My Lords, ever since the referendum on leaving or staying within the EU, the United Kingdom has had a tortuous time, irrespective of what position you take in relation to that particular vote. Much of the debate has rotated around Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic border. I speak as one who in the first 16 years of my life lived within walking distance of that border, and today I reside about a 15-minute car drive from it. I know other Peers from Northern Ireland could say similar, so we are well acquainted with the border in every respect. It is in our DNA.
I suspect it will not come as a massive surprise to anyone in this House that I and my party, namely the Democratic Unionist Party, are opposed to the Prime Minister’s proposals for withdrawal from the European Union. It is patently clear that Northern Ireland is to be treated differently from other regions of the United Kingdom. From the beginning of the negotiations we have set one red line for the Government: that there could be no new border in the Irish Sea, thus undermining the economic and constitutional position or integrity of the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland trades more with the rest of the UK than we do with the Republic of Ireland, the rest of the European Union and the rest of the world combined. The latest figures for total sales by Northern Ireland companies make interesting reading. Within Northern Ireland, they were £45.2 billion; to GB, they were £11.3 billion; and to the Republic of Ireland, they were £3.9 billion. These figures speak for themselves.
The DUP secured the inclusion of paragraph 50 in the joint report published in December 2017. The paragraph states that the UK,
“will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with”,
the 1998 Belfast agreement,
“the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland. In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market”.
Some of the architects of the Belfast agreement—I was not one of them—tell me that the present proposals drive a horse and coach through it; at the same time, the Government say that their design is to protect that very same agreement. It is abundantly clear what the EU’s intentions have been since the publication of its legal interpretation of the joint report. It sought to sever and divide the internal UK market. At the time the legal interpretation was published, the Prime Minister was clear that such an interpretation was totally unacceptable. We agreed entirely with those objections; our position has not changed.
The publication of the Attorney-General’s advice demonstrated why there was such reluctance to publish it. The advice was devastating in its contents. It said that the backstop will come into force on the conclusion of the transition period,
“while negotiations are continuing for an agreement that supersedes it and ‘unless and until’ that ‘subsequent agreement’ is applicable”.
Northern Ireland would remain inside the EU’s customs union. The Commission and the European Court of Justice would continue to have jurisdiction over Northern Ireland’s compliance with those rules. Therefore, goods passing from GB to Northern Ireland would be subject to a declaration process. Northern Ireland remaining in the EU single market would mean that, for regulatory purposes, Great Britain is essentially treated as a third country by Northern Ireland for goods passing from Great Britain into Northern Ireland. The backstop would continue indefinitely and cannot be exited by the UK. The Attorney-General’s words were clear. He said that,
“despite statements in the Protocol that it is not intended to be permanent, and the clear intention of the parties that it should be replaced by alternative, permanent arrangements, in international law the Protocol would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement took its place, in whole or in part, as set out therein”.
We are told much about the backstop. Allegedly, nobody wants it; why is it there, then? Furthermore, who is going to construct the apparatus on the border? Nobody wants that—Europe does not, the UK does not and no one in Northern Ireland wants it, so who is going to construct it? We await with interest.
The belligerent attitude of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland has proven to be downright unhelpful. The Irish Independent reported in an article of
“The work had begun under former Taoiseach Enda Kenny and ex-foreign affairs minister Charlie Flanagan”.
Again, there is proof that the Republic of Ireland’s Prime Minister has been and continues to be obstructionist in every way that he can. Instead of working in the best interests of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, he is more content to meddle and make things as difficult as he possibly can.