Honouring the EU Withdrawal Agreement Protocol

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:45 pm on 21st September 2020.

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Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin 12:45 pm, 21st September 2020

I beg to move

That this Assembly acknowledges that the majority of citizens voted to reject Brexit; recognises that the departure from the EU gives rise to substantial political and economic challenges for our society; further recognises that while the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is imperfect, it guarantees that, whatever the circumstances, there will be no hard border on the island and will protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its dimensions, North/South cooperation and the all-island economy; believes it would be entirely unacceptable if the British Government sought to abandon these safeguards and mitigations, as this would amount to a serious betrayal of an existing international treaty; and calls on the British Government to honour their commitments, and to ensure, now, the rigorous and full implementation of the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, prioritise peace and stability, and work to secure a future economic partnership with their EU colleagues now and in the weeks ahead.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 1:00 pm, 21st September 2020

The Business Committee has agreed to allow one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes in which to propose and a further 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who are called to speak will have five minutes.

Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin

There is no doubt that Brexit is an unmitigated disaster. How the British Government treated the Brexit withdrawal agreement and the protocol is no different from any other agreement that they have ever made. Sinn Féin warned the EU not to trust the British Government, and, true to form, after agreeing the withdrawal agreement and the protocol, the British Government immediately reinterpreted it, misinterpreted it, transcribed it incorrectly into domestic law and simply denied it.

EU laws, policies and funding touch on almost every aspect of our daily lives. There are, in fact, 115 areas of EU law that engage the Executive's and the Assembly's competency. As the motion states, it is unacceptable that the British Government would seek to abandon the safeguards and mitigations that are in the withdrawal agreement and the protocol. Brexiteers such as Geoffrey Cox have described what Britain has done with its Internal Market Bill as "unconscionable". The Lord Chief Justice, Declan Morgan, stated that Britain's Brexit plan Bill undermines the rule of law domestically. Scotland's most senior law officer resigned over Britain's Internal Market Bill. Angela Merkel says that Britain has joined the "ranks of despots". All of that speaks volumes.

Even hardened Brexiteers must know that Brexit gives rise to political and economic challenges and that it is damaging, reckless and wrong. The Good Friday Agreement is facing an attack on all fronts. The British Government have eroded the authority of this Assembly — for example, by overriding our budgetary role — and can do so without so much as a nod to the Finance Minister, Conor Murphy, or the wider Executive.

The British Government have also sidelined North/South cooperation. The environment, for instance, is a Good Friday Agreement area of cooperation, but Brexiteers rejected the need for a level playing field that would ensure that EU environmental protections were aligned across the island. Environmental standards in Derry would have remained the same as those in Buncrana, and anyone with a titter of wit knows and understands that pollution does not know any border. The Good Friday Government states that the British and Irish Governments must:

"discuss, consult and use best endeavours to reach agreement on co-operation on matters of mutual interest", which include EU matters, yet no consultation or discussion took place between the British and Irish Governments, because the British Government completely ignored the role of the Irish Government as a co-guarantor of the agreement.

The British Government are driving a horse and cart through strands one, two and three of the Good Friday Agreement. As Sinn Féin said in 2016 about the Good Friday Agreement, and many others have repeated it, "Britannia waived the rules". The protocol in the withdrawal agreement was not perfect. It was an ugly compromise, but it mitigated the worst impacts of Brexit. It prevented a harder border on the island of Ireland, protected the all-Ireland economy and upheld the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts.

We have heard lots of comments about where our biggest market is. The fact is that the North's economy is dominated by SMEs, 80% of which trade across Ireland. Here are examples of the breathtaking scale of the damage done to lives and livelihoods by this Brexit mess. One quarter of the milk produced in the North is processed in the South. Chickens in their thousands produced in the South are processed in the North. Some 10,000 pigs come to the North from the South every week.

The production of Guinness necessitates approximately 13,000 crossings in Ireland every year, and, every day, almost 7,000 goods vehicles travel the A1 dual carriageway between Belfast and Dublin. Coca-Cola employs 522 people in Lisburn, and its produce is sold throughout Ireland. Any delays on the island of Ireland, as a result of Brexit, will cost €100 for every lorry, many of which cross the border every day. Bombardier, which is one of the North's largest employers, engages more than 60 suppliers in the South of Ireland. Food, beverages etc account for 49% of the all-Ireland manufacturing trade. Some 10% of the North's GDP comes from the EU, so that would mean that £3·5 million of European funding was gone.

Sinn Féin's position on east-west trade is clear: it must be as frictionless as possible but let us nail the nonsense about not tolerating a border in the Irish Sea. Have you lot been asleep? For many decades, there has been a border in the Irish Sea. Animals and animal produce, food and fertiliser, amongst many other things, have been checked at the border for many years, so that new-found offence does not wash with thinking people. Unfortunately, Brexit will intensify those checks, but we tried to warn Brexiteers that there would never be a good Brexit and that there would be consequences. A lot of focus has rightly been put on trade, goods and farmers in the North losing over £2 billion of European funding payments, while many groups that are losing EU social funds look on in despair and increasing alarm.

