Inter-parliamentary Dialogue

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 18th October 2021.

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Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin 3:30 pm, 18th October 2021

I beg to move

That this Assembly welcomes Vice President Maroš Šefcovic's support for formal dialogue between the Assembly and the European Parliament; supports this effort to include the perspectives of local elected representatives and stakeholders on matters relating to the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland and the broader peace process; and calls on the President of the European Parliament to undertake, immediately, work to set up direct inter-parliamentary dialogue between the two institutions.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes in which to propose and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. As an amendment has been selected and is published on the Marshalled List, the Business Committee has agreed that 15 minutes will be added to the total time for the debate. Please open the debate on the motion.

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

I welcome the opportunity to open the debate. The motion simply calls for direct inter-parliamentary dialogue between the Assembly and the European Parliament. Last week, the publication of the proposals by the European Commission included specific proposals on engagement with stakeholders and authorities here. I will come to the specifics of those proposals shortly.

Unlike concerns about the European Court of Justice (ECJ), engagement or consultation has been raised with me on numerous occasions by business and other representatives with whom I have had dozens of discussions this year about the protocol and its implementation. It is also an issue that Sinn Féin, as a party, raised consistently throughout the negotiations that led to the withdrawal agreement and the protocol. Members will likely be aware that we made the case for continued representation in the European Parliament for MEPs from the North and for the Irish Government to allocate their additional MEPs to give continuing representation to citizens from here in the European Parliament's decision-making. Unfortunately, they chose not to do that, and that was an opportunity lost.

We have since made representations to the Dublin Government about ensuring that the voices and views of citizens here in the North are heard in the EU's decision-making and legislative processes. Our proposals include observer status for MEPs from the North; representation on the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC); allowing Ministers to participate in the Council of Ministers' meetings as part of the Irish delegation; and allowing civil servants from the North to participate in relevant Council working groups. Those measures would significantly strengthen oversight and allow the views of elected representatives and stakeholders from the North to be shared. We have also raised the need for representatives of business and civic society to have the opportunity to input into the Joint Committee's work on the implementation or ongoing workings of the protocol.

This is not a debate about the merits of the protocol. The fact is that, under the protocol, certain EU regulations continue to apply because we remain in the single market for goods. That, of course, prevents the hard border and the need for checks on this island. Technical regulation of goods and of agricultural and environmental production and regulation apply, and that will continue into the future. Changes to those regulations that are made by the EU would have to be adopted. While any new areas of regulation will be discussed and added to the protocol through the Joint Committee, there should be input from stakeholders and policymakers here.

In April, my colleague Chris MacManus MEP had a resolution passed in the European Parliament that called for direct dialogue between the Parliament and political representatives and other stakeholders in the North. Today's motion is similar in calling for direct dialogue between our institutions to effectively enhance engagement and the ability to contribute.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is there a quorum?

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

No. You are quite right. We can notify —. Yes, we are quorate now. Sorry, Caoimhe.

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.

When Maroš Šefcovic visited last month, he undertook a series of engagements with representatives from across civic society. Following that, he invited business representatives to put forward proposals for solutions to issues that have arisen because of Brexit and the subsequent implementation of the protocol. He also indicated that he would welcome dialogue between the Parliament and the Assembly.

The proposals were published on Wednesday of last week, and they certainly seem to have taken cognisance of what he heard when he was here. They have been broadly welcomed as a positive step in trying to find solutions and have covered the areas that business representatives highlighted as needing to be addressed. That highlights the benefit of such engagement.

Included in the package from the European Commission are a number of proposals, detailed in the non-paper. To increase transparency, they include a website to detail EU legislation that is applicable here and information on:

"pending public consultations for measures that have relevance" to the North. It is proposed that, in the agreement with the British Government, through the Joint Committee working group, there could be set up:

"structured groups with the participation of experts from respective authorities to discuss aspects of Union measures that are important for the implementation of the Protocol."

It is further proposed:

"structured dialogue would be established between stakeholders ... the experts working in the Union institutions, bodies and agencies" and their counterparts in Britain and the North. The Commission states that that would allow:

"dedicated space for dialogue between ... stakeholders and experts in certain fields (e.g. customs, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, and environment) to allow for the views of ... stakeholders to be expressed in the areas relevant for the implementation of the Protocol."

The stakeholders mentioned would be from here.

That would allow for greater understanding of the EU rules that are made applicable by the protocol, and allow the EU to be better able to understand the impact of certain aspects of the protocol on business and civic society here.

It is proposed that there would be structured dialogue between the co-chairs of the Joint Committee and representatives of business, communities and civic society organisations in the North, and that regular meetings would be set up. Participation of stakeholders at the Specialised Committee is also proposed. The final proposal is the most relevant to today's debate: a stronger link between the Assembly and the EU-UK parliamentary partnership.

