancellor admitted that there was not an example in the world of the kind of technological open border alluded to by the Minister. Who believes for a minute that it can be done, apart from the Foreign Secretary—who thinks that South Armagh and Louth are the same as Camden and Westminster, except with more Guinness?

The Prime Minister insists that Brexit means the UK leaving the single market and the customs union, which I do not accept for a moment. We can Brexit and stay in the single market and the customs union; other countries are outside the European Union but are in either the customs union or the single market. But if she were right, the UK Government in turn would be obliged by WTO rules to enforce hard border arrangements on the island of Ireland because of the change in their relationship with the EU. Therefore, to keep the border open as it is today, there is no alternative to Northern Ireland—and, by implication, the UK—remaining in both the single market and the customs union. I regret that the Minister, despite his empathy, has not really answered that point. I will not press my amendment.