Let us not forget another big erosion caused by Brexit: your hard-won rights. Sometimes, we do not know what we have until it is gone. Last week, the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission addressed the Executive Office Committee. Both commissions live in hope that the British Government will honour article 2 of the protocol to the withdrawal agreement, which states that there will be no diminution of our rights. Hopes and wishes are for Christmas: British duplicity, on the other hand, is, unfortunately, real and worrying. British Ministers have already expressed an interest in lighting a bonfire under hard-won rights; in fact, they started that fire when Brexit enabled them to bin the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which prevents discrimination, including disability discrimination, and recognises the rights of people with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence and integration. Given that the North has the lowest level of human rights protections, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights was important for us here. The DUP will not agree to a single equality Bill or to a bill of rights, so do not believe them when they tell us that those rights will be sorted. Maternity leave, workers' rights, consumer rights, equality pay and much more are under threat, and the British Government have already declared their intention to commence a full-frontal attack on rights when they scrap the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Sinn Féin motion calls for the full implementation of the Irish protocol, as agreed. That is in the best interests of all citizens across the island, and I urge parties to recognise that. Sinn Féin also calls on the Dublin Government, the EU and the international community to, again, stand firm in defence of the Irish peace process and in opposition to the increasingly reckless actions of the British Government led by Boris Johnson. The EU Council told us that there is a democratic way back into the EU, and that if, through a democratic process the country is reunited, the whole of Ireland will be in the EU. Those having that sensible, rational and legitimate conversation about constitutional change and how best to share this island in the future are the reasonable people in the room. We are the people who will work to defend the Good Friday Agreement, the all-Ireland economy —

Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin

— and the peace process from Britain's reckless Brexit agenda.

There is not an MP in Westminster stopping Boris or Brexit, but you, the people, through a democratic process, can stop him and his Cabinet from imposing all this madness on all of us.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member draw her remarks to a close?

Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin

Go raibh míle maith agaibh. Thank you.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

The Member who introduced the Sinn Féin motion has the reputation of speaking with such grace and poise. She told the former British Prime Minister in the European Parliament to:

"stick it where the sun doesn't shine".

Then we are the ones who are unreasonable because of the position that we take. I have to say to Sinn Féin: if you are going to introduce such controversial motions, have them proposed by somebody who we may take a little bit more seriously than the Member for Foyle.

The motion reveals what it is all about for Sinn Féin. It is all about the North/South; it is all about the all-island agenda and the reunification of this island that the Member spoke of. Nowhere in the motion does it mention east-west. That does not exist in the motion that Sinn Féin have brought. It talks about:

"North/South cooperation and the all-island economy;"

Then, of course, it repeats the debate about Brexit and the "citizens", undefined of where, who rejected Brexit. Let us not repeat that it was a United Kingdom-wide referendum. Let us not go over the ground that constituencies, including my own, voted to leave the European Union. The people of Northern Ireland do not want to go over that debate; we are now dealing with the outworkings of it, whether you agreed or not.

The motion talks about the protocol being "imperfect". There is an understatement. Of course it is imperfect, but ignore the consequences because it delivers the objective that Sinn Féin, the SDLP, and the Alliance Party, which supported the protocol, want to achieve.

When we hear from the Alliance Party, it will be interesting to hear about that. The Alliance Party has joined with Sinn Féin and the SDLP at every opportunity when it has come to the European Union and Brexit, and have always gone against the unionist people's position.

Before the Internal Market Bill was even published —.

A Member:

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

I will not give way. Members were jumping up and down with Matters of the Day, before they knew what was in the Bill. Such is the interest that they have when it comes to the detail of how we work out this protocol and minimise its impact.

The protocol and the barriers that it creates to trade undermines our ability to have the unfettered trade that has been often talked about by not just the United Kingdom but by the European Union. However, when you see that in reality, there is not unfettered access because the protocol is an instrument to punish the people here in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. It is an instrument being exploited by the European Union and our predatory neighbour, the Irish Republic, when it comes to commercial activities that are going to flow as the outworking of it.

Those Members in the SDLP, Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party dismiss it. It is no surprise that the Alliance Party dismisses it again, given the position that it has held. The implications on trade should not be diminished by anybody in the House.

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP

I thank the Member for giving way. Would the Member agree that it is a ludicrous position that some MPs, including the MP for Foyle, Colum Eastwood, are actively campaigning against trade deals with the US, given the significant economic challenges that exist within our constituency?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

Therein, I think, the public will see that not only do we need to agree to the position of the parties opposite when it comes to this, but if you dare go against it, they say, "we will lobby in the United States and seek to punish the people by not having a trade agreement".