These proposals would significantly improve the engagement and the degree of input that elected and civic society representatives from here could have through various structures. Obviously, the joint First Ministers already participate in the Joint Committee on behalf of the Executive. There is, of course, a need to continue to ensure that there is real and meaningful input and oversight, so we as a party will certainly continue to advocate for input that is as comprehensive as possible.

However, today's motion is about inter-parliamentary dialogue and the need to improve engagement. It would send a strong signal if the Assembly formally endorsed direct dialogue between the two institutions, the form of which could be developed. On that basis, I urge Members to support the motion.

I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of today's debate, a LeasCheann Comhairle, but I ask that, if the motion is passed, you ask the Speaker to, on behalf of the Assembly, write to the President of the European Parliament and the President of the European Commission to highlight that the Assembly has supported such dialogue.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:45 pm, 18th October 2021

While I realise that people have pressures on their time, Mrs Dodds, it is normal practice for the proposer of an amendment to be present while the substantive motion is discussed. I invite Diane Dodds to formally move the amendment.

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

I beg to move the following amendment:

Leave out all after the first "Assembly" and insert: "notes Vice President Maroš Šefcovic’s support for formal dialogue between the Assembly and the European Parliament; supports efforts to include the perspectives of local elected representatives and stakeholders on matters relating to the future UK-EU relationship and the broader peace process; and calls on the President of the European Parliament, subject to wider agreement on arrangements that replace the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland and restore the democratic legitimacy of the devolved institutions, to undertake work to enhance dialogue between the two institutions in areas of mutual interest and in the context of the new UK–EU Parliamentary Assembly established under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement."

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Thank you. You will have 10 minutes to propose and five minutes to wind. All other Members who speak will have five minutes.

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

First of all, I offer you and the House my apologies. It has been one of those days and a bit topsy-turvy trying to get everything fitted in. My apologies.

As a former Member of the European Parliament, I know from personal experience just how important it is to keep up dialogue and good relations with this very important part of the European institutions. Indeed, I have been on delegations to build relations with a number of countries, including Israel and countries in the wider Mediterranean, and visited many European capitals as part of the Conference of Presidents, which is the ruling body of the Parliament.

Dialogue between member states' representatives and national Governments is a part of European politics and is to be welcomed. We need to be good neighbours. In an uncertain world, we need to cooperate on defence, and we can act on climate change, human trafficking and many other areas that are for the common good.

However, the motion is not about any of those very laudable goals. The motion before us is yet another example of Members rushing to set up dialogue that will ignore the fundamentals of the problems that the protocol has brought to Northern Ireland. The rigorous implementers — the Members who rushed to demand the full and rigorous implementation of the protocol and whose only red line seems to be whatever Brussels says next — are, in the motion, ignoring reality. They are ignoring the core democratic deficit that has been created and sustained by the protocol, and ignoring rules around inter-parliamentary dialogue within the European Parliament and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. They are more interested in hanging on to Europe's coat-tails than in acting in the interests of people and businesses of Northern Ireland. Ultimately, that comes at a cost, namely the constitutional, democratic and economic damage that is being done to Northern Ireland.

It suits the narrow agenda of some parties in the House to bypass our national Government, but let us not forget what Maroš Šefcovic said on 10 September. He said:

“I know that European Parliament members are very eager to establish, as soon as possible, an EU-UK inter-parliamentary group and there is strong interest in having, if possible, a specific arrangement for Northern Ireland within that group. It would be up for discussion with the Northern Ireland Assembly and our UK partners.”

The commissioner recognises that conversations are to be set up in the context of structures and institutions agreed nationally. Indeed, the European Parliament's rules and procedures provide for joint parliamentary committees that are co-chaired by MEPs and representatives of third countries — in this case, the United Kingdom — and drawn from our national Parliament at Westminster. Not only would the type of structures envisaged by the motion go against the grain; they would be window dressing when we consider the entirely undemocratic and unfit-for-purpose governance arrangements that are at the heart of the protocol.

Let us briefly consider some of the issues. Executive Ministers can attend the Joint Committee only if they are invited, and the Irish Government have a veto. Only the EU and the UK have the power to make decisions. Executive Ministers can give a view, but it is only that.

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

If you let me develop this point, I will, of course.

There is no direct role for Northern Ireland civil servants or Ministers on the Specialised Committee — the very committee that was set up to deal with the protocol and its impact and influence on daily life here. There has been a dearth of information and clarity on the functions of the joint consultative working group, which is intended to allow Northern Ireland officials an input into relevant EU law. There is a high level of secrecy around those bodies. Officials are often kept abreast of new laws passing through Brussels, but local legislators are not. We have all heard recently about hundreds of new laws that have suddenly been dumped on Northern Ireland. It will take more than tea and buns with MEPs to fix that.

