Amendment 22

Trade Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:37 pm on 13 March 2019.

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Lord Hain:

Moved by Lord Hain

22: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—“Continuation of North-South trade and prevention of customs arrangements at bordersAn international trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union may not be ratified under sections 20 to 25 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 unless the agreement—(a) is compatible with the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, and(b) does not—(i) negatively affect any form of North-South trade in goods or services or the operation of the relevant North-South implementation bodies, or(ii) create or facilitate customs arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after exit day which feature—(a) physical infrastructure related to customs checks,(b) a requirement for customs or regulatory compliance checks,(c) random checks on goods vehicles, or(d) any other checks and controls related to trade, that did not exist before exit day and which are not subject to an agreement between Her Majesty’s Government and the Government of Ireland.”

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

My Lords, the amendment stands also in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Bruce, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. This amendment, which has cross-party support, is consistent with the previous amendment carried by your Lordship’s House, and which the Government accepted when the European Union (Withdrawal) Act was adopted last summer. However, it is vital that those provisions in Section 10 of the withdrawal Act are reflected in this Bill, which concerns not our divorce deal, as that Act did, but our long-term trading relationships.

In principle, the UK has joined Ireland and the EU in a shared objective of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland in order to help protect the hard-won peace process delivered by the Good Friday agreement—a peace process that is still just that: a process that, in my view, has dangerously reversed these past couple of years. The border is often described as the Irish border, a description which seems to absolve the UK of any ownership of it, but it is a UK land border with Ireland. If we leave, it will be a border between the UK and the EU, so it is our responsibility as much as it is Ireland’s and the EU’s responsibility under any circumstances.

Only last week, the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling, warned of potentially grave and profound consequences of a no-deal Brexit—including a sharp rise in unemployment, the collapse or flight of businesses and potential unrest—for Northern Ireland, which, lest we forget, voted by 56% to 44% to remain in the European Union in 2016. Senior civil servants do not usually speak so candidly and compellingly. Advocates of a kamikaze Brexit might take notice and might also take notice of the strong words of the 50 or more Northern Ireland businesses which wrote to MPs in similar terms over the weekend.

The extent of trade and traffic over the Irish border is huge: 110 million person crossings take place every year; Northern Ireland, with its population of 1.8 million people, exports £3.4 billion over the border, by far its biggest export destination outside the UK and the first export destination for new and growing enterprises; at least 5,000 Northern Ireland companies trade with their neighbours over the border with Ireland; tens of thousands of people live on one side and work on the other; supply chains operate across the border without impediment; more than 400,000 lambs and 750 million litres of milk are exported across the border to Ireland for processing; and 177,000 heavy goods vehicles and 208,000 light vans cross the border every single month, which is 4.6 million crossings a year, and there are 22 million car crossings, and they take place all along a 300-mile border with nearly 300 crossing points.

By way of comparison, the Norway-Sweden land border is 1,000 miles long with only 57 crossing points. That is a hard border accompanied by infrastructure at the frontier, yet it is the very one most cited by those Brexiteers who seek to brush aside our border with the Republic as something which can be solved with a few cameras and some online programmes.

There are unique arrangements under the Good Friday/Belfast agreement for north-south co-operation. The Department for Exiting the European Union lists no less than 157 different areas of cross-border work and co-operation. Many of them have been facilitated by the common legal and policy framework provided by Ireland’s and the UK’s common membership of the EU since 1973. These areas are the things of everyday life—the precious signs of normality in the post-conflict border region—and there must never be new barriers or controls erected to block or discourage them. They include: food safety; tourism; specialist schools; fighting crime; tackling environmental pollution; water quality and supply; waste management; bus services; train services; cancer care; blood transfusions; and gas and electricity supply. We must never disrupt these arrangements, either through a divorce deal or—the amendment is directed at this—any new trade agreements.

WTO rules, which primarily remove barriers to trade and prevent unfair discrimination, will not allow these areas of north-south co-operation and everyday cross-border movement to be maintained. WTO rules and the obligations of an EU member state would strictly limit the kind of bilateral co-operation between the Republic and the UK as an EU member state which has made the border invisible in everyday life.

