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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:12 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour 7:12 pm, 2nd October 2019

I am so glad that I am once again in thorough agreement with my noble and long-standing friend. Of course, I am very worried about that; I mentioned it in our debate last week, so I will not go into that subject now, but I could not agree more on that subject.

I must turn to the proposal that the Government made today to the European Commission. It seems to me to be a thoroughly dishonest and disreputable document. It is exactly the sort of document that one would expect our Prime Minister to deliver and was probably not one where there was any expectation that it would be accepted. I suppose that Mr Johnson wanted to be in a position where he had made some offer, so that he could then say that it was all the fault of the European Union for not accepting it—albeit that he did not produce anything until a month before the deadline. The document does not address at all the matter that is of greatest concern to the Irish, which is the long-term avoidance in Ireland of an internal border or frontier. A border, in my definition—and in the definition of most reasonable people—is an administrative line on the map which, if you cross it, has practical and probably financial consequences. That does not mean that the border has to have an infrastructure at any particular point. It means simply that if you cross this line, you will be deemed to be liable in one way or another. That is exactly what we must avoid in Ireland, if we want to respect the Belfast agreement. It is what the Irish are determined to avoid. That is the position at present: there is no internal border on the island of Ireland. You can go between any of the 26 counties and the six counties, any time you want, with no consequences whatever of an administrative or practical kind. That is what we need to preserve. That is not achieved by this proposal and I imagine that for that reason alone it will and should be rejected.

The contradictions have already been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Adonis. They are quite serious because they have completely devalued the document. On page 3, the document says:

“This is entirely compatible with maintaining an open border in Northern Ireland”.

In the next paragraph, it says that,

“all customs processes needed to ensure compliance with the UK and EU customs regimes should take place on a decentralised basis”.

If there is an open border in Northern Ireland, why do you need customs processes and regimes? That is completely contradictory. I am taking a little more time, but I had two interventions.

The other notable contradiction in this document is on page 2, where it says that the proposal,

“provides for the potential creation of an all-island regulatory zone on the island of Ireland”.

Two paragraphs later, it says that under these arrangements,

“Northern Ireland will be fully part of the UK customs territory”.

These are blatant contradictions and devalue the whole document.