European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 2nd May 2018.

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Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench 4:15 pm, 2nd May 2018

My Lords, the amendment was moved with eloquent brilliance by the noble Lord, Lord Patten. I want to add a few words based on my nine and a half years’ experience as the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation and the close interest that I have taken in Northern Ireland, and specifically the border, since then. Before I do, however, and with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, whom I admire greatly—I mean that genuinely—may I point out to him that he may have misunderstood the words of the part of the amendment that he just referred to? The amendment does not allow an intergovernmental requirement for security checks. There is absolutely no question that security checks will be required from time to time. I have been in security checks myself from time to time in Northern Ireland and they have been put in place and removed ad hoc extremely quickly. I have seen them happen at extraordinary speed within minutes. So I ask the noble Lord if he would not mind having another look at that part of the amendment before encouraging other noble Lords, if there is a vote, to vote against it or by voting against it himself.

I have spent time in Northern Ireland, including time with Sinn Féin Members of the legislative Assembly. I regret very much that Sinn Féin MPs do not take their seats in the other place. They could make a very useful contribution on the subject of Northern Ireland and Ireland in general. I disagreed with an awful lot of what they did before, but my observation from the time that I have spent with them, including, on one occasion, making the journey from Belfast down to South Armagh and observing how the person in question operated as an elected representative in that part of the world, is that they have committed themselves to the constitutional arrangements which appertain in Northern Ireland. That is because of one event: the Good Friday agreement and all that has flowed from it. A large number of institutions have been built as a result of that agreement. If we look at the membership of the legislative Assembly when it sits, particularly at the identity, experience and backgrounds of today’s Sinn Féin Members, most stand as elected representatives whose integrity could be compared to almost any other legislative body in Europe. We have come an incredible distance over those years.

On the present situation, I have heard all the encouraging words from the Government—and rather less encouraging words from the European Union—that there will be a resolution of the Northern Ireland situation. But it has not happened. In my view, we are no nearer to a solution being presented by the Government than we were in Committee or a year ago. The situation today, on Report, requires us to vote for this well-constructed amendment because this will tell both our Government and the European Union that this is a subject that cannot be neglected. Indeed, this subject should never have been part of Brexit. It is something that should have been negotiated in the first week so that we were not sitting in your Lordships’ House worrying—and this is the greatest worry of all—about Brexit as we approach, rather more quickly than we would have wished, 29 March next year.

We must give every bit of encouragement to an early solution of this problem that does not involve any of the difficulties that we have talked about time and again in this House. If the matter is put to a vote, I encourage noble Lords to go with the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and to follow his eloquence into the Content Lobby.