Moved by Lord Hain
17: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—“Trade agreement with the EU: compliance with the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland Any trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union that is subject to sections 20 to 25 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 is not to be ratified unless it fully complies with the requirements of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland as part of the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community, as signed and ratified by Her Majesty’s Government.”
My Lords, I will move Amendment 17 and speak to Amendment 18. Both on the Irish border and have been largely superseded technically, if not in spirit, by the December deal. I will also speak to Amendment 26 on the Irish Sea, on which I will seek leave to divide, with the permission of your Lordships’ House. I am grateful for the support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann, Lady Suttie and Lady Ritchie, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.
First, I will address Amendments 17 and 18 on the Good Friday agreement and the Irish border. As I have argued before, both on this Bill and on other Brexit-related Bills, I am profoundly convinced that the objectives of Amendment 18 are absolutely essential to provide for full protection for the Good Friday/Belfast agreement in all its parts, and, as part of that, to prevent a hardening of the border on the island of Ireland. Very importantly, the amendment is also consistent with, and indeed complementary to, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, into which this House placed important text along similar lines to Amendment 18, with the eventual agreement of the Government in the other place at the final stage.
There is now agreement between the UK and the EU on how to implement the Irish protocol, which is fully incorporated in the December deal, but we must help the Government to keep to their word and stated commitment to the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, not least—crucially—when negotiating future trade agreements.
The future relationship agreement, negotiated just before Christmas, thin though it is, at least removes the question of tariffs from the long list of barriers that Brexit has put up around this country. Those of us who have served as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, whether Labour or Conservative, know how politically unique and ever-fragile matters are on the island of Ireland.
Amendment 18 is consistent with our international legal obligations. In fact, it will help with trade negotiations, because our potential trading partners will know where they stand and what the parameters related to the protocol are, and it would therefore be good to hear the Minister uphold the principles within the amendment when he replies, even if technically its drafting is now outdated because of the deal struck in December.
Let us remind ourselves one more time why we have the Northern Ireland protocol. The border is the key sensitive issue: it is 300 miles long, with 300 crossings, unlike almost every other border in the world. Of course, there is more to the protocol than the border. We have the unique arrangements under the Good Friday/Belfast agreement for north-south co-operation: no less than 157 different areas of cross-border work and co-operation in Ireland, north and south.
I have said it before here and will say it again: the work of successive UK and Irish Governments, in helping courageous and visionary leaders in Northern Ireland, was all about taking borders down, not putting them up. It is vital that the United Kingdom and its Government keep in line with that. No new international trade agreement between the United Kingdom and another nation must ever be ratified unless it is compatible with the Good Friday agreement and Northern Ireland Act 1998, is fully compliant with the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, does not negatively affect any form of north-south trade in goods and services, and does not create physical infrastructure related to customs checks, customs or regulatory compliance checks. These are all things that Ministers say they agree with, and they are contained in Amendment 18.
I turn to Amendment 26, on the Irish Sea, on which, as I said, I will seek to divide. It is designed to ensure unfettered market access for goods moving between Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom’s internal market, and unfettered market access for services between the two. It is also designed to ensure that there are no tariffs or customs procedures for goods originating in Northern Ireland that are entering Great Britain so that there is no discrimination against Northern Ireland’s businesses.
We had significant progress last month in the meeting of the co-chairs of the UK-EU joint committee, which was most welcome and not before time. That “agreement in principle” was to implement the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in a way that reduces potential friction and burdens on businesses come
The conditions of Northern Ireland’s economic development will be directly affected by the UK’s trade deals to be sought and negotiated with other countries beyond the European Union. This is not just by virtue of its access to those free trade agreements; it is also by virtue of the potential consequences of those deals on Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.
The protocol that was agreed and ratified as part of the UK’s withdrawal agreement puts Northern Ireland in a wholly new position. It is a unique set-up in terms of global trade, let alone a distinctive arrangement with the European Union. The protocol text makes it clear that there are significant limitations and boundaries to its scope, most particularly when it comes to trade. Article 4 states that
“nothing in this Protocol shall prevent the United Kingdom from including Northern Ireland in the territorial scope of any agreements it may conclude with third countries”.