Some find all these essential facts to be tiresome obstacles to their Brexit dream. They argue that the border in Ireland will never need any new barriers, that the UK will never erect any on its side and that somehow Ireland, which by law has to obey EU and WTO customs and regulatory rules, will not do so either. The same people go on to use the word “technology” as a magic solution, repeatedly citing reports by one or two alleged experts on how, maybe, such solutions might work and might be ready someday, somehow.

One such study still bandied about is known as Smart Border 2.0, sometimes wrongly described as an EU report. It was presented to the European Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs in November 2017, together with opposing views from other experts. However, the report, based on the arrangements at the Norway-Sweden border that I mentioned, does not carry the imprimatur of any of the EU institutions. Furthermore, proposals in Smart Border 2.0 rely on both physical infrastructure and staffed border posts, which would be incompatible with the common travel area that the EU and the UK have agreed should continue. The technology proposed is untested and does not address concerns surrounding the management of animal and plant health—sanitary, phytosanitary and other regulatory issues that would require checks. Given the all-island nature of the agri-food industry and the constant livestock crossings, any need for such checks at the border would be an utter disaster.

In short, ideas like this are already in breach of the law under the EU withdrawal Act, which this House and the other place passed, in that it rules out measures that,

“create or facilitate border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after exit day which feature physical infrastructure, including border posts, or checks and controls, that did not exist before exit day and are not in accordance with an agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU”— the same wording as in Amendment 22.

Your Lordships’ own EU Select Committee concluded rightly that technological solutions were a long-term aspiration and could only mitigate, not eliminate, the need for border controls or infrastructure in the event of Brexit. This very important point underlines the vital need for this amendment. No amount of technology can be a substitute for the regulatory alignment or equivalence that today makes customs checks and security controls across the Irish border unnecessary. The border is completely open and invisible today because there are common rules for trading, services and people movement on both sides. Various wheezes by Brexiteers to monitor barcodes on lorries and so on will work only if there is a common compliance regime on both sides of the border, yet the Brexiteers’ very mission is to end those common rules and that common compliance; that is what Brexit is all about.

The same applies to checks 20 miles from the border, as some Brexiteers have suggested. For example, the reason that Jaguar cars—or their components—can be sent for sale without checks or inspections through the Channel Tunnel or across the Irish border is because Jaguar has signed up to thousands of common EU standards and other regulations. If Jaguar were to be found in breach by a competitor or by the European Commission, it could be taken to the European Court of Justice; yet it is this very compliance regime that the Brexiteers reject. No amount of fancy technology or max-fac wheezes can overcome this reality.

By the way, if the UK fell out of the EU with no deal, as many Brexiteers want, to set us gloriously free, the World Trade Organization rules that they crave would also impose on the UK a hard-border requirement, outlawing special treatment of an EU member state—Ireland—by the UK, which, as a third country, would be outside the highly developed free trade agreement which is the European Union.

Even the highly politicised and heavily spun Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report of 9 March, just a few days ago, confirms that there are currently no technology border solutions anywhere in the world that can deliver a frictionless Irish border—therefore slaying a few hard-Brexit unicorns. The committee took evidence and reported that technology proposals for a frictionless border,

“have been tested somewhere in the world just not in one single border”,

and, as, such the border in Northern Ireland would be,

“the first and a leading example in the world of this kind”.

The committee concluded:

“This is not a simple, quick-fix solution and implementing it in Northern Ireland would represent a world-first”.

My Lords, please! That is like saying, “We can do brain surgery; we can do transplant surgery; it is just that we haven’t done brain transplant surgery yet, but we’ll have a go anyway”.

That all shows clearly why this amendment is absolutely vital and why the Government accepted it in terms in the Commons as part of the withdrawal Act. Now, we are asking Parliament to do the same in our future trading arrangements covered by this Bill, and I hope that the Government will accept it.

