Food Supply and Security - Motion to Consider

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:22 pm on 14th May 2020.

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Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade) 1:22 pm, 14th May 2020

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for introducing the debate. My admirable Lib Dem colleagues will cover the whole breadth of the topic. The broader issue in one part of the UK which is perhaps greater than any other is the fact that two-thirds of total Northern Ireland imports and exports are in bilateral agri-food and intermediate trade, so the pressure of the Covid-19 impacts are major. However, added to what the Government propose from January 2021, it should make us pause. For the first time in our nation’s history, United Kingdom businesses in Northern Ireland will operate under foreign laws, regulations and standards set by a body that we are not a member of and over which they have no say. Also for the first time in our history, one UK business buying from or selling to another UK business will have to do so through a customs border control post, with foreign tariffs applied as a default and checks decided by the EU being carried out. Animals and animal products going into Northern Ireland from Great Britain will be treated as if they have come from a foreign country.

We found this out through details in letters going to Brussels which have been disclosed to the Northern Ireland Assembly, not through information given to us here. Last November, Boris Johnson said that of course there will never be checks. That was repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Bates, during consideration last year of the Trade Bill, and the fact that that was still the position was repeated to me directly on two occasions by the noble Lord, Lord Callanan. Moreover, in a feat of redefining the words “unfettered access”, the noble Lord, Lord True, said in a rather sleekit way in the same paragraph during a debate last Tuesday that there would be “administrative measures”, while today the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said, without a hint of a blush, “There were always going to be checks.”

My question to the Minister, who is an honourable man, is this. When will we see the legislative proposals for these new checks and the burdensome procedures at the new customs and regulatory border within the UK, so that we can scrutinise them fully and give them proper accountability, which so far these proposals have lacked?