Article 4 also states that
“nothing in this Protocol shall prevent the United Kingdom from concluding agreements with a third country that grant goods produced in Northern Ireland preferential access to that country’s market on the same terms as goods produced in other parts of the United Kingdom.”
Furthermore, Article 6 of the protocol states that there is nothing in it that would prevent
“the United Kingdom from ensuring unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom’s internal market”— as this amendment states. Those restrictions on the scope of the protocol put the onus squarely on the United Kingdom to deliver such things for Northern Ireland—access to the UK’s free trade agreements and unfettered access to the markets in Great Britain.
However, what the protocol does not and cannot do is ensure that there is no discrimination against Northern Ireland, and no knock-on consequences for its place in the UK’s internal market when it comes to the UK’s future trading relationships.
We saw with the recent UK-Japan free trade agreement an acknowledgement that there could be an “inconsistency” between a free trade agreement and the protocol. Thankfully, in the case of the UK-Japanese deal this will be minimal, because—I stress this—of the pre-existing conditions of the Japanese trading partnership with the EU. It was much easier to protect Northern Ireland’s situation in this new Japan-UK deal because the Japan-EU deal meant that Japan could offer “full extended cumulation” in its deal with the UK: it could count all goods with EU origins, and even those part-processed in the EU, as being from the UK. This helps to keep Northern Ireland, which is producing to EU standards, in the ring.
These conditions, however, will not be the same for many future free trade agreements. It is quite conceivable that differences between the UK’s rules and the EU’s rules in trading with any particular country could bring friction for Northern Ireland, both on the entry of its goods into Great Britain and on the entry of goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland. Given these risks, it is quite extraordinary that the UK Government’s own impact assessment on the UK-Japan free trade agreement explicitly acknowledges that it did
“not explicitly take account of any impacts arising from the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland”.
Amendment 26 is necessary for four main reasons. The first is the distinctiveness of Northern Ireland’s economic and trading position under the deal. The second is its dependence on the commitment of the UK to delivering on filling the gaps in its trading arrangements. The third is the possibility of tensions between the terms of new UK free trade agreements and Northern Ireland’s position in the protocol. The fourth and final reason is the failure of the UK Government, in their most substantial non-EU free trade agreement to date—with Japan—to give due consideration to this matter.
We can be sure that the economic and trading environment for Northern Ireland—de jure in the UK’s customs territory, but applying the European Union’s customs code—will become only more complicated over time. It is therefore absolutely essential to put protections for Northern Ireland into UK domestic law that ensure that government commitments to this most vulnerable of UK regions are upheld and secured, even as the tough decisions and pay-offs in international trade negotiations become an increasingly familiar reality.
The same applies to services as to goods. Though they were not covered by the protocol—or by the deal struck with the EU before Christmas—and are often not included in free trade agreements, we must ensure that there is no discrimination against services either, because they are a very important part of both the Great Britain and Northern Ireland economies. I therefore urge your Lordships to support Amendment 26, on unfettered access for Northern Ireland, when the House divides.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Hain, who has outlined in a very detailed and expansive way the purpose and remit of these three amendments.
These amendments, to which I am one of the signatories, are very much Northern Ireland-specific. It is important that there is now a trade deal. I was a remainer and I will always be a remainer: I did not vote for Brexit but I recognise that there was a need for a trade deal between the UK and the EU—albeit a thin deal, as this is. Having talked to businesses in Northern Ireland, I know that it is clear that mitigations are still required. As a result of the trade deal—which is totally wedded to the protocol—and the acceptance and acknowledgement of the Northern Ireland protocol between the UK and the EU in the joint committee, Amendments 17 and 18 are largely eclipsed.
Notwithstanding the need to see ongoing commitments that demonstrate the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol, all efforts must be made to ensure the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement and the principles of parity of esteem and reconciliation. These are fundamental to our political and peace settlement. Having served as a Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive when my noble friend Lord Hain was in the later stages of his tenure as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I know that he will be well aware of the importance of parity of esteem, reconciliation, working together and partnership in the process of bringing people together.