I give way to the Member.

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

I very much appreciate the Member's giving way. I take her points. She complained about parties opposite bypassing, or seeking to bypass, the UK Parliament. However, she subsequently seemed to be complaining that Northern Ireland Ministers and local civil servants were not directly involved. Those two points seem to contradict each other. Does she want us, locally, to be involved, or not?

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

Of course they do not contradict each other. Many who are looking in on the debate will see a superficial motion that helps us to go and have tea and buns — or wine and cheese, or whatever it is that you have in Brussels — with MEPs but does not acknowledge the core fundamental problem of the undemocratic nature of where Northern Ireland finds itself. The same people who seek to open up this front of cooperation between MLAs and MEPs ignore those fundamentally undemocratic arrangements.

Northern Ireland is now in a situation where we are governed by laws that are not consented to by the people of Northern Ireland and which are arbitrated by the EU's own court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The protocol does not have the consent of one unionist Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Until that is addressed, any further exercise in inter-parliamentary dialogue will be entirely superficial and detached from the needs of our constituents.

I can hear some Members already thinking that there is a consent mechanism in the protocol. Of course, that is true, but it is a mechanism that rips the Belfast Agreement to shreds. That is the same agreement that some Members vowed to protect in all its parts. The current vote offered to MLAs every four years under article 18 has cynically removed the cross-community voting mechanism and subsequent safeguards. It further marginalises one community: the unionist community. Even Professor Katy Hayward described that process as a:

"pretty miserly offering as far as democratic principles go."

As I close, I ask the House to support the amendment. The motion ignores the fundamentally undemocratic nature of the current arrangements for Northern Ireland in favour of having a talking shop. When I talk to those in business and to people whose life has been impacted on by the operation of the protocol, they tell me that they do not want any more talking shops. We need to get rid of the protocol and the fundamental damage that it is doing to our democracy and economic prosperity.

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

I support the motion. The problem with debates that become highly polarised — the debate on Brexit has been polarised since it began — is that, sometimes, it becomes very hard for people to find common ground on which to move forward. There is much on which I would disagree with the Member who spoke previously— huge amounts — and I am sure that she would agree that we disagree on virtually everything about Brexit. I would hope, however, that the Chamber could find some common ground on the need to build greater engagement and dialogue with the European institutions on the implementation of the protocol but also on broader questions of Northern Ireland's unique position at the crossroads of the European Union and the United Kingdom. I will come back to that concept of Northern Ireland being at the crossroads, because I know that that phrase will bristle with some Members who dislike the fact that we are in a unique position at that crossroads. In itself, the protocol is a product of being at that crossroads.

To go back to the fundamental position of why the protocol is necessary, I will say that it is not just because of our history, politics or particularly divided society. As much as anything else, it is because of our geography. We cannot avoid our geography when it comes to the European single market and how we move goods and, indeed, people across this island.

As I said, the protocol is a product of being at that crossroads. Is it perfect? Of course not. It could scarcely be anything other than imperfect, given the political and logistical strain under which it was created. I remind some of the parties in the Chamber that, when I and others tabled multiple motions for debate in the Chamber last year — they were passed — calling for the UK Government to extend the Brexit transition period in order to give us more time to adjust to our new arrangements, including the protocol, they were voted against by parties opposite. In an effort to seek common ground, however, I will not dwell on that point for too long.

For those who complain about those of us who have asked for the protocol to be implemented in good faith — we hear the constant rejoinder and chorus of "Rigorous implementation" as if it were a great gotcha — the question remains of what alternative arrangement they would put in place to best manage our unique position. I have yet to hear a convincing alternative, other than either simply putting the border for goods on land — that is what most of the alternatives amount to, whatever technological solution they claim to be based on — or simply not engaging, at some level, with the reality of the European single market. Like it or not, most of this island is in the European single market, which is the world's biggest and, in many ways, most powerful single market.

There are therefore two realities that we have to engage with: our geography and the fact that the European single market exists on this small island. That does not mean, and has never meant, that we should not work to implement the protocol in the most constructive and sustainable way in which we can. A significant part of that effort will be through engagement between the European institutions and these institutions.

As the motion suggests, last week the EU published a set of draft proposals, which we discussed earlier in a Matter of the Day, that aim to smooth the process of moving goods between Britain and Northern Ireland and strengthen the process of dialogue and consultation on relevant EU laws that will affect Northern Ireland under the protocol. That is welcome. For much of the past 10 months, and, indeed, the two years since the deal was originally signed — a deal that certain people in the party opposite originally celebrated and thought was a great idea — our time