Is it not absurd that if you do not get their politically ideological-driven position, you will then penalise the people of Northern Ireland? You will seek to damage our economy, will lobby in the States to try to prevent a trade deal from taking place and then you go on to say that this threatens peace and stability. In Westminster, the Member for Foyle went on to talk about violence.

You will use not only political arguments, and want to use economic leverage, but you follow it up with threats of violence to achieve what you want to achieve. That is implicit when you talk about peace and stability if we do not do what you want. Where is the threat coming from to peace and stability? Where is the violence going to come from?

You use it implicitly to imply, "Do as we say because somewhere out there could be a problem that could then inflict something that damages our peace and stability".

So, whenever I look at the motion, I think that there is no other position that any unionist, certainly, could take but to reject it. Indeed, that is the position that should be taken by those who actually care about the people of Northern Ireland. That is because 65% of purchases come from Great Britain — that is £13·3 billion of purchases — and you want to put up trade barriers, have customs declarations, regulatory burdens and increased costs. Our consumers then pay the price. Then, 53% of external sales from Northern Ireland go into Great Britain, which is £2·3 billion of sales.

The Member for Foyle who moved the motion talked about 80% of SMEs trading on an all-island basis — 90% of SMEs trade with Great Britain, but there is no concern for the implications that there could be for the costs of their business. The motion is politically and ideologically driven in order to advance the only issue that Sinn Féin cares about with Brexit, and that is the reunification of Ireland. Everyone should reject it, but Alliance will still vote with Sinn Féin —

1.15 pm

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

— and its bedfellows in the SDLP.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will try to lower the temperature after some tub-thumping there.

It is difficult to take seriously the suggestions from anyone in the DUP that they care about the fettering of trade or trade barriers when this entire process has been driven by Brexit, which, at its core and at first principles, is about increasing trade barriers on the continent of Europe between the United Kingdom and the EU. It is very difficult to be lectured by people like Mr Givan, who were triumphant enthusiasts for Brexit, which will probably mean the biggest increase in trade barriers in the modern era and certainly since the Second World War. It is a remarkably ironic statement; Alanis Morissette could not have written Mr Givan's speech any better, given the level of irony in it.

My party and I support the motion. I agree with the sentiment in it, which is that no one should be in any doubt that the protocol is an imperfect document. Let us be absolutely clear: I am sure that, five years ago, my party, others in the Chamber and I would not have selected the protocol as a framework for Northern Ireland, this island or commerce across these islands. We would not, but we are presented with a position where successive United Kingdom Governments, reaching their zenith under Boris Johnson and the ideologues around him, have decided that they want to break from the European Union in the sharpest, most dramatic way possible. That presents people in Northern Ireland with a dilemma. It is the same dilemma that was there in 2016. I sometimes talk about this in the Chamber. I used to be a civil servant, and I worked in Number 10 Downing Street before the referendum in 2016 and subsequent to it. I have since left. A large part of the reason for that is a deep and abiding frustration with the recklessness towards Northern Ireland, including to not only our post-conflict society but to our economy and people. It has been deeply frustrating, and, unfortunately, it has got only worse. I

Is the protocol perfect? No, it absolutely is not. Let me first be really clear about what the protocol is. It is a limited set of protections against the creation of a hard border, largely for goods, on the island of Ireland, so Northern Ireland will remain in the single market for goods and subject to the European Union's customs code. Effectively, that means that Northern Ireland will be in the EU customs union. But it does not mean that there will not be a hardening of the border in a whole range of other areas.

There are certain Members on the opposite Benches who probably quite gleefully like the idea of divergence between the two jurisdictions on this island. They will get it, unfortunately, in many areas, because there will be divergence in the services economy. It will be more difficult for people who are involved in services to do business across the border on the island of Ireland. If that is what you sought from Brexit, well done, because you are going to get it. We are going to have divergent regimes for immigration, and that is going to throw up all sorts of challenges. There are innumerable other areas for which there will be a hardened border on the island of Ireland, but specifically for goods, we have protection from a hardening of the border, and there are certain other protections as a result of the protocol. So, yes, we absolutely need to see those protections delivered upon.

It is also the case that the protections in the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol were agreed by the British Government less than a year ago. It is important for people to reflect on what it means for the reputation of the United Kingdom Government when a Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and says, "The UK is going to breach international law". There are some people here who perhaps have long-standing reasons to distrust what is said at a Dispatch Box in the House of Commons. There are others who do not. Nobody here should take lightly the idea that a British Government are gleefully walking away from their obligations under international law. Even if it is a stunt — a negotiating tactic to escalate tensions — we in this part of the world should be deeply angry at being used to escalate tensions in a negotiation between the UK and the EU.