Borders are generally anathema to us: we do not want to see borders on the island of Ireland—hence the need for the protocol—or a border in the Irish Sea. Sadly, however, that has happened, because there are now border posts at Larne, Belfast and Warrenpoint ports. There have also been some teething difficulties, such as the vacant shelves announced today by Tesco and Sainsbury’s. Can the Minister say that those teething issues will be resolved, if at all possible, and that mitigations will be introduced to assist the business community and keep our local economy buoyant?
So far, analysts and researchers, such as Professor Hayward from Queen’s University Belfast, have indicated that the trade and co-operation agreement did very little to soften the Irish Sea border. But one thing is sure: Amendments 17, 18 and 26 precipitate the need to look out for certain things in relation to the protocol and the trade and co-operation agreement.
The TCA is complicated, and it will take months for experts, lawyers and officials fully to work out its implications, and on many of these we will be reading across to the protocol. The TCA is a work in progress; there are many references in the document to future development or anticipated improvements. There are four overriding concerns for Northern Ireland. How will the evolution of the TCA be connected to that of the protocol? How will the governance of the protocol, including its unique institutions for that purpose, be linked into relevant areas of governance of the TCA in a specialised committee for SPS measures? How will the British-Irish and north-south strands work to develop substantive and serious bilateral arrangements to meet the gaps in the TCA and common travel area? When the real impact of Brexit takes effect on Britain and the EU, how much care and flexibility will either be prepared to show Northern Ireland, which is on the periphery of the UK and of the European Union?
As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, stated, Amendment 26 deals specifically with the need to ensure that there is no discrimination in goods and services from Northern Ireland to Britain. It is important that provision for that unfettered access is placed in the Bill. The amendment would mean that any trade agreement between the UK and any other party that was subject to Sections 20 to 25 of CRaG was not to be ratified if anything in that agreement prevented the UK from ensuring unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK’s internal market and services provided by a service provider in Northern Ireland to customers in other parts of the UK and vice versa. It would also ensure that the Northern Ireland economy was protected and not undermined in any specific or deliberate way and, particularly with the ravages of Covid-19, was allowed to become buoyant again.
I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Hain, in proposing Amendment 26. If he calls for a Division, I shall support him in the virtual Lobbies later this afternoon. It is important that Northern Ireland’s distinct trading position is protected and that any tensions that may arise between the protocol and the internal market are resolved. The one way in which to do that is by accepting Amendment 26.
My Lords, I want to address the terms of Amendment 26, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and others. I do so with a feeling of compulsion, not just for historical reasons but because of the situation as it is now in Northern Ireland. When we talked about this amendment for the first time, it was possible to refer to the fact that the Northern Ireland land border would soon become the border between the United Kingdom and the European Union. As time has passed and we have considered this Bill, the situation is now slightly different. The difference is that the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is the border between the United Kingdom and the EU. Because of that, many would say, “Well, the situation has clarified for Northern Ireland, and many of the worries that you have expressed to the House over the years have resolved themselves to a certain degree of clarity, because the situation is that your border is the border with the EU”.
I refer to a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, on a previous occasion in debate on this Bill. He said that trade was about people—a simplistic remark that it would be very easy to erase from the memory. However, in the light of what we who support this amendment today want to stress to the House, that remark stresses something of great importance. Over the years, I have at some length spoken to your Lordships of the sensitivities in Northern Ireland based on our history, and this is not the occasion to do so again—except to say that nothing in this Bill can be dismissed as having no historical context, because trade is about people. I speak after years of experience of dealing with those problems, and dealing with them on a practical level, as the Anglican primate of the whole of the island.
The wording of Amendment 26 attempts to answer what underlines a great deal of the trouble and worries in Northern Ireland at this moment. Those worries can best be summed up as uncertainty, because uncertainty brings with it stress. The business community is faced with Brexit, with the unknown future lying before us all and with the questions of our relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, painted so clearly just now. All that uncertainty combines to figure dangers for the trade and business prosperity of a part of the United Kingdom—namely, Northern Ireland. If the sense of this amendment is not included on the pages of the statute book, in the light of what else is said about the Trade Bill, its absence will make even more visible the uncertainty and the stress for our local community.
