My Lords, I declare my interests, as set out in the register. I am very pleased indeed to follow my noble friend Lord Naseby. How right he has been to remind us, through his ministerial experience in Northern Ireland and by quoting the article by David Wolfson QC, of the importance of the issue of Northern Ireland, which has been evidenced by some very powerful speeches.
Even at Second Reading, as we discussed the underlying principles of this Bill, our focus was heavily drawn to Part 5. The principle underlying it is very clear: it sets out powers and requirements which I am sure that all of us, including the Minister, hope will never come into play. The intention—and this is a point of vital importance, especially as the Brexit trade negotiations enter the final furlong—is to send a clear signal about what is ultimately acceptable to the United Kingdom and what is not.
The term “backstop” has been deployed somewhat excessively during the protracted Brexit process, but this part of the Bill is just that—a backstop. It is no secret that I have always seen the democracies of western and central Europe as allies and friends— our most proximate and, increasingly, our most important allies and friends. The new Administration in the United States, when President-elect Biden takes office in January, will also very much want to see us in that context. None the less, in any negotiation, even with good friends and allies, it is vital to be absolutely clear from the outset, and consistently thereafter, about any “red lines”, any “lines in the sand”, or however else one might term points that are simply off limits and non-negotiable.
The Good Friday agreement, which I avidly support, acknowledges that Northern Ireland is part of the sovereign territory of the United Kingdom. The clear implication must surely be that Northern Ireland is, and shall remain, fully integrated into the UK single market.
These clauses may make us uneasy; they may propose powers that unnerve us or cause us to feel distaste. They also remind everyone involved in the Brexit trade negotiations, on all sides, just how high the stakes are and what is and is not acceptable to Her Majesty’s Government. As I said, I am a stout defender of the Good Friday agreement. I also fervently hope and believe that the Brexit trade talks will bear fruit in the best interests of the United Kingdom and our many friends who remain within the European Union. It is my clear understanding that this has been the approach taken consistently with this Bill by my noble friend the Minister and his colleagues. At this moment of historic significance, they need our steadfast support. If we in this House withhold that support, I fear we may be playing with fire.