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Amendment 6

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 20th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Murphy of Torfaen Lord Murphy of Torfaen Labour 6:30 pm, 20th January 2020

My Lords, it has been a very good debate, not least because this is the first time in decades that we have heard in this Chamber from both nationalist and unionist representatives in the House of Lords. It is also many years since they have agreed—and that is good. I am delighted to say that we will support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, because it sums up the position of unanimity in Northern Ireland. It sums up the point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, that every single business organisation, commercial organisation, trade union and politician in Northern Ireland believes that the substance of these amendments is correct.

It is a matter of mere hours since the Northern Ireland Assembly—happily back again this week—this afternoon passed a Motion declining legislative consent to this Bill, largely because of the issues that we are now debating. That is very unfortunate. On the points made by noble Lords regarding the decision of the Prime Minister and the Government not to accept any amendments at all, I suspect that this has caused the Northern Ireland Assembly to do what it has done. I am sure that that is not the Minister’s view, but he has to do what he has to do. The Government have a majority of 80 and the power to do what they want; but whether they have the right to do that is quite another thing, certainly with regard to Northern Ireland.

However, should we find that the amendment is not agreed to, Annexe A to the New Decade, New Approach agreement published last week says that the British Government commits that

“we will legislate to guarantee unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market, and ensure that this legislation is in force for 1 January 2021. The government will engage in detail with a restored Executive on measures to protect and strengthen the UK internal market.”

So, we hope that the Government will revisit this. We will look at the strength of feeling in Northern Ireland. We will be able to look again in the course of the next nine months or more; indeed, when the trade deal is being negotiated, we will look very carefully at the implications for Northern Ireland as they have been outlined today.

Before concluding, I will make one final point in relation to the previous debate on devolution. We now have three functioning devolved Administrations in the United Kingdom. I am not convinced that the Government have understood the significance of that change in the political landscape. Yes, of course we have to implement this Bill, because the people have agreed by referendum, and now by election, for it to happen. But, at the same time, the Government should do this in co-operation with the devolved Administrations and Parliaments.

There is no evidence that this is happening. Worse, if the Welsh Senedd, or Assembly, decides soon not to give legislative consent to this Bill, as is likely, then Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast will all have declined to support it. That is not good. It is not good for democracy or for our leaving of the European Union. So I look forward to some interesting comments from the Minister on how he can assuage the concerns that have been raised at this afternoon. This is one of the most important issues affecting Northern Ireland—its economic, commercial and business future. We all look forward to listening to him.