We have spent a long time in this House looking at this Bill. We have had to face its terms not only in what is before us on the Marshalled List but in what is happening in the situation around us, far from Westminster. The plea that I make, coming as I do from Northern Ireland, is that your Lordships realise that we are not playing with words. We are not trying to overdramatise for historical reasons the need for this amendment. We are saying that we represent genuine uncertainty and doubt and, as one businessman put it to me at the weekend, the fear of the uncertainty that lies ahead of us as part of the UK.
I stress one other aspect. One lesson that the debates on this Bill has produced has been a new recognition of the doubts as well as the achievements of the devolved settlement. We have learned a great deal about that relationship and that settlement; we have learned how good it can be, how welcome it can be and how strong it can be for the whole United Kingdom, but we have also recognised its limitations.
Amendment 26, so ably produced by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, shows the need to be clear in those areas of uncertainty where part of the United Kingdom finds itself not as a future border with the European Union, but the border today between two Administrations. I hope the Minister will realise, when he comes to reply, that one of the shortcomings of the way in which we work as a House under our present conditions is that there are often things that cannot be examined in detail. This is very true of matters of trade but even more true of matters to do with people, and because people are a part of trade, I support Amendment 26.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on his tremendous work in the area of Northern Ireland-Great Britain relationships. I was delighted to add my name to Amendments 17 and 18, alongside the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Suttie. I am also happy to congratulate the Minister and our Government for reaching an agreement on trade with the EU that avoided a no-deal Brexit and all its disastrous consequences for every part of the UK. I recognise that this means Amendments 17 and 18 have been superseded, but I want to mention my ongoing concerns about the position of Northern Ireland within the UK and the fact that the UK-EU trade agreement reached in December still means that goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain need a customs declaration, and new border posts have been set up, yet Ministers continue to suggest that there is no Irish Sea border. Will my noble friend just confirm for the House that, indeed, there is one?
I fear that trade experts confirm that there are still unanswered questions on tariffs and trade, even with the deal. Indeed, customs officials with decades of experience have said that post-Brexit Irish Sea border arrangements are cumbersome and complex, and that there is a shortage of customs agents, which is already causing significant problems in Northern Ireland. Will my noble friend tell the House how many agents are expected to be required, how many are in place at the moment, and when the Irish Sea border will be fully staffed? Will my noble friend also explain why the Government refused to accept Amendments 17 and 18 in December and why they reject Amendment 26 now? Surely, the Conservative and Unionist Party would agree with this amendment as it does protect the Northern Ireland protocol. Will my noble friend reassure the House and comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said about the UK-Japan trade deal, which did not contain an impact assessment of its effect on the Northern Ireland protocol?
Clearly, the position of Northern Ireland is a special one, and it is special also to those of us on these Benches who have, for so long, been supportive and concerned about the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland, the Good Friday agreement and the protocol. I hope my noble friend can explain to the House, reassure us on a number of these issues and explain what reasons the Government have for not accepting Amendment 26.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Altmann. I join her in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on the ingenuity of his important Amendment 26. As he and others have recognised, Amendments 17 and 18 have, to a large degree, been overtaken by events, but I believe that something along the lines of Amendment 26 must be incorporated in the Bill to give reassurance in Northern Ireland. I would go so far as to say that the success of the deal concluded on Christmas Eve, which I welcome, hinges to a large degree upon Northern Ireland.
In his very moving words, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, indicated that the fact that the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland is also the border between the United Kingdom and the European Union is a matter of great significance. He also pointed out the sensitivities in Northern Ireland, sensitivities of which I became acutely aware during my five years as chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in another place and which, for me, were seen at their most acute and most moving at a meeting I had the privilege to address in Crossmaglen village hall in 2009, following the brutal and sadistic murder of Paul Quinn.
Northern Ireland is a precious part of the United Kingdom. The Belfast agreement must not be put at risk. Free passage across that border, with its 300 points of crossing, must remain and anything that can give reassurance where, at the moment, there is uncertainty, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, so graphically outlined, must be to the betterment of our relations not only within the United Kingdom—which I pray remains the United Kingdom—but between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Anything that can give such reassurance must, surely, add strength and purpose to the Bill.
