Beyond Brexit (European Union Committee Report) - Motion to Consider

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:03 pm on 12th May 2020.

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Photo of Lord Caine Lord Caine Conservative 5:03 pm, 12th May 2020

My Lords, I wish to make two brief points relating to Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Northern Ireland has, of course, been central to the Brexit negotiations since the referendum in 2016, and as an adviser at the Northern Ireland Office I was involved in many discussions on those matters. Yet during my time I became dismayed at how much the European Commission seemed to view Northern Ireland almost exclusively through the green-tinged lenses of the Irish Government and nationalist politicians. Indeed, at a meeting I attended with Monsieur Barnier in June 2018, I found myself calmly having to explain to him what was actually meant by the consent provisions in the Belfast agreement and why they did not turn Northern Ireland into a hybrid state. It was I, regret to say, a meeting that might have turned even the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Kerr, into rabid Brexiteers.

I do not wish to denigrate the excellent efforts of our officials in Brussels, but whenever there was a difference of nuance between us and the Irish on Northern Ireland or the agreement, the Commission invariably tended towards the Irish view. Outside the EU, attention therefore needs to be given to how the UK Government, as the sovereign Government in Northern Ireland, can communicate their position much more effectively with the European Commission.

Secondly, as we move beyond Brexit, our relationship with our nearest neighbour, Ireland, becomes more important than ever. Our bilateral relationship has improved massively in recent years, which I warmly welcome, and it needs to be strengthened further. Strand 3 of the Belfast agreement contains institutions—the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the British-Irish Council—designed to promote closer co-operation, although the BIIGC tends to focus more on Northern Ireland. We need to look at how these institutions can be developed or at whether new and bespoke ones are needed. I have an open mind on that, but as we move beyond Brexit, it needs to happen.