I ask noble Lords to note that this amendment does not prescribe any particular new border arrangements. That is a very important point: it does not place the Government in a straitjacket. All it requires is the very outcome that we all—leave or remain, government or opposition, London or Dublin—are supposed to be signed up to: namely, the invisible open border on the island of Ireland that we currently have. Without that, we all know what will happen, because we are already starting to see it happen: the reverse of the painstakingly constructed hard-won process of peace, stability and trust on the island of Ireland. We know where that ends: putting back up barriers of all kinds, which will spark division and potential conflict for generations to come. I hope that your Lordships’ House will accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 3:45, 13 March 2019

My name is on the amendment but I have very little to add to the authoritative introduction from the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I agree with him that we should be pressing at an open door here. At the start of Report, the Minister, in responding to me on what the tariff regime would be in the event of no deal, indicated that we would be told in due course. Such is her power that I understand that the schedules were published this morning—conveniently for our debate. I am sure that that was the only reason for their publication and I am sure that we owe it entirely to the Minister, because the timing is so apt.

I myself have seen nothing from the Government but, according to the press, it is made clear in today’s announcement that temporarily at the outset—I do not know how long that means—if a tariff regime is required on 30 March because we leave with no deal, it will not be applied at the inner Irish border. There will be no tariffs and no customs checks, and imports will be exempt from quotas, although, for imports from the EU other than across the Irish border, tariffs will be charged—10% on motor cars and quite a high tariff on agricultural products of various kinds. I am not quite sure how long such an arrangement can last. It will be a breach of WTO rules, but I guess that the WTO will live with that for a bit. Although I have never wanted a BMW, if I did want to buy one, it would be 10% cheaper if I imported it via Dublin and Belfast, which would be slightly odd. I cannot see that lasting on a permanent basis.

However, my point is that the Government are quite right to exempt the inner Irish border—it really matters. It therefore seems obvious that it should be easy for the Minister to accept Amendment 22, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. The Government have already accepted it in another context, as he explained, and today’s announcements show that they would intend to apply it to the inner Irish border anyway.

The other night, in his reply to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, said:

“The whole point of the present withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol is to ensure that we adhere not only to the terms but to the spirit of the Belfast agreement”.—[Official Report, 12/3/19; col. 978.]

I applaud that. The withdrawal agreement is dead, but we must uphold the spirit and letter of the Belfast agreement, whatever the future regime, and this amendment would permit us to do that. Since it seems to be in line with the Government’s actions and words—in today’s tariff announcements and last night’s speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen—I very much hope that the Minister will be able to accept the amendment.

Photo of Lord Eames Lord Eames Crossbench

My Lords, speaking from a Northern Irish position, I urge the House as strongly as I can to support this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain.

As the debate over the entire Brexit situation has come and gone in the past few weeks, there has been growing concern across the business community in Northern Ireland about the hidden implications of what we are debating. They will affect every strand of the Northern Ireland business community, which is finding itself thrust on to the knife edge of Brexit.

The whole border question has obvious but also hidden implications. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, rightly referred to the Belfast agreement. While it is all too easy to raise the worry about an increase in violence and the breakdown of relationships—and to overplay that card—it is equally dangerous not to mention it. The subtlety of that situation is such that, with the words of this amendment, we are not only strengthening the spirit of the Belfast agreement but recognising that it is an integral part of the whole vista of trade.

Across the border counties, the links between the Republic of Ireland and the Province of Northern Ireland, there are numerous small businesses which are absolutely identifiable as Irish, in a sense. They are small and may not employ many people, but they are the absolute breath of the local community. Those businesses—as well as the major BMWs of this world, if the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, will forgive me—are not only the heartbeat of our community but are indicative of why Northern Ireland will probably be the greatest sufferer if what we fear in the light of yesterday’s events down the Corridor comes to pass.

So I urge noble Lords to take seriously the thinking behind this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, is ideally placed to speak about the situation from his years of experience in dealing with us in Northern Ireland and seeing something of what makes that community tick. While I am introducing an element that is not about detailed trade negotiations or principles, I believe that it is a genuine, real reason why this amendment must be passed.

Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland) 4:00, 13 March 2019

My Lords, I rise briefly to support this amendment, to which I have put my name. Sadly, we have arrived at a point where a deeply divided Conservative Party has deeply divided the nation. The irony of that is that it is the Conservative and Unionist Party that currently presents the biggest threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom. Just over two weeks—15 days—before we are due to leave the European Union, the Government, if they do not take action or accept this amendment, present the greatest potential threat to the Good Friday agreement. This hard-won agreement was forged in the understanding that the UK was and would remain in the European Union, and that the UK and the European Union would be its joint guarantors. We are now moving into a new situation where it is unclear who the guarantors would be.

People talk about a deal, but there is no deal. There is an agreement, twice rejected, on how we leave the EU. The deal comes afterwards and has to be negotiated: we have not even begun to address that. Yesterday the Government published two guidance statements on trade and tariffs—one of them specifically for Northern Ireland. Yet this guidance acknowledges only what the UK Government can or will do. It cannot by definition legislate for any EU measures.

The Northern Ireland guidance states:

“Because these are unilateral measures, they only mitigate the impacts of exit that are within the UK government’s control. These measures do not set out the position in respect of tariffs or processes to be applied to goods moving from Northern Ireland to Ireland”.

So will the EU impose tariffs on agricultural products from the UK to Ireland or to the rest of the EU, just at the beginning of the lamb sales? Is that what we would be facing? And that is just one sector and one example.

That is why this new clause is needed. It is a clear and unequivocal statement that nothing can be done and nothing should be done that undermines in detail the terms of the Good Friday agreement. As long as the Government stand by their position, there is no agreement that conforms to this clause—because the House of Commons has rejected the agreement twice. So we are in danger of being in default. Parliament either has to accept the backstop, which was the means of securing acceptance—twice rejected by the House of Commons—or the Government have to abandon the red lines and seek more time to pursue a softer strategy built around the customs union. Better still, in my view—I guess my colleagues on these Benches will agree—we should suspend Article 50 and put the deal, which would have to come with a backstop, to a vote of the people, with the option to rescind Article 50 altogether, on the basis that there is no agreement that either commands a majority in Parliament or is consistent with the Good Friday agreement. Currently there is no such agreement on the table.

I commend this amendment to the House on the basis that adopting this new clause would give the House of Commons a building block for squaring the circle, which the Government and the House of Commons have so far utterly failed to do.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative

My Lords, my name is also on this amendment and I echo every word of the excellent speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Hain, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard and Lord Bruce of Bennachie, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. We have an international obligation. We have signed the Belfast agreement—a long-standing, deep and binding international agreement—and somehow it seems to have been forgotten or overlooked in the frenzy of focus on some kind of “pure Brexit”, as it is called. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, called this the “hidden element”. It has become frighteningly clear that the Brexiteers did not understand Brexit properly. They imposed impossible and inconsistent red lines which have left us in the position we are now.

While the economics imply that staying in the customs union and single market will protect frictionless borders and supply chains and our manufacturing industry and services, it makes us a rule taker, and forces us to have some connection with the ECJ. On the political side, this has led to the drive towards dropping the backstop, as if it was a problem we should not care about—actually, we should care about it deeply—or even considering no deal, which clearly leaves Northern Ireland high and dry.

Leaving the customs union and single market cannot support an open border. Nor can no deal, or Canada-plus-plus. It saddens me that so many of our colleagues on these Benches are willing to countenance playing fast and loose with the hard-won peace achieved in Northern Ireland, for the sake of some kind of trading advantage which may or may not occur. I appeal to my colleagues on the Front Bench, and to my fellow Peers on the Conservative and Democratic Unionist Party Benches alongside me, to accept this amendment. It has already been accepted as part of the withdrawal Act. Surely we cannot, and must not, abandon the frictionless border in Northern Ireland, or cut Northern Ireland off from the rest of the UK.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I want to address something in this amendment that is important, but which has not been picked up so far. In saying so, I support the amendment, which proposes to support the Good Friday agreement. People tend to think of that in terms of the structures within Northern Ireland and between north and south. However, a key part of the agreement was the arrangement of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. For 10 years, it did not meet. The British and Irish Governments were in default of the Good Friday agreement for a decade. The European Union supported the Good Friday agreement, as did our friends in the United States.