I am not going to attempt to rehearse the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. He put them succinctly and graphically and I believe they should command the support of your Lordships’ House. I therefore have pleasure in supporting these amendments, particularly Amendment 26, and I beg my noble friend on the Front Bench to give a reply that means that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, does not need to divide the House. We should not be divided on an issue that, above all, should unite us—the future of the Belfast agreement. If this amendment cannot be accepted for some technical reason, then I beg the Minister to undertake to introduce an amendment at Third Reading that will encapsulate the fundamental points of this one and underline its purpose. I am glad to give my support to the noble Lord, Lord Hain.
My Lords, I am pleased to offer the Green group’s support to all these amendments, particularly Amendment 26. It is a pleasure to follow the detailed, highly informed expositions of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. I do not feel there is a great deal to add, so I will be very brief, but I want to ask two questions of the Minister. First, what assessment have the Government made of the understanding and ability to deal with this of small businesses, particularly in Northern Ireland but also those exporting goods and services to Northern Ireland? How are they dealing with, and how will they be able to deal with, the trading co-operation agreement arrangements? Is the Minister confident that there is sufficient support for those, given the uncertainties that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, just referred to?
Secondly, venturing into a very complex area but one that I know is of great importance to some people, as I understand it there is a hard border down the Irish Sea for seed potatoes and possibly also for fresh potatoes. Can the Minister explain the situation with potatoes going to and fro across the Irish Sea?
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and to support very warmly the vital point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who has shown such great commitment to Northern Ireland over the years and continues to do so, particularly in the dimension of the Brexit process. I also warmly support the comments made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Altmann, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. I address these remarks particularly to subsection (1)(b) of the new clause proposed in Amendment 26, relating to goods originating in, or moving from, Northern Ireland and entering Great Britain.
Assurances were given to business in Northern Ireland by the Prime Minster that there would be no bureaucratic hindrances whatever on the goods they trade with other parts of the United Kingdom. It now appears that in some circumstances there can be documentary imposition placed upon them. This has serious implications for those selling such goods and those operating ports such as Holyhead. I remind the House that many of the products from Northern Ireland destined for UK markets have in the recent past been coming via Dublin and Holyhead. This is a matter I have repeatedly raised here in the Chamber. If trade such as this requires documentation, whereas trade directly from Northern Ireland to English ports does not, clearly this represents discrimination against Holyhead whether the goods, or part of them, originated wholly in Northern Ireland or were partly imported from third countries.
Holyhead has already suffered in recent days since the conclusion of the Brexit deal, with shipments that previously would have come from Dublin via Holyhead to English markets or on to continental markets now shipped from other locations in Ireland and not coming via Holyhead. Some, indeed, are going directly to the European mainland. We need clarification, so I hope that the Minister will accept Amendment 26 and can give some assurances, which are needed by those operating the port of Holyhead.
My Lords, I seek clarification on Amendment 26. We were promised unfettered access to the Northern Ireland market. I am privileged to sit on the EU sub-committee on the environment, which has taken a great deal of evidence on food producers, hauliers, and others in connection with trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the run-up to the agreement now in place from
This unfettered access is clearly not in place. Although the briefing I was fortunate to receive last week from the Food and Drink Federation says their concerns in this regard are reduced, they certainly remain. One of the difficulties relates to sausages, which seems to cause great hilarity because of the “Yes Minister” sketch that keeps being revived. Sausages and processed foods such as pies, in the short term, are apparently not permitted to enter the Northern Irish market. Are the Government, including the Minister and his department, aware of this? I know that there is a longer-term concern over these goods as well as milling flour, rice, some sugar products, and seed potatoes to the rest of the European Union, but there is the short-term issue of exporting these goods to Northern Ireland. I imagine that this is an unforeseen consequence of the deal which was announced at very short notice. I would be grateful for a commitment from my noble friend to ensure that this will be resolved and that sausages, whether made in north Yorkshire by Heck or other producers across Great Britain, will have access sooner rather than later to Northern Ireland.
What is the position on the time and cost to be taken on issuing export health certificates? Does my noble friend share my concern and that expressed by others, including the British Veterinary Association, of which I am an honorary associate, about the shortage of vets and potential impact on exports and movement between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in this regard?
There is a need for a provision along the lines of Amendment 26, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say to allay my fears.