The UK Government have, throughout the process — even before these institutions returned — called for the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly to have their say. We had our say in June, but they did not listen. We asked for an extension to the transition period. I do not know how any right-thinking person, in the context of a pandemic, would not want the transition period to be extended. I reiterate that call today, but we have not heard a single acknowledgement of it from the British Government. Let us hope that, if we pass this motion today and a further private Members' motion that we are bringing tomorrow on the Internal Market Bill, finally, the —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

— Westminster Government will listen. We need the protocol to be delivered, not because it is an ideal situation, but because it is a base level of protection. I urge Members opposite to think hard about the kind of society that they want to live in and how we move our economy forward in a way that serves everyone in our society.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

The Ulster Unionist Party will not support this one-sided motion.

It should come as no surprise to Members that neither Boris Johnson nor the European Union seem to have the interests of the people of Northern Ireland at heart. Anybody who has kept a close eye on the current negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union will have heard numerous pronouncements about putting the people of Northern Ireland and the Belfast Agreement to the fore, and they will wonder whether some people will bother to read that document. Some of them should consider the implications of putting a border down the middle of the Irish Sea for the whole of Northern Ireland and these islands.

In my previous role as chief executive of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, I was fully cognisant of the importance of the €1 billion, or £1 billion — there is not a lot of difference today — of trade that went back and forth across the Irish Sea every single week. That trade — North/South and east-west — is a circular trade. The very implication of putting a border down the Irish Sea, which many people seem to profess to do without realising the implications on trade for everybody, including businesses across these islands, has to be considered.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

No, not just at the moment. I will give way in a moment.

The key question for us, as Members of the Assembly, is this: what does it mean for the people of Northern Ireland when we look at issues in the future such as state aid rules, the role of the European Court of Justice, and how the Assembly will legislate for issues that apply directly to the people of Northern Ireland whilst at the same time dealing with the considerable number of issues that will be brought about by North/South and east-west borders being built?

The really significant issue that we have to deal with is the fact that time is running out. Come 1 January, we could be in a position where, despite what Simon Coveney says, food coming from the rest of our nation is deemed to be unacceptable. We have heard Michel Barnier and Simon Coveney say that that is a ridiculous statement. However, when given the opportunity in the Joint Committee to say that that will not be the case, guess what? They said nothing.

For the people of Northern Ireland — for our electorate, and for the consumers we all are — we need to get some degree of clarity about what is going on. That should be the issue in front of the House. That should be the issue for all of us. That is the question that we should be asking. We should be asking Boris Johnson. I am no friend of his. There are lots of questions to be asked of the political parties in the House that decided on 3 October last year that tariff and regulation boundaries down the middle of the Irish Sea were a good idea. The question facing us is about what is going to happen on 1 January. That is something that we, as an Assembly, should be concentrating on; we should not be looking at motions like this, which do not really ask specific questions. I must admit that I found it really surprising that the Member for Foyle mentioned checks on fertilisers going back and forth across the border. Anybody who is even remotely aware of what the circumstances were would know that, of course, there had to be checks on fertiliser because most of it was not being used for the appropriate purpose.

I do not think that anybody would believe that this motion is balanced. We need to be asking questions both of the United Kingdom Government and the European Union. We should all be asking those questions together. We should be doing that in such a manner that raises the appropriate issues for the people of Northern Ireland, namely what is going to happen to us on 1 January 2021?

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

I support the motion. The turbulent issue of Brexit overhangs our future. The protocol that was agreed less than a year ago and is now international law is, as Members have heard from around the Chamber today, an imperfect solution to the border issue for Northern Ireland, but it is a response to the potential barriers that a hard Brexit could construct. As a basic structure to protect the institutions which maintain our economic, political and social lives, it does have merit. It is an insurance policy, although clearly the original backstop, negotiated by a previous Prime Minister, was a better deal for Northern Ireland with fewer barriers and incorporated the whole of the United Kingdom in the single customs market. However, nothing is ever settled when it comes to Brexit or this Prime Minister.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

No, you are fine thanks. Sorry; apologies. I was in a different zone. I will give way.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am really very grateful to the Member for giving way. This is a point that I did not get to make. Would he acknowledge that a large part of the reason why Theresa May's backstop, which would have largely avoided a border in the Irish Sea, did not pass was the kind interventions of the party opposite, the Democratic Unionist Party, which refused to support it and so, in many ways, they are the creators of the border in the Irish Sea that they now rail against?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

Apologies again. Yes, of course I wholeheartedly agree. The amateur dramatics of the DUP in the last Parliament are clear for all to see.

Nothing is ever settled when it comes to Brexit or this Prime Minister. We now have an Internal Market Bill, which basically empowers the Government to override elements of an international treaty signed only months ago. This must be of profound concern to Members of Parliament who have been invited to participate, and have participated, in votes which break the law. It has also shamed the United Kingdom Government around the world. Let us be clear about that: the United Kingdom Government have been shamed by its Prime Minister and by its Cabinet.

