My Lords, this is a most significant moment for our nation. It is vital that everyone’s right to debate and examine the draft deal is respected. My position on the proposed deal and that of my party—the Democratic Unionist Party—is in line with what we have previously said in your Lordships’ House, in the other place and in private conversation with Her Majesty’s Government.
In its current guise, the text of the draft withdrawal agreement would establish fundamental differences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Morrow has already pointed out, Annexe 5 in particular would mean that Northern Ireland remains in the European Union single-market rules for goods, including food standards, while Great Britain is not. In practical terms, this would mean increased checks on food and agricultural products entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, which would create new barriers for businesses, including supermarkets. In our eyes, such a solution is unthinkable and cannot be described as anything other than a border in the Irish Sea.
The deal that has been negotiated by the Prime Minister and the Government is much different to that described in speeches and announcements during the course of the last two years. Indeed, if we take Lancaster House as one example, one would have expected that any draft before us would have freed the UK from the customs union, the single market and the diktats of the European Court of Justice. This is not the case and in our opinion the draft agreement fails to deliver the referendum result across the United Kingdom. It leaves Northern Ireland subject to the rulings of the European Court of Justice. It creates a democratic deficit whereby Northern Ireland would become subservient to EU legislation with zero representation. In real terms, Dublin legislators would have vast influence over swathes of rules governing us, while elected representatives in Belfast or London would have none. This violates the principle of consent. It also extends the role of devolved institutions and grants a joint committee a significant input into local affairs. This collectively amounts to a breach of the Belfast agreement.
The precise wording of the draft agreement also ensures that Dublin and Brussels hold an active veto on whether the backstop ceases to apply in Northern Ireland in the future. Both options—the review mechanism or the extension to the transition period—fail to allow the United Kingdom to unilaterally move away from these arrangements should it ever wish to do so. This could leave us in a state of permanent limbo and make it difficult to leave the backstop. The ability to supersede the backstop,
“in whole or in part”,
also expresses a danger that Great Britain may be able to leave the backstop but Northern Ireland has to remain. That is not taking back control.
Under the plans before us, Northern Ireland would be locked into an arrangement whereby a substantial number of our laws will be made elsewhere. Regardless of how damaging they are to our economy, we will have no choice as to whether they should be implemented, nor will we be in a position to amend them. The extent of the barriers between Northern Ireland and our main market in Great Britain will be dependent on what the EU deems necessary. We are not alone in our resolve to oppose the risks that this deal presents to our precious union. Departing Cabinet members hold the view that this agreement presents a real threat to the United Kingdom. The Labour Party Front Bench has described it as,
“a de facto border in Irish Sea”.
My party—the Democratic Unionist Party—will not step back from its commitments to defend the security of the union and protect the long-term economic interests of Northern Ireland people alongside those in Great Britain. Ultimately, neither of these things can be guaranteed by this withdrawal agreement, and for this reason I cannot support it in its present form.