My Lords, I hesitate to speak in connection with Northern Ireland matters and have tended to leave these matters to those with more experience of the Province. Like many noble Lords, I regret that the Northern Ireland protocol introduces uncertainties into the status of the Province as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
Amendment 17 is fair enough, except that it is unnecessary in a trade Bill. It is not necessary to complicate the Bill in this way because it is incumbent on the Government to comply with the requirements of the protocol. This includes, as noble Lords are aware, an affirmation of the place of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom customs territory. Furthermore, the Government would not be able to enact any FTA not consistent with our international obligations. I believe that there is a strong case for saying that entering into the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol breached Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. As the noble Lord, Lord of Kerr of Kinlochard, knows well, because he drafted it, the treaty clearly states that the terms of withdrawal of a member state shall be agreed against the background of that state’s future relationship with the European Union. The EU, in my view, wrongly decided to cajole us into negotiating and agreeing the terms of withdrawal separately, and ahead of, agreeing what our future relationship should be. I trust that the Joint Committee will continue to make progress in mitigating the damage the protocol may do to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.
Amendment 18 covers only north-south trade. It does not mention east-west trade. Amendment 26 covers east-west trade, but not in precisely the same terms. I believe that neither amendment is relevant or necessary in this Bill, although it is most important that facilitations should be agreed which minimise damage to both north-south and east-west trade.
I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon. He is not there, so we will move on to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.
My Lords, I rise to express my concern at these amendments. They have been presented at length and with much eloquence by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and others. However, they ought not to be for this Bill.
This is not a Bill on our future relationship with the EU or the Northern Ireland protocol. We put all that to bed last month; there is another debate on Friday and a great deal of work continues not least in the EU committee on which I have the honour to serve and in the Joint Committee. However, except on procurement, the Trade Remedies Authority and data, this Bill is concerned with existing agreements between the EU and third countries. I take this opportunity of congratulating the Minister and Secretary of State Truss on the 63 agreements concluded with third countries in the last year, a record that will undoubtedly stand. The idea of attaching new conditions to such continuity agreements on other policy areas such as the Good Friday agreement, however strongly felt by those involved, is inappropriate. I will vote against the amendment for that reason, as I hope will others across the House.
The EU deal is behind us, thanks to the Prime Minister, my noble friend Lord Frost and the team, and the time has come to get this Trade Bill, which started as long ago as 2017, on to the statute book. I will not extend proceedings by speaking on other amendments which suffer from the same problem and which will also, no doubt, be presented with an equally eloquent case. We do no good in this House by introducing these kinds of conditions into inappropriate or irrelevant Bills. To my mind, they should be rejected.
Separately, as someone who loves and has historically been involved in investment in Northern Ireland, and in the interests of reducing uncertainty, to which my noble friend Lord Cormack referred, I look forward to the Minister’s comments on the teething problems in supermarkets mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.
My Lords, it is a somewhat unexpected pleasure to end up following the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who always brings so much practical business experience to debates, not least on Northern Ireland, given her experience with Tesco.
This has been an interesting short debate, with many powerful speeches. As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and others have said, these amendments were tabled before a trade deal was reached with the EU and an outcome had been found for many of the remaining unresolved issues on the Northern Ireland protocol. Although Amendments 17 and 18, to which I have added my name, have clearly been passed by events, the anxieties surrounding the Government’s ongoing commitment to the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast agreement remain, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, spelled out so powerfully. It is unfortunate that, as a result of the timings of this Bill, this House was unable to express its view through a vote on Amendments 17 and 18 before the ratification of the UK-EU trade deal.
These cross-party amendments stem from a lack of trust in this Government’s ability to stick to their word. The handling of the Brexit negotiations has done little to increase that confidence. I therefore hope that the Minister can reconfirm to the House in his concluding remarks, for the record, the Government’s total commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement now that the trade deal has been agreed.
Amendment 26 deals with unfettered market access between Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom’s internal market and in many ways reiterates the Government’s stated policy. We are now in day six of the post-Brexit world and dealing with the realities rather than debating ideologically based theories. We are now beginning to see the realities of barriers to trade and of what the BBC has described as the “internal UK border”. We are also witnessing the consequences of doing a deal so much at the last minute that proper preparation for the business community in Northern Ireland was not really an option.
