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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 9th November 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Suttie Baroness Suttie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 6:00 pm, 9th November 2020

It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Empey, who always speaks with such authority, experience and, as we heard this evening, force on these matters. I will speak in favour of Amendment 163, to which I have added my name, and against all clauses in Part 5 of the Bill. Amendment 163 is a cross-party amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Altmann. It calls for the trader support service to be extended to become a long-term commitment for trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

In response to a similar amendment during Committee on the Trade Bill on 13 October, the Minister, the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, confirmed that the future of the trader support service will be reviewed after two years. Can the Minister confirm that, if after two years it is seen as a positive initiative for businesses in Northern Ireland, it will continue indefinitely?

I will concentrate the remainder of my brief remarks on the deletion of Part 5 of this Bill. The arguments are well rehearsed. We have heard them made very eloquently, particularly in the most thoughtful speech from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the powerful speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Howard, and my noble friend Lord Newby. As other noble Lords have said, unless Part 5 is deleted, it risks diminishing our global reputation and jeopardising the substantial progress made on the island of Ireland since the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday agreement.

The Government sometimes give the impression that the protocol was somehow imposed on them, whereas earlier this year they were claiming it as their great success. As the noble Lord, Lord Empey, demonstrated clearly in his speech, the Northern Ireland protocol is not perfect, but it is the consequence of the Government’s insistence on a set of incompatible promises and on leaving both the customs union and the single market. For all its imperfections, the protocol is a carefully constructed compromise to try to maintain peace and stability on the island of Ireland.

The uncertainty which Part 5 of this Bill provokes has also—in my view, unforgivably—wasted scarce resources and valuable time. This is precious time when businesses could and should have been preparing for the end of the transition period in just over 50 days’ time.

Last week, the National Audit Office said in its report, The UK Border: Preparedness for the End of the Transition Period:

“It is very unlikely that all traders, industry and third parties will be ready for the end of the transition period … There is a risk that widespread disruption could ensue at a time when government and businesses continue to deal with the effects of Covid-19.”

If the arguments against Part 5 remain the same, the political context in which we now find ourselves has very substantially changed. As my noble friend Lord Newby said, President-elect Biden has made it very clear that he will not support any measures that would result in breaking commitments made in the Northern Ireland protocol or that would risk destabilising the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. Yet in the media this morning, the Government made it clear that they do not intend to change their mind on Part 5.

There is a time when sticking to a position looks like strength, and there is a time when it looks out of touch with political reality. I urge noble Lords to vote against all clauses in Part 5 and I call on the Government to think again.