My Lords, I am pleased and honoured to make my maiden speech today. I thank your Lordships for the kindness and support that I have received since entering this House. I particularly wish to thank my noble friends Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley and Lord Browne of Belmont for introducing me to the House. I am deeply grateful for the guidance and advice offered by all the officers and staff whom I have met, and I appreciate their helping me to learn the workings of this House in such a professional and gracious manner. I acknowledge the encouraging and welcoming words of noble Lords from across this House, many of whom I recall from my years in another place.
As a young man I had the privilege of entering local government in Northern Ireland, and served there for 37 and a half years. For 25 years I enjoyed the thrust of public debates in the other place and several years in the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, I confess to finding this a daunting experience, having listened carefully to the richness of the contributions of noble Lords in this House today and in previous debates. Each brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, from so many walks of life.
I believe it is also important that I nail my colours to the masthead. For 50 years I served as a Christian minister in Magherafelt and only recently stepped down from my responsibilities there. With deep humility, I thank God for all the years He has given me as a preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus and, by His Grace, I will seek to take my stand for Him in this House.
I am humbled to be given this honour of speaking in such an important debate today, sitting among your Lordships and contributing to the deliberations. This take note debate on the Statement by the Prime Minister has great relevance and importance to the people of Northern Ireland; it has major implications for the future, regarding not only our exit from, and relationship with, the European Union, but the future of our precious union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I come from a Province that has endured years of IRA terror; many of our fairest and bravest men and women were murdered defending the union. For over 30 years bombs and bullets bombarded us, seeking to break the spirit of our people and our determination to remain part of the United Kingdom. It is true that on many occasions these terrorists broke our hearts, but they never broke our resolve.
We are proud to be a part of the United Kingdom but I believe the deal presented by the Prime Minister threatens the integrity of that union. If these proposals were implemented, we in Northern Ireland would have to take rules from a body without any representation, governed by laws which, even if they damaged our economy, could not be changed and on which we would have no say. These proposals drive a coach and horses through the devolution settlement and our constitutional practices to suit the European Union. The nominal excuse for this is to avoid a hard land border. They have not resolved it; they have moved it and plan to implement a sea border inside our own country instead.
The Government claim of a United Kingdom customs solution is simply untrue. Northern Ireland will be in the EU customs territory while Great Britain will not. If Great Britain were to leave then the EU has the right to impose a customs border. Northern Ireland is the hostage to prevent GB leaving or the sacrifice if it does. In the last week, a European customs expert has made it clear that the hard land border is a “fictitious problem” but, based on this fiction, Northern Ireland is to be pushed further away from Great Britain. Even the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic says there will be no hard border. For a backstop that is never to be used, it takes up a substantial chunk of the withdrawal agreement. The backstop is never to be used, they say, but if it were, it would be only temporary. Then we are told it is a wonderful thing—that long-term investments could ultimately be made upon it.
The people of Northern Ireland have a respect for straight talking. They do not stand anyone seeking to pull the wool over their eyes. There are those who have called for another referendum. The people have spoken. Had the people voted the other way, I wonder how many would be calling for a second referendum. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland must leave the European Union on equal terms. The present proposals are not a good deal for the United Kingdom and should be rejected. My party, the Democratic Unionist Party, will do the honourable thing and vote against them.