Before Christmas, as the Minister will know, Northern Ireland trade groups warned that, in spite of the £200 million trader support service, businesses would not be ready to deal with the new border processes, computer systems and bureaucracy in time for
The introduction of the three-month grace period, while welcome, begs the question of what preparations the Government are making now to ensure that similar problems do not occur after
I end by referring to the very powerful speech of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, quoting my noble friend Lord Fox, saying that trade is ultimately about people. Passing Amendment 26 this afternoon would go some way to removing some of the deep uncertainties currently facing people and businesses in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Hain for pursuing these issues of such immense importance to the lives and prosperity of the people who live on the island of Ireland. I thank all those who have contributed to this rather good debate on the issues he raised. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, reminded us, successive UK Governments of all political colours have supported the people of Ireland and the peace process.
These amendments speak to that history. The Northern Ireland protocol is now the definitive statement about how trade in goods, but not services, is to be organised going forward. However, as my noble friend Lord Hain said, it must be supported, and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, reminded us, it is really complicated. Amendment 26, which we support, raises how future UK FTAs will impact trade in goods and services in Northern Ireland, with particular reference to any discrimination which might arise, directly or indirectly.
The Minister will almost certainly say that we should not worry and that all the issues raised today are covered. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, urged us to move on. However, as my noble friend Lord Hain said, future free trade agreements may well raise issues, and he is right to insist that this Bill makes the position crystal clear. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, warned us, the absence of such a clause may have a disproportionate impact on the current situation. We should heed carefully his words about fear and uncertainty ahead and do what we can to mitigate it.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that the Government should offer to bring this issue back at Third Reading, but I am not optimistic. If they do not, we will support my noble friend Lord Hain if he decides to divide the House.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Suttie, and my noble friend Lady Altmann for their amendments.
Amendment 17 strives to make the ratification of any future UK-EU trade agreement conditional on compliance with the Northern Ireland protocol. As noble Lords will be aware, and as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, himself has said, we have been overtaken by events—I think the word used by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, was “eclipsed”—and the EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement has now been ratified. Noble Lords will also be aware that we remain fully committed to implementing the Northern Ireland protocol.
However, I am happy to provide further reassurances in my remarks today—I hope I will be able to do so. Our commitment is demonstrated by the agreement we have reached with the EU in the withdrawal agreement Joint Committee on the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. To reassure my noble friend Lady McIntosh, this upholds unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to their most important market, eliminating any requirement for export declarations for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. It safeguards Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s customs territory, establishing the platform to preserve tariff-free trade for Northern Ireland businesses, protect internal UK trade and maintain the UK’s VAT area.
On the question raised by my noble friends Lady McIntosh and Lady Neville-Rolfe on supermarkets, the Government acknowledge there are some teething issues and are working closely with the relevant stakeholders to urgently iron them out. The issues are being addressed, to give some reassurance.
Throughout 2020, we worked intensively to ensure that the withdrawal agreement, in particular the Northern Ireland protocol, would be fully operational on
My noble friend Lord Trenchard put this more eloquently than me, but, crucially, the Bill we are debating here does not address the UK’s future relationship with the EU. That was dealt with via Parliament’s ratification of the deal agreed with the EU last year. The Bill is concerned with, among other things, the implementation of international trade agreements with trade agreement continuity countries and making provision for establishing the Trade Remedies Authority.
Amendment 18 seeks to make ratification of any future trade agreement between the UK and the EU contingent on, first, compliance with the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, and, secondly, ensuring that there is no negative impact on trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The protection of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement is a grave and solemn responsibility for both the UK and Irish Governments as its co-signatories, and both the UK and the EU have affirmed in the protocol that the agreement must be protected in all its parts. The protocol is a practical solution to avoid a hard border with Ireland while ensuring that the UK, including Northern Ireland, leaves the EU as a whole, enabling the entire UK to benefit from free trade agreements. As a result, there will be no change in the movement of goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland. That means there will be no new paperwork; no tariffs, quotas or checks on rules of origin; nor any barriers or checks on movement into the Republic of Ireland for goods in free circulation in Northern Ireland.
