My Lords, I believe that in 2016 the people of the United Kingdom gave a clear instruction to their elected representatives that the UK was to leave the EU. Under that democratic mandate, our Government entered into negotiations with Europe, seeking an honourable settlement that would action the will of the people. However, we know that since that time there have been those who have sought to deliberately thwart the will of the electorate—much to the delight of those in Europe, who have for years reaped the benefit of the billions that have flowed from the British Exchequer.
A few weeks ago, we anticipated that we had arrived at decision time regarding Brexit, but in the middle of our previous debate the Prime Minister pulled the vote, knowing that Parliament would not accept her deeply flawed deal. From the beginning, the DUP’s position has been consistently stated, publically and privately. When we entered into the confidence and supply arrangement with the Government, it was known that the DUP desired a sensible exit from the EU that strengthened the union and benefited all parts of the United Kingdom. Our genuine endeavours have always been to secure a workable withdrawal agreement with the European Union that would provide security and stability for all—but we made it abundantly clear that we would not agree to a new border in the Irish Sea that would undermine the integrity of the United Kingdom and threaten our precious union. Indeed, that was the position of the Prime Minister as well at the time.
We insisted that no new regulatory barriers would develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and that Northern Ireland business must enjoy the same unfettered access to the whole of the UK internal market. Although the Prime Minister and her negotiating team were aware of those demands, the Government allowed themselves to be pushed around by Dublin and the rest of Europe, and they are presenting a withdrawal agreement that would place a regulatory border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, contrary to the explicit pledges given by our Prime Minister.
The backstop arrangement that the EU has demanded leaves the entire UK trapped until the EU decides to release it. It is claimed that the backstop is necessary to prevent the erection of a so-called—fictional, we now find—hard border. However, in reality, the notion of a hard border was only a negotiating ploy on the part of the EU to secure its aims in the negotiations, encouraged and at the behest of the Irish Republic.
Now we are being inundated with letters and assurances that Europe hopes will help the Prime Minister get her flawed deal over the line. If passed by Parliament, the withdrawal agreement becomes a legally binding international treaty. Therefore, only changes to the legally binding treaty can deliver the assurances that any true unionist could accept. From our experiences with successive Governments, we know only too well that letters of comfort or promises are often meaningless, because in effect an international treaty supersedes and overrides any contrary domestic legal provision. Sadly, promises and assurances can be swept away at the whim of any Prime Minister to suit the political survival of the Government in office at the time. So I make it clear: the Democratic Unionist Party will not support an internationally legally binding withdrawal agreement that does not protect the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.
The DUP has been challenged that we do not represent the views of the electorate of Northern Ireland. Let me face this. We are often reminded that 56% of the electorate in Northern Ireland voted remain and that 44% voted to leave—but let us scrutinise those figures. In actual fact, of that 56%, we find that 88% of all nationalists, many of whom have for years worked for the destruction of the United Kingdom, voted to remain, while 66% of unionists voted in the referendum to leave the EU.
Of course, the question asked was whether the UK as a whole should remain in or leave the EU, but in this agreement Northern Ireland is to be economically and constitutionally separated from the rest of the United Kingdom and trapped within the EU while the rest of the UK has the possibility of leaving. No unionist worthy of the name could accept such a proposal, and certainly my colleagues in the DUP will, without apology, vote against it.
“This paper has focused particularly on the role that the Northern Ireland institutions will play in any scenario in which the backstop would take effect”.
They do not seem to get it. We reject the backstop. Those assurances merely allow for consultation, and that consultation with the Northern Ireland Assembly will have no ultimate bearing on the decision taken by Parliament because paragraph 17 says Parliament will have a decisive role in the decision.
After the letters come the threats. The Secretary of State raised the threat of a possible border poll and the UK Government’s commitment to peace funding after 2020 now seems tied, by Karen Bradley, to ratification of the withdrawal agreement. The resorting of the Secretary of State to such scaremongering and threats is to be deplored and proves only how threadbare are the arguments in favour of the Prime Minister and her deal. Instead of the cast-iron guarantees previously promised when the vote was delayed in December, we have the wheels of Project Fear furiously turning.
The mandate from the electorate was clear: the UK leaves the EU. Leave means leave. We do not need a dictionary to help us to understand what that means. Let us honour our moral obligation and leave on