It is hard to discern what this Government are doing or trying to achieve. Even if this is just a simple negotiating tactic, it undermines the United Kingdom's international reputation and the ability to strike further trade deals. Indeed, they have apparently lauded a trade deal with Japan, not a word of it different from what had already existed between Japan and the European Union.

The United Kingdom was admired as a member of the European Union for its influence, often by smaller member states for which the United Kingdom was often a reasoned voice. What sort of future will the United Kingdom have if it cannot and will not keep its word? Who would you deal with? Is this the global Britain that we want to be part of? One of the key prizes of Brexit is supposed to be the US trade deal; Mr Givan and others made reference to it. However, not just representatives of the House in America but democratic and republican senators have made it clear that they are concerned and disturbed by its effect on the Good Friday Agreement and the harm that it would cause.

There is also a clear risk to British/Irish relations, which have, it must be acknowledged, reached a high point over the last number of years. The cooperation and mutual respect between the United Kingdom and Ireland has been a key building block of the peace process and in building trust between both parts of this island.

A general election was won on the deal that included the protocol, but now we are told that we have to default on it and that no deal would be a good outcome. What a massive failure of politics it would be if we have no deal, an indication of a Government who do not know what they are doing and a blatant act of self-harm by a Prime Minister who does not care, exactly at a time when we need someone who is competent.

Brexit also brings friction. We need to mitigate that and protect the Good Friday Agreement. The United Kingdom seems determined to self-isolate from the world's biggest trading blocs and deny Northern Ireland the safety net that the withdrawal agreement included. Locally, we need our Ministers to get on with their job and implement the elements of the protocol. I fear that not only is time running out for Northern Ireland and its Ministers to get the job done but we will be in the business of further destroying livelihoods and businesses. Business needs certainty. It needs rules and a future in which trade barriers are low and not increasing.

The protocol is not perfect, but the apparent alternative is much worse. We need to get on with implementing it. It is in the United Kingdom Government's power to reach a deal with the EU that ensures that goods and services can flow and trade freely through these islands. We should build bridges, not borders.

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP 1:30 pm, 21st September 2020

The key line for me in the motion, which we will vote against, says "whatever the circumstances". That, in itself, nails the real motive for the motion. Whatever the circumstances — no matter how bad it is for Northern Ireland; no matter what effect it has on businesses or the constituents whom we represent — we must support the protocol.

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP

No, I will not.

That is a completely unacceptable position for anybody to take. Of course, it is no surprise that Sinn Féin would take that position, because it takes that position on a united Ireland: it does not matter if communities are divided or our businesses would be decimated, whatever the circumstances, we should support it. Again, that is an unacceptable position. I raised it with the EU ambassador when he came to Londonderry on Friday. I made the point that not one unionist party or, for that matter, not one unionist in this country supports the protocol. It is disastrous for the United Kingdom and for business, and it is important that they hear that message.

My colleague touched on this: for some parties in the Chamber, their priority is ensuring that connections with Dublin and the EU are retained, but, again, whatever the circumstances, they want us to support the protocol. Our MP for Foyle, Colum Eastwood, and other MPs were tripping over themselves to get on to the air waves to support the position taken by some US politicians on a US/UK trade deal. A constituency like mine of Foyle is devastated not only by the COVID pandemic but by years of issues and lack of infrastructure and investment, yet political parties are actively encouraging no US/UK trade deal. That is a crazy position to take. I ask Members to reflect on that. Members who go through the Lobby today are making it clear that, whatever the circumstances, they want to support the protocol. I ask Members to reflect on that.

As for the issues with the protocol, our party has been clear that we do not support it. At every opportunity, our Ministers, MPs and MLAs have actively campaigned to address some of its flaws, of which there are many. There are key concerns around the protocol. One that has been touched on and, again, was raised with the EU ambassador is the GB to NI trade tariffs and the risk there, with the fact that the EU was using Northern Ireland as leverage and risking a food blockade on Northern Ireland. The paperwork, the regulatory checks, the issues for our fisheries, VAT and state aid — all those issues are very much a concern to local businesses.

Much has been made of the Good Friday Agreement — the Belfast Agreement. The Belfast Agreement contains one substantive mention of the Republic of Ireland border, and that relates to demilitarisation, which has already happened. I know of no one who is calling for the army to rebuild those installations on the border. The Belfast Agreement, however, was about respecting —.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP

Yes, go ahead.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Is the Member aware that one of the people from the United States who have been calling for these arrangements, Representative Peter King, not only said that he supports the breaking of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) but wants walls and reinforcement of the border with Mexico and, I understand, Canada as well? How can that case be quoted as an example?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP

I thank the Member for his intervention. That points out the hypocrisy. I take all those comments with a pinch of salt, because there are question marks over the motives of all the individuals who have commented. <BR/>Those who will support the motion, whatever the circumstances, need to explain to our communities — our business community and our citizens — how making it easier for business to trade with its biggest market within the United Kingdom is a breach of the Belfast Agreement.