With the agreement in the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee on the
Finally, Amendment 26 seeks to ensure that the UK’s trade agreements cannot impede the unfettered access of goods and services from Northern Ireland to Great Britain or services from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. I took note of the passionate speech made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, where he said—quoting the noble Lord, Lord Fox—that trade is about people, and, of course, he is right. He went on to say that, therefore, people need certainty, and he is right again. But let me explain why we give this.
As noble Lords will be aware, the Government are already committed to ensuring unfettered access while maintaining and strengthening the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market through the United Kingdom Internal Market Act. The United Kingdom Internal Market Act guarantees UK companies can trade unhindered in every part of the UK by ensuring the free flow of capital, labour, goods and services. It also ensures that Northern Ireland is fully part of the UK’s customs territory by ensuring that there are no tariffs on goods remaining within the UK customs territory and that businesses based in Northern Ireland have true unfettered access to the rest of the United Kingdom, without paperwork.
Our aim is to ensure that all our international agreements are implemented in a way that takes full account of the Northern Ireland protocol; this includes unfettered access. As set out in the Command Paper on the UK’s approach to the Northern Ireland protocol, unfettered access means no declarations, tariffs, new regulatory checks or customs checks, or additional approvals for Northern Ireland businesses to place goods on the Great Britain market. We recognise that international trade partners will seek full access to the UK market. The UK internal market system provided for in the United Kingdom Internal Market Act will provide a stable, consistent regulatory framework that will support the UK’s exporting and inward investment ambitions. Ensuring regulatory coherence across the UK internal market will help support free trade agreement implementation while maintaining unfettered access.
My noble friend Lady Altmann asked a number of questions. In terms of the focus on customs officers, I reassure her that we have already hired 900 more officers as customs agents, and 1,100 are to be hired by March. The Border Force will have recruited over 2,000 officers by July 2021, so there is urgent work in hand there. May I also attempt to answer her question on what the deal means for goods travelling into Northern Ireland from Great Britain? As she will know, a UK trader scheme will allow authorised businesses to undertake that the goods they are moving into Northern Ireland are not at risk of onward movement to the EU, and therefore not liable to EU tariffs. The scheme will be focused on goods being sold to, or provided for final use by, end consumers located in Northern Ireland. The scheme will be open only to businesses established in Northern Ireland, or businesses that meet certain closely linked criteria, to prevent abuse by letterbox or shell businesses.
As such, I can assure noble Lords that the Government are already fully committed to ensuring that the unfettered access that is the intent of Amendment 26 is maintained and—as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, himself said—that the principle is upheld. I therefore ask that the amendments be withdrawn.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all the speakers. Perhaps I could single out my noble and right reverend friend Lord Eames for his powerful and passionate exposition of the worries in Northern Ireland at the moment, especially those of its businesses that face a very uncertain, stressful future.
Amendment 26 especially is a very live issue in Northern Ireland, as my noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick emphasised; she quoted the examples of hiccups over supply from Tesco and Sainsbury’s. Northern Ireland’s businesses feel they are left high and dry at present, as the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, emphasised so compellingly, and as my noble friend Lord Wigley said about Holyhead and the hiccups around that, in terms of trade across the Irish Sea with the Republic of Ireland.
I am afraid that there is a reality gap between ministerial assurances, as we have heard so decently from the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, and what is happening on the ground. For example, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, made it clear that unfettered access is not in place, especially for agri-food products and others. With great respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, Amendment 26 is about this Bill. As the Japan deal—a rollover deal—shows, these free trade agreements which will take place in the future could still affect Northern Ireland negatively, regardless of the assurances given. It is important to put this principle of unfettered access in statute in this Bill, which is about future free trade agreements.
I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, for his assurances—absolutely compellingly meant, I am sure—on the Irish border and the Good Friday agreement. But I am extremely disappointed, as many in Northern Ireland and especially in its business community will be, that the Government will not accept what they profess to uphold: the principle of unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses contained in Amendment 26. Although I will withdraw Amendment 17, I will divide the House on Amendment 26 when the time comes.
Amendment 17 withdrawn.
Amendments 18 and 19 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 20. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once, and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.