United Kingdom Internal Market Bill - Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated 5:45 pm, 9th November 2020

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. I remind your Lordships’ House that the most reverend Primate and I walked through Downpatrick, along with many others, on St Patrick’s Day some five years ago, as a symbol of reconciliation, because the national saint of Ireland is the very embodiment of partnership, working together and reconciliation—those very issues the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, has already referred to.

Part 5 is the most egregious part of this Bill, in that it jettisons Article 5 of the EU withdrawal agreement and thus breaks international law, as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland freely admitted in the other place. The Northern Ireland protocol, which was given legislative effect in the EU withdrawal Bill back in February of this year, was based on an international treaty between the UK and the EU, specifically directed at preventing a hard border of the island of Ireland—a hard border between the EU and the UK—and thus safeguarding the Good Friday agreement.

Yesterday the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, was on “The Andrew Marr Show” where he totally misrepresented the situation, levelling blame at the EU for endangering the Good Friday agreement. I remind your Lordships that it was the EU that sought, and is seeking, to protect the Belfast agreement through the Northern Ireland protocol, and it is the Government who are seeking to destroy it through Part 5 of the Internal Market Bill. I just wish that Dominic Raab would correct the situation. Perhaps the Minister will remind him to do just that, because it is important that we move away from this combative rhetoric to find solutions.

I support many of the amendments in this group, and I am a signatory to Amendments 161, ably spoken to by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, about the need for reconciliation, Amendment 162, in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Empey, and Amendment 163 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Hain and the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Suttie. The first two deal specifically with the need to underscore reconciliation in Northern Ireland and, in the case of Amendment 162, to make provision to ensure that goods coming from Northern Ireland into the GB market are not hindered or discriminate against. Thirdly, Amendment 163 would extend the Trader Support Service, which is currently only to run for two years, indefinitely to protect Northern Ireland exports.

Simply, I do not support borders on the island of Ireland or in the Irish Sea, and I share many of the concerns of my unionist colleagues and want minimal friction on goods travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland. But I support the aims of those noble Lords, ably put forward this evening by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who seek to remove the offending clauses in Part 5 which deal with the Northern Ireland protocol on the basis that they break international law. In fact, the Northern Ireland protocol was, as I said earlier, established to protect the Good Friday agreement, prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland and assist with the process of reconciliation and north-south economic co-operation. That view was clearly articulated by the Anglican primates, who stated in their letter of some weeks ago to the Financial Times that the UK negotiated the Northern Ireland protocol with the EU

“to protect the 1998 Agreement in all its dimensions.”

To further cite those primates,

“One year on, in this bill, the UK government is not only preparing to break the protocol, but also to breach a fundamental tenet of the agreement: namely by limiting the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights in Northern Ireland law.”

The purpose of Amendment 161 is to ensure the protection of the principle of reconciliation, which is at the very core of the Good Friday agreement. Another contributory factor is the need to work on the healing process, which has been painfully slow.

As my former, late, party leader John Hume said after the signing of the Good Friday agreement in 1998, we have to move to solutions, we have to move to that healing process. That is very important. It was the very essence of what the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, was talking about. By fracturing the Good Friday agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, we are deviating from that principle.

I humbly ask the Government to give due consideration to that and ask the Minister to ensure that these clauses are removed from the Bill, because I know that tonight, I will be voting with other noble Lords as per the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, to remove them because they are difficult, challenging and undermine the very principles of healing, reconciliation and partnership that we were able to achieve through the Belfast Good Friday agreement. If the Government and the Commons still insist on keeping this part of the Bill, we need to ensure that there are other protective measures: the very things that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, referred to. Hence Amendments 161, 162 and 163, which I hope the Minister will consider accepting.

In the Brexit process and all of this, the Government managed to set the nationalist and unionist communities against each other and undermine relations with Dublin by leaving the possibility of a hard border on the island of Ireland on the table. Tonight, I am very happy to support the removal of these clauses and to support the amendments to which I have added my name.