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP

Yes, go ahead.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

Will the Member agree that, far from anyone talking about extra measures on the border, the then Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, who is the current Deputy Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, said that he could deploy his army on the border with Northern Ireland?

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP

That was crazy. I agree with the Member; he is absolutely right.

In closing, I urge Members in the Chamber today to listen to the business community —

[Interruption.]

They laugh, but the people who are laughing are actually laughing at the business community, which is being —

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP

— decimated through the current pandemic and with potential borders going up in the Irish Sea. Those are the people to whom they will have to be answerable, and I urge Members to reflect on the fact that, whatever —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Gary Middleton Gary Middleton DUP

— the circumstances, they should not support the motion.

Photo of Maolíosa McHugh Maolíosa McHugh Sinn Féin

At the outset, I have to say that, if self-interest requires a U-turn, Boris Johnson is capable of that. We all know that, and Members on the other Benches know that only too well. He has U-turned on them many times, and, yet and all, like the obedient lapdog, they still lick his toes and wait for the crumbs off his table.

The EU withdrawal agreement protocol was a compromise, and built within that compromise is an arbitration system to allow the parties to deal with any disputes that may arise over certain issues. Many Members have touched on that but have not explained that, through that arbitration system, in the event of there being disputes on particular products or the likes of it, it could have been worked out between the parties that signed up to the agreement. However, by introducing his Internal Market Bill, Johnson is totally undermining the protocol. The protocol defends not only the interests of the people of the Six Counties but the Good Friday Agreement. It has been stoutly defended by member states of the EU and, more significantly, by the United States of America, guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement.

Let us not kid ourselves: the Internal Market Bill is about Boris Johnson and England and what is best for them. If truth be told, it is about fisheries to a lesser degree but, more significantly, about state aid, as the leader of the unionist party said, and the rules governing state aid to industry. It also gives the Tory Government the power to impose rules and regulations on the Assembly that can undermine our agriculture industry, particularly by compelling the Assembly to accept lower environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards. Boris Johnson, to whom we all listened recently, hides behind the defence of the Good Friday Agreement. He did not mention it when signing up to the protocol, but the European Union negotiators always had the Good Friday Agreement uppermost in their sights and its defence as the central plank from day one. Johnson went so far as to suggest — some people here have nearly touched on the same issue — that we in the North of Ireland might even be starved by the European Union, which would limit the import of food products to this island. It is ironic that a representative of the class and party who oversaw the starvation of millions of our people in the 19th century whilst exporting food from Ireland is telling us that the European Union will do the same because of limitations on the importation of food to this island. How ironic. I ask you: whom do you trust? Michel Barnier, chief negotiator for the European Union —

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Maolíosa McHugh Maolíosa McHugh Sinn Féin

Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission

Some Members:

No.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Maolíosa McHugh Maolíosa McHugh Sinn Féin

— and many of our politicians from all parties in the North of Ireland and throughout the Republic of Ireland. Whom do you trust when it comes to defending our interests and our rights? Do you trust Boris Johnson, who shows no respect for this agreement and no respect for international treaties? Some Members were shouting "No", but the Lord Chief Justice, Declan Morgan, stated:

"International law is grounded on trust and confidence between nations".

When that is totally ignored, it seeps down and corrupts even our domestic law as well. Johnson is incapable of identifying with the age-old proverb of Na Fianna, "De réir mo bhriathair" , which means "According to my word". A more direct English translation into a cornerstone of the business community is, "My word is my bond". We must be seen to oppose this departure in every way through the motion proposed by Ms Anderson.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Maolíosa McHugh Maolíosa McHugh Sinn Féin

It is a departure from basic law and from respect for law within nations and between nations. We must be much more principled in every respect in how we deal with our affairs.

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

Like many in the Chamber, I was shocked and appalled when the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland admitted that the Internal Market Bill broke international law. For me, it showed that the current Tory Government could not care less about the Good Friday Agreement or the people of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

I thank the Member very much for giving way. When talking about the breaching of international law, the most disappointing thing about the United Kingdom Government planning to do so is that it would take them down to the same level as the European Union and exactly the same level as the United States. The United Kingdom has a much higher standard to adhere to.

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

I do not know whether I can agree with everything that you said, but I will tell you this: I am not a lawbreaker, and I would not like to think that you were either in some of the posts that you held before.

