My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord McCrea on a very moving maiden speech to the House. As a party, we have continually said that we want to see a sensible and balanced agreement on leaving the European Union. Leaving the European Union without a deal has never been our preferred option.
We are not a party of no deal. We believe that the proposed Brexit plans will damage the economy and the constitutional integrity of this United Kingdom. Our position on the proposed agreement is aligned with what we have been saying both privately and publicly for some months: we could not support any deal that treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK. We believed that that was also the position of the Prime Minister. This proposed Brexit plan will establish significant difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. It would certainly see Northern Ireland staying aligned with the rules of the EU single market if another solution cannot be found by the end of the transition period in December 2020. That means that goods coming into Northern Ireland would need to be checked to see whether they meet EU standards.
The other issue, which is more serious, is that we would also have to follow EU VAT rules on goods coming into the country. I have to say that the deal fails to protect jobs and the economy in Northern Ireland and it creates a border down the Irish Sea, subjecting us to EU rules without any power to influence or change them. In the other place recently the Prime Minister argued that the customs arrangement, or backstop, as described in the agreement, is only temporary and we will negotiate a future trading arrangement with the EU. The EU has already made it very clear that any free trade agreement will not be an alternative to this legally binding customs union scheme that will be built on in the future. It is hard to believe that any scenario exists whereby the EU would release the UK from an arrangement that gives it such an advantage.
From the very moment she entered No. 10, Theresa May said that the word unionism was important to her. She talked of protecting the precious bond between the UK’s four nations. I have to say that I believe this deal does the opposite. I could stand here and list the broken promises, as has already been said, that the Prime Minister gave to us, both privately and publicly. I do not think it is the time or place for that tonight, but it is a sad situation that we are in. I know that the Prime Minister has said that it is this deal or no deal. At one time she was saying that a bad deal is worse than no deal, so it is a tragedy that we find ourselves in tonight. Our battle is not with the Conservative Party but with the Prime Minister and her Cabinet and their broken promises. We will not get into the question of who should lead the Conservative Party, now or in the future: that is a matter for the Conservative Party alone. This is about not any deal, but the right deal.