In the context of the Good Friday agreement and addressing our difficulties, the suggestion that Ireland should be with the 27 countries which are negotiating with the UK, or having negotiations on their behalf, actually ignores the Good Friday agreement. If Britain and Ireland were not fulfilling it, the European Union should have been pushing the British and Irish Governments to come together to reach agreements that they could bring to Brussels together. There have been suggestions that this would be a breach of European Union understandings; it would not. However, not doing it is a breach of the Good Friday agreement.

If the British and Irish Governments have already agreed, or would agree over the next few months, on the main north-south economic and transport issues—agriculture, agri-food business and electricity—and agree that they would approach Brussels and request that these issues be dealt with on an all-Ireland basis, because they already largely are, it is highly likely that Brussels would accept that, whatever the other issues. It would not require a backstop; it would be a frontloading. The key thing is that the British and Irish Governments need to work together on this. That is what the last clause in the amendment says. In some ways, this ought to be the first clause, and the first stop, not a backstop: that the Governments come together and propose something.

People have repeatedly said that it is not appropriate for Ireland and the United Kingdom to negotiate together, because this is something between the UK and the EU as a whole. However, that simply does not work if people believe that they and the EU support the Good Friday agreement, which requires and mandates direct negotiations between London and Dublin on all joint issues. This has not been happening and I appeal to the Minister, as I appeal to Ministers in the Republic of Ireland, to come together on this issue. Ireland should be a bridge between the UK and the EU, not a bulwark for the EU against the UK.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade)

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend, who speaks with great authority on this issue. In following him, I will use one example to highlight the importance of this amendment in maintaining the spirit and including the contents of the agreement. I use the example of today’s announcements on the proposed tariffs that may be applied on a no-deal Brexit and the Written Ministerial Statement on how that will impact on the Northern Ireland border, already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. I was grateful for an opportunity to have a conversation with the Minister about this today.

The proposals for the tariff regime, which would be an increase of 489 tariff lines on goods from the European Union and would have to have some form of mechanism across the border of Northern Ireland, need to be seen in the context of operating within a year. This is not simply an emergency or temporary proposal, and a year is a long time in the context of some of the statistics referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. There were 46 million vehicle crossings at the 15 Northern Ireland border locations in the last year, according to the Northern Ireland statistics agency—3.8 million of those were goods vehicles, nearly three-quarters of deliveries involve small businesses, and two thirds of cross-border trade is bilateral agri-food and intermediate trade. That means these are small businesses—as already referred to, 80% are low-value—and often individual businesses trading on a self-employed basis, but every one of those people will have to be registered with an economic operator’s index number, or EORI. Only one-sixth of all businesses have so far registered, so the system, even as published today, is not operable, but new processes and procedures have to be carried out. The Government are giving no advice to Northern Ireland businesses on that. They believe a unilateral action, against the spirit of the Good Friday agreement and the spirit of an all-island economy, is the way forward.

How can it be a unilateral approach if tariffs will not be applied to goods coming from Ireland, but will subsequently be applied if those goods are part of intermediate trade with Great Britain? Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was asked at lunchtime where the checks would be carried out. She said that she believed it would be at “a border in the UK”. This is the Chief Secretary to the Treasury today. What does that mean? If one is tolerant, one may forgive her not knowing the terminology of Great Britain and the United Kingdom, but that is unforgivable, given that she said she will vote for a no-deal Brexit in the other place this evening. What kind of consultation is being carried out, not just with the Irish Government—which, as my noble friend indicated, is urgent—but with businesses on both sides of the border that will be operating?

Linked with the long-term basis is the fact that the unilateral approach is not WTO-compliant, unless the Government trigger one element in WTO processes on public morals. There are some dispensations that can be provided, in extremis, on the basis of public morals that can set aside a system where we will not apply tariffs from one country, if we have no intention of applying them to the rest of the world. It would be a retrograde step if the Government activated a public morals clause at the WTO on a situation as delicate as that on the Northern Ireland border. The Government are setting aside security and border integrity as the basis of the unilateral no-deal proposal. The Government should see sense and support this amendment, because it provides the framework for these consultations to be carried out.