I have spoken many times of the need to protect the all-island economy, North/South and east-west. I have used the examples before, but a hard border on this island would have such a profound economic impact that I have to use every ounce of my breath to highlight the issue until someone, somewhere listens. Our whiskey industry is entirely integrated, with County Antrim producing single malt for the entire island and bottling whiskies for distillers in the Republic. In my constituency, Coca-Cola, which was mentioned earlier, bottles produce — syrup — that comes up from County Mayo, in the Republic, to Lisburn. The products are made in Lisburn, packaged and distributed throughout the whole island of Ireland. That is the unique business arrangement that that company has for this island. Those are just two large examples. Countless small and medium-sized enterprises that rely on products, services and buyers from across this island have no idea what is to come at the end of the year.

The impact is not felt just by current businesses; it is also preventing new businesses from opening. There is a unique craft whisky industry booming on the island, and this is becoming one of the most significant times for the product. Many distillers have opened in the North, but the uncertainty of Brexit has severely impacted on their money and trade. The UK Government tearing up international agreements on a whim only adds to that uncertainty, and I hear every day of more and more businesses that are giving up on the place that I call home and the place that I love: Northern Ireland. That is fundamentally wrong.

If we do not fight now, the situation will become terminal. Let us be clear, our people are the ones who will suffer from the protectionism and the policies of the Tory Government. I do not know if any Members got the opportunity to watch some of the events from culture night that were online at the weekend. The participants highlighted the strong artistic and cultural traditions that there are across the island, from Derry to Cork. John Hume understood that cultural connection, Martin McGuinness understood that cultural connection and the Reverend Ian Paisley understood that cultural connection. The Tory Government will never understand it; they will never understand the all-island make-up of our economy and our health and energy sectors. They do not even understand where the border is. In the face of Tory ignorance, it is on us to protest that failure of our citizens. I urge all Members to support the motion.

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin 1:45 pm, 21st September 2020

I welcome the motion tabled by my colleagues and the opportunity to speak on a subject that is vital to my constituents in North Antrim, to many businesses big and small across the North and the all-island economy, to the hard-fought and hard-won gains of the Good Friday Agreement and to peace and stability on the island.

There is no good Brexit for the people of Ireland, which is why the majority of people in the North voted against it. Nobody wanted then, nor do they want now, barriers to trade or the movement of goods or people. That is why Sinn Féin did not support Brexit. All of the potential issues that are being discussed today, even some that are being discussed by the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party, emanate from Brexit.

I hear Members on the other side of the House talking about the consequences of Brexit; a Brexit that they supported. Brexit is the problem. The Irish protocol is designed to mitigate against the worst impacts of Brexit on citizens, businesses and communities in the North. It should not need to be pointed out, but the protocol was an agreement that was reached between the EU and the current British Government. Yet, last week, we had the Internal Market Bill tabled by that same British Government to thwart an agreement and the commitments that they made.

Am I surprised that a British Government would make a deal, sign an agreement and then try to undo it or circumvent it in a way that breaks international law to suit its own narrow political interests? Am I surprised that the British Government would display little knowledge, and in some cases no knowledge, of the impact of their decisions on the people of this island? Am I surprised that, even when they are aware of the implications of their actions because they have been made clear to them, they care little about the impact of their decisions on the people on the island of Ireland, even when we are talking about something as important as the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process? You will not be surprised to hear that I am not surprised by anything that is done by this particular British Government.

It is important, though, that the Assembly, which is representative of the people and interests of the North, has its voice heard and registered. The Internal Market Bill and its implications for the Irish protocol are totally unacceptable. Indeed, they are very dangerous. There can be no damage to the Good Friday Agreement and no hardening of the border on the island of Ireland. We in Ireland cannot be collateral damage to a British Tory Brexit. If Brexit is to proceed, the Irish protocol must be implemented.

I sit on the Assembly's Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, and on a weekly basis we discuss the potential negative impacts of Brexit and the uncertainty for our business community. There will be 25,000 front-line farming families affected. Obviously, a large percentage of the North's exports goes east but a far greater number of businesses — mainly small and medium enterprises — export largely or solely to the South. Fifty per cent more businesses here sell to the South than export to Britain. The vast majority of that trade is, as I said, carried out by SMEs, which are the backbone of our economy.

Eighty per cent of microbusinesses and 70% of small businesses export solely to the South. The agri-food sector, which is hugely important to the Northern economy, is no different. While east-west trading is undeniably hugely important, the production of the goods that we export is inextricably integrated North and South. Annually, over 400,000 pigs are exported from the South to the North for processing and the same number of lambs are exported North/South. Over 800 million litres of milk are exported to the North to be processed and then exported from the South. East-west trade, as I have said, is vital but in order for us to even produce the goods that are exported east, North/South trade must be seamless.

