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Brexit: Negotiations - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:28 pm on 3rd October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative 4:28 pm, 3rd October 2019

My Lords, having taken part in the original power-sharing agreement in the 1970s, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that these differences are extremely hard to disentangle in the atmosphere of Irish politics—but it is a pertinent question and I see why he is asking it.

I welcome this protocol very warmly indeed. I was a bit depressed by the question from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, which seemed very negative, but I thought his own Front Bench sounded a shade less negative. I do not know whether I am reading too much optimism into the situation. That is the big question: where are the Opposition on this matter? Will they support the protocol and the deal? The Government do not have a stable majority in the House of Commons. The position of the Opposition is absolutely crucial, so let us please have an answer to that question: will they support it or not? We know that the Lib Dems, of course, are against it all because they do not want this to happen at all. They want some other course, which I cannot quite fathom but which certainly would not benefit the national interest of this country.

Is not one of the missing factors in all this the concept of time? Time is a great solvent. As I understand it from this report, there is the transition period first—during which, we hope, the Northern Ireland Assembly will be recreated and give its consent—then there are four years before the issue comes up again, then a lapse of a year if, at the end of the four years, there is a vote for a change or it has not worked. Surely the enormous ingenuity of the people of Ulster, Northern Ireland, and the tremendous dynamism and creativity of modern Dublin and the modern Republic are between them capable, over all those years, of producing workable solutions in the modern world. Should we not put the concept of time a bit more into this before rushing to judgments?