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, this has been a short but poignant and moving debate. We have reached back into history and tried to articulate fears and concerns.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

If the noble Lord would allow me, I entirely agree with the difficulties associated with the border, and the need for a soft border, but I am not sure that this amendment achieves that. It would not directly affect the no-deal situation at all. It describes what I regard as a soft border; it is what I would like to see and what the Prime Minister’s deal, with the backstop and so on, is intended to do. But we are now dealing with a different situation. I would love to see a secure, soft border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but I am not at all sure that the amendment secures that in any way whatever, although I would be glad to have help on that. It would not be as a result of an agreement between the European Union and the UK if there was no deal; no deal is the very opposite of an agreement between the EU and UK.

The other problem is that Ireland’s relationships with countries no longer in the EU would be regulated by the EU. I should be glad of some explanation from the people who know all about this of exactly how the amendment achieves the result I and they wish to achieve.

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords) 4:15, 13 March 2019

My Lords, that is a well-made point. It is probably better if the mover of the amendment, my noble friend Lord Hain, responds to it in detail, but I think the wording is clear. Indeed, as my noble friend said, this takes us beyond the no-deal exit problem because it is for the future. It is meant to govern future arrangements across the border between the UK and Ireland. My noble friend might have more detail on it. I do not think the noble and learned Lord’s point destroys the arguments that have been made. I understand where he is coming from, but the issues we are talking about are for all time. They are important to build on our history and practice up to this point.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, spoke very powerfully, getting across the idea that if there is an opportunity for this House and, indeed, any other place to strengthen the spirit of the Belfast agreement, it should be supported. This is an opportunity to do so. He said that it was about not just the history, but the future of those who work and operate in Northern Ireland and Ireland, and about trade and opportunities. The combination of peace and prosperity, which, after all, is what we all seek at all times, surely is not something the Conservative and Unionist Government will really whip their members to vote against. I hope the Government will be able to accept the amendment and allow us to move forward.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

My Lords, I add my thanks to all noble Lords who have contributed to this short but very profound debate. In particular I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hain, for moving the amendment. I think the whole House recognises the important role he played while Secretary of State to help that process gather ground into fruition. It has been a proud part of successive Governments that we cherish and nurture that hard-won peace. It is why we said right at the outset in the future relationship White Paper that the prime objective would be that,

“the UK and the EU meet their commitments to Northern Ireland and Ireland through the overall future relationship: preserving the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK; honouring the letter and the spirit of the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement; and ensuring that the operational legal text the UK will agree with the EU on the ‘backstop’ solution as part of the Withdrawal Agreement will not have to be used”.

That was very much at the heart of our objective. We are absolutely committed to the Good Friday agreement and that part of it.

I do not take the point the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, made about division out of context, but I am sure he would recognise that the whole thrust of the Government’s and the Prime Minister’s negotiations, and what the withdrawal agreement is about, is seeking to secure the type of border arrangements that my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay referred to and that the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Alderdice, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and others seek to work towards. Peace on the island of Ireland between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the Good Friday agreement—the partnership between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in this context—surely must be the red line above all red lines that we need to preserve.

That is why there is the amendment in the EU withdrawal Act making that explicit, which the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was instrumental in securing. That has been a key part of what Her Majesty’s Government have done when engaging in negotiations on these matters, which was brought to fruition in the withdrawal agreement. Were the withdrawal agreement passed yesterday in another place, we would not need this amendment or this discussion. These are matters for the extremely unwelcome event of no deal.

Some specific points have been raised, which I will try to address. I hope that will help noble Lords in deciding what to do with this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said that this has been emerging over 12 months—an increase of 480 in the current position with the EU. The Government have had to find a way of ensuring that there is no border, from the UK perspective, in the spirit of the Good Friday agreement. Any checks that must be carried out for non-revenue purposes will be done away from the border. HMRC is very familiar with carrying out such checks on that basis.

