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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 9th November 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Chair, European Union Committee, Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Chair, European Union Committee 7:00 pm, 9th November 2020

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, in his very seasoned contribution for a newbie—and indeed the other 18 speakers so far in this very important debate. The European Union Committee published our report on the Internal Market Bill on 16 October, and I take this opportunity to remind noble Lords of our conclusions. Our report was short. It deals only with Part 5 of the Bill, and its interaction with the Government’s implementation of the withdrawal agreement.

The withdrawal agreement is a complex document, around a third of which is taken up by the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol, itself a testament to the importance that all parties place on getting things right in that regard. I said before in this Chamber that there is an inherent tension at the heart of the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol which is evident in Article 1, which describes its objectives. There are other examples, as I said in my Second Reading speech.

The only way to reconcile these tensions is for all sides to show pragmatism and willingness to compromise. Our committee reported in June on the protocol, expressing our concern that there was not enough urgency among the parties to negotiate these compromises, so protecting first the Good Friday agreement and secondly the two mighty single markets involved: those of the EU and the UK.

The report also dwelled on the multilayered dispute resolution mechanisms contained in the withdrawal agreement. The Bill before us supplants those mechanisms without their ever having been tried. As we have been reminded already several times, in September the Secretary of State made clear and repeated statements that in doing so it breaches international law. The result is that the Bill strikes at the heart of the withdrawal agreement and the protocol. It is corrosive too to the future relationship negotiations, undermining the trust that is a precondition for a successful outcome.

The Government’s argument now, as we have already heard, not least this morning on the radio, is that the Bill is a safety net: that it does not itself break international law but is a precaution in case of unreasonable behaviour by the EU. The problem with that argument, as we point out in paragraph 106 of our report, is that the Government’s decision to act pre-emptively in the absence of evidence has put the UK, and not the EU, into the wrong. Our report ended by seeking further explanation of the Government’s approach, and in particular the disclosure of any evidence that the EU had acted in bad faith. Those explanations have not been forthcoming, and I therefore hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister will indicate a change of heart and give his support to the removal of Part 5 of the Bill.

In closing, I note that amendments proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, are in keeping with the thrust of our report—albeit that we had asked the Government to cure the problems themselves. Convention, however, prevents me from expressing a view in the Division Lobby tonight.