Trade Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 30th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development 7:30 pm, 30th January 2019

I am happy to put some additional comments on the record for the noble Lord, in that spirit. Last night, the majority of MPs said that they would support a deal with changes to the backstop, combined with measures to address concerns over Parliament’s role in the negotiation of the future partnership relationship, and commitments on workers’ rights. We will now take this mandate forward and seek to obtain legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement that deal with concerns on the backstop while guaranteeing no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We are keen to work with the Government of Ireland to ensure that the SEM will continue in any scenario, and welcomed their statement in December that they were engaging intensively with the EU to ensure that the single electricity market would continue. I hope that this provides some reassurance.

On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, we have been consistent in our commitment to avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, upholding the Good Friday agreement and maintaining the conditions for north-south co-operation. We are delivering on those commitments. We negotiated a withdrawal agreement that delivered on those commitments in good faith; we have worked hard to build support for it in Parliament over many months. It was clear to the Prime Minister, having met parliamentarians from all parties, that a change to the backstop would be necessary to get the agreement through. The Prime Minister was clear that there are a number of ways to do that and that she will work with colleagues from all parties, and with the EU, to secure changes that command the support of Parliament. Although the Government will seek to secure legal changes to the backstop, their commitment to avoiding a hard border and maintaining the necessary conditions for north-south co-operation remains undiminished.

In a paper published earlier this month, the Government set out their commitments to Northern Ireland, including: a legal guarantee that the backstop could not be used to alter the scope of north- south co-operation; a role for a restored Northern Ireland Executive in UK-EU discussions, through the Joint Ministerial Committee, on matters concerning Northern Ireland; a commitment to seek the agreement of a restored Northern Ireland Assembly before new areas of EU law could be added to the protocol; and a legal guarantee that Northern Ireland businesses will continue to enjoy unfettered access to the entire UK market.

Let me be clear: the Government are committed to ensuring that any arrangements to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland respect the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland. The UK recognises our unique relationship with Ireland. The UK-Ireland relationship should continue to operate through the well-established three-stranded approach set out in the Good Friday agreement. At this stage, I am unable to add to the remarks I have already put on the record, but I thank noble Lords for the opportunity to make them. I know that we will come back to this issue on Report but in the meantime, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.