My noble friend Lady Altmann asked how the plan works to supply work with suppliers. These are unilateral measures—they are not for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland, which would be subject to the EU’s common external tariff and single market rules. The only way to avoid a hard border is to commit to entering into discussions with the European Commission jointly to agree long-term measures to avoid one.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked whether there will be a border in the UK. The Government do not intend to construct infrastructure at the Northern Ireland land border. We will also not carry out any new checks on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. HMRC will assess the risks and take a risk-based approach to investigating allegations of breaches of those rules. The noble Lord also asked about the status in terms of the WTO—whether it breaches the MFN model. We are confident that the policy is in line with our WTO obligations, taking into account the unique set of social, political and economic circumstances of Northern Ireland. In developing our policy alongside WTO rules, we have also had to take into consideration a broader set of our international obligations, including those under the Good Friday agreement. Furthermore, as we have set out, these arrangements are strictly temporary. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, asked us the meaning of “temporary” in this respect; it is a period up to 12 months.

I will come to the point raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, because it is material to what we have been discussing today. He made the important observation that the amendment as worded seeks an agreement between the UK and the Government of Ireland. Of course, because the Irish border is, as he rightly said, a border between the United Kingdom and the European Union, it would need an agreement with the EU. I think that is the point my noble and learned friend was making. In that context, the way in which the amendment is currently worded would be unlawful because it refers to the Government of Ireland as opposed to the EU.

The noble Lord, Lord Hain, said that this amendment does not put the Government in a straitjacket. It would seek to limit flexibility—no “facilitations”, for example, would rule out future technologies, which is something the EU has specifically agree to look at as a priority once the withdrawal agreement has been agreed. In terms of EU imports into Northern Ireland, not across the land border, the answer to the question of whether tariffs apply is yes. The waiver applies only to goods moving from Ireland to Northern Ireland. This is a temporary measure that would need to be implemented.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, asked about potential arbitraging in terms of pricing. Many things affect the price of cars, in terms of tax and currencies, and an individual car from Dublin, driven across to Belfast, would be exempt from the 10% tariff. It would not necessarily be cheaper, but these measures would be temporary. Surely this breaks most favoured nations status, which I have addressed.

I hope that noble Lords will feel that I have addressed a number of the points that were raised. I thank all noble Lords for raising these matters and assure them once again that this has been absolutely up front and central, at the heart of the Government’s strategy to preserve that hard-won peace and that special relationship. This is something that needs to be there only in the event of no deal, which we are all working tirelessly to avoid. I invite the noble Lord to address the point on the wording regarding the Government of Ireland and the European Union, which, on our reading, means that if the amendment were passed, it would be unlawful. If he could address that specifically, I am sure that it would be helpful to all noble Lords.

Photo of Lord Puttnam Lord Puttnam Labour

I thank the Minister for giving way. I have been waiting for a voice to appear during this debate—and it has not. That is the voice of the people of the Republic of Ireland. I live there and would like to get across to your Lordships the incalculable level of anxiety that has been caused to the people of the Republic of Ireland by our apparent indifference about what happens, for example, in the event of no deal. I cannot stress that enough. When noble Lords decide how they wish to vote—I am sure that it will go to a vote—I beg them to consider my neighbours, in particular, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, mentioned, small farmers on both sides of the border who are terrified about what will happen should we, by some ridiculous accident, crash out. I beg the Minister to try to add the voice of the people of the Republic of Ireland to this debate, because they do have a voice in this.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

I recognise that and know that the noble Lord is passionate about the Republic of Ireland—as he said, he resides there. There is a fundamental point here: that anxiety would not be necessary if the withdrawal agreement, which was agreed in December, had been passed in the other place last night. That must be the best solution to remove the anxiety to which the noble Lord refers. He also alludes to a very important piece of work, which needs to start immediately—namely, rebuilding those friendships and links, and that partnership, which have served us so well in recent decades, to ensure that the progress that has been made has not been lost. That needs to start immediately. As I say, I take on board very much the point that he has raised.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

