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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:45 am on 19th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade) 11:45 am, 19th October 2019

I agree with the noble Baroness. One reason is that, for the first time in our union’s history, part of our union will be under the legislative authority of a foreign entity in which the people living in that area will have no representation. Part of our union will have the laws governing its economic policy and trade regulations set by a foreign entity whose rules they will have no say in. Taxes affecting businesses and consumers will be set by that foreign entity but their representatives will have no vote on them. To be clear: according to the schedules to the new backstop, 371 laws and regulations that would not apply to Great Britain would automatically be applied to Northern Ireland. On 1 October, the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, stated:

“Any deal on Brexit on 31 October must avoid the whole or just part—that is, Northern Ireland—being trapped in an arrangement where it is a rule taker”.—[Official Report, 1/10/19; col. 1620.]

That is what the Government propose today. The Conservative Party frequently lauds the fact that it is the Conservative and Unionist Party owing to its role in the defeat of Irish home rule, but it now puts in front of us a proposal for the UK to be one country with two systems. We can see elsewhere in the world how effective that is. Yesterday, this “one country, two systems” Brexit was hailed by the Foreign Secretary as terrific news for Northern Ireland because it will stay aligned with the EU. Presumably, he will now say that doing so is also open to Scotland.

The deal is utterly contrary to the Government’s position when they adopted the UK internal market framework, which this Parliament debated, and when they explicitly said that there would be no division within the four nations of the union. Given that it is also the opposite of what Boris Johnson presented to the DUP conference, when he said that this would never happen under a Conservative Government, there is little surprise that the lines in the sand have been washed away by waves of duplicity. As my noble friend Newby said, in January the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, stated:

“We will give an unequivocal commitment that that there will be no divergence in rules between … Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.—[Official Report, 9/1/19; col. 2222.]

The House can make its own mind up about where equivocation lies. Yesterday, the Home Secretary spoke doublespeak with alacrity on the BBC. She claimed that the deal takes back our laws—but not the 371 of them that apply to Northern Ireland and, therefore, the jurisdiction of the European court. She said that it takes back our borders— but it creates a new border between the nations of our island and, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, indicated, a new European Union border within the United Kingdom for the first time in our history. She said that it takes back control over our money—but we will be a tax collector for the EU, and the UK bodies in Northern Ireland will be forced to apply EU taxes that they have no role in determining.

How do the Government intend the deal to work? There will have to be a Northern Ireland economic quarantine, which will be compounded by the already hugely negative impact on the UK as a whole, and, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer refused to publish an impact assessment for this debate and referred back to the Government’s forecasts—which Conservative Members have disparaged—we know that there is likely to be more than 6.7% less economic growth. Moreover, the regulatory burden on Northern Ireland businesses will be immense. The closest we can get to estimating what that would be likely to be is in the most recent publications from HMRC, which show the potential for the crippling bureaucracy that is likely to be in place. The Northern Ireland economy is fully integrated into the GB economy with a third of businesses purchasing from GB also selling to the EU. That is 3,500 businesses, but they have no idea of the regulatory system covering what they will have to declare for their goods when they go on to the rest of the EU or Ireland, and there is no indication of how these issues are to be assessed or resolved.

Finally, if the Government no longer talk about money, business bureaucracy and the union, we should consider the mothers of those Spartan soldiers who told them, “Either come back alive or on your shield”. We now see the “Spartans” fully alive but with the shield of Northern Ireland carried in their back pockets and, as we have heard from some Conservative noble Lords, they will quite happily sacrifice it if it puts at risk the English priority of Brexit. I am a borderer, and it will break my heart if this union breaks up. Today is an historic day, because we are potentially seeing the start of that. I hope that the whole House will recognise that the people of all our four nations should have a say, not just three of them as this Government propose.