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 Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade) 4:00 pm, 13th March 2019

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.