Amendment 22

Part of Trade Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 13th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland) 4:00 pm, 13th 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.