I thank my noble friend Lord Puttnam for the point he made. I have lots of friends on the island of Ireland, on both sides. I know that there is a real feeling of hurt among citizens of the Republic, given our tangled history—our colonial history, going back centuries—which created enormous distrust and suspicion from Dublin towards us. It was overcome by building trust almost day by day, week by week, over the last 20 years, by Governments of all colours—in particular, those led by John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and subsequently. That sense of pain is very deep.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for his generosity towards me. What I feel very strongly goes to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, whose interventions are always interesting and intellectually testing; I often agree with them. The point is this: we have no idea what sort of future awaits us. We do not know whether we will have an agreement with the European Union at all. There are vociferous voices, some in this House but particularly in the House of Commons, that do not want a deal with the European Union. Therefore the terms of the amendment are absolutely right. The default position that we can fall back on is that we need at least to agree with the Irish Republic in the terms of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement how the border issue is to be managed. I do not see that that is the obstacle in the terms of the amendment that the noble and learned Lord and the Minister have suggested.

Photo of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct, Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct 4:30, 13 March 2019

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, not least because I confess that I am almost certainly behind the curve here and may well be about to ask a very inept question. But this amendment is directed solely to an international trade agreement between the UK and the European Union. In the event of a no-deal exit, I am unclear whether any future trade agreements that are going to be reached will be with the European Union as opposed to, for example, individual EU countries such as Germany and France. If that were to be the position—I may well be barking up a most irrelevant tree—and there were a future agreement with Germany, as I understand it, the proposed clause would not bite. Is that right?

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

It could be that the Germans are planning to leave the European Union, but while they remain their external trade will be conducted by the European Union.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

I was going to make exactly the point that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has just made with far more authority. The European Union negotiates as a bloc and the Brexiteers want to break free of that, for their own reasons.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

I would love to vote for this amendment if I thought it would achieve what the noble Lord, the Irish people and indeed all of us want. Unfortunately, it outlaws agreements between the UK and the European Union only in the circumstances narrated. My belief is that if this happens, it will not be as a result of any agreement between the EU and the UK but because there is no agreement between the EU and the UK. This is possibly my blindness, but I do not see how this goes anywhere towards preventing the evil that all of us—I cannot speak for anyone but myself, strictly speaking, but certainly most of us, judging from what I have heard—want to avoid. We want a soft border whatever happens between Northern Ireland and the Republic. I am sure that people in the Republic want that and the Northern Irish people want that—and certainly I and all who love them want that.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

Perhaps I may say to the noble and learned Lord that, while we may all want it—in fact, we all say we do—unless we will the means we cannot actually ensure and guarantee it. That is what the amendment does in respect of future trade agreements. The same wording was accepted by this House and by the Government in the other place, and has become part of the withdrawal Act—but that is part of, if you like, the divorce settlement. What we need to do is ensure that the same principles apply to our future trading relationship.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

Perhaps I may conclude with something that might help the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. It is what this amendment does not say that is important. This amendment does not tie the Government’s hands, except in terms of the exact requirements for the future, because that is not appropriate in a clause of this kind, which I hope will be accepted and put into the Act. It spells out for new trade the principles that the Government have already accepted in the withdrawal agreement. So it is already in statute, and I am therefore puzzled as to why the Government are not accepting this agreement by approbation.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

My Lords, it may be helpful to the House if I explain our hesitation on precisely that point. Section 10(2)(b) of the EU withdrawal Act prohibits regulations creating new border arrangements —that is, arrangements that did not exist before exit day—unless they are in accordance with agreements between the UK and the EU. This amendment would prevent any arrangements unless they were subject to an agreement between the UK and the Government of Ireland. Such an agreement, in our view, would be unlawful for Ireland to enter into, as customs and a common commercial policy fall within the exclusive competence of the EU. I want that point to be clear on the record.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

I understand that point. However, under the Good Friday agreement—the Belfast agreement—we are bound and obligated, including with the approval by treaty of the European Union, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, to agree things with Dublin. That is the way it works. That is part of the Good Friday agreement that has the blessing of the European Union.

I repeat that we have no idea as yet of our future trading relationships with anybody, including across the Irish border—no idea at all. This amendment spells out the principles that have already been accepted in the withdrawal Act, and agreed in statute by the Government. I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 285, Noes 184.

Division number 1 Trade Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Aye: 283 Members of the House of Lords

No: 182 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Amendment 22 agreed.