In the Agriculture Committee, we are told that 200 lorries a day come across the water to stock our shelves. Whilst that is obviously vital, anywhere from 6,000 to 12,000 heavy and light goods vehicles cross the border every day. In our Committee deliberations, we have also shared the concerns of those in the environmental sector about the impact on current EU legislation and on environmental protection. Regardless of political allegiances, we are an island nation with our own unique environment. Living on an island, it would be completely and utterly ridiculous for us to have different environmental standards and practices North and South. Birds and fish, rivers and hedgerows and the very air that we breathe are not bound by borders.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin

The EU has some of the highest environmental standards in the world and without binding standards of the same or higher levels, we risk a race to the bottom for environmental standards and protections.

Photo of John Stewart John Stewart UUP

I support my party colleague, Steve Aiken, who has already spoken in the debate, in saying that we will not be supporting the motion. I am pro-business and pro-Union and it is for those two fundamental reasons that I did not support Brexit. We firmly believe that it would not only, potentially, have an impact on the Union but would have massive consequences for business and trade. As democrats, we accepted the result when it came but it is barriers that are the biggest restrictions on trade. The protocol puts in place very difficult circumstances in which businesses will be able to trade east-west.

The motion refers to trade North/South and, obviously, that is important; there is no doubt that there is an all-island economy. However, fundamentally, Northern Ireland's biggest market is east-west, given its relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom. Any impediments to that would be deeply regrettable and would have a deep impact on existing businesses here. I know of one business in my constituency that reckons that it will cost it up to £1 million a year to implement some of the measures, red tape and bureaucracy that will be required just to have the protocol in place. That will be deeply damaging. I do not want to see any barriers in place but we do not want paperwork to be introduced that will prevent companies from doing the business that goes across every day. My party colleague mentioned the £1 billion in trade each week. Any impediments to that will be deeply damaging to our economy. It is regrettable, then, that that is not mentioned anywhere in the motion.

I also fear that, more and more, we will see in adverts and on TV that products that are sold online and elsewhere will not be available in Northern Ireland because so many companies here and across the United Kingdom will not want to do the paperwork or pay the additional costs that will be required to bring in those products, further diminishing Northern Ireland's economic impact. It is regrettable that that is not included in the wording of the motion. We have also talked about the impact on the potential for state aid and the impact of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in relation to any additional legislative burden that would be borne here by businesses and on their ability to trade.

The motion calls for the protection of the Good Friday Agreement in all its dimensions so that it is not diminished. That is somewhat ironic, given that it was just a couple of months ago that the Sinn Féin MP for Mid Ulster said in relation to the Good Friday Agreement that nationalists had been sold a pup. I am trying to figure out whether Sinn Féin supports the Good Friday Agreement or whether it is, as the Francie Molloy MP said, a pup that had been sold to the nationalist community. My party supported the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts —.

Photo of John Stewart John Stewart UUP

I am pushed for time, but I will give way briefly.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

On the subject of being sold a pup, does the Member agree that the Prime Minister sold the nation a pup when it came to the protocol and winning his election?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of John Stewart John Stewart UUP

Indeed. Thank you for that intervention.

The Ulster Unionist Party supported the Good Friday Agreement throughout. When I spoke to my party colleague Reg Empey about this recently, he highlighted Sinn Féin's role in the agreement and said that it did not participate in any negotiations on strand one issues and, in fact, did not even endorse it at the end. It feels as if Sinn Féin found the protection of the agreement and all its entities quite recently and conveniently, as it did the relationship with the European Union, which is, again, a recent marriage of convenience.

I acknowledge the fact that some parties here have been dedicated and supported the European Union throughout. I refer to the SDLP, which was consistent in its message, for which I give it credit. However, Sinn Féin's continuous support and idolisation of the European Union in all its forms seems to have come quite late to the party.

From a unionist point of view, the Good Friday Agreement is clear:

"the present wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, freely exercised and legitimate, is to maintain the Union and, accordingly, that Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom reflects and relies upon that wish; and that it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people".

Quite how a border of any type in the Irish Sea is compatible with the Good Friday Agreement in that respect is, quite frankly, beyond me.

The Belfast Agreement removed articles 2 and 3 and enshrined the principle of consent, meaning that the Northern Ireland people, and they alone, would decide their future. Surely any impediment to trade in either direction, North/South, which is identified in the motion, or east-west, is a clear breach of the agreement. How can there be an argument against that? It cannot simply be a claim that barriers between Northern Ireland and the Republic are a breach of the agreement but any restriction on trade barriers going east-west is not. The two cannot be mutually exclusive. It does not seem to stack up.

With regard to the economic impacts, Northern Ireland's biggest market is Great Britain. Any impediments to that would be deeply damaging to trade here. The focus should be on getting to 1 January and constructively trying to carve out together a workable solution so that we can protect our businesses.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Members, Question Time is due to commence at 2.00 pm, and I suggest that the House takes its ease until then. The debate will continue after Question Time, and the next Member scheduled to make a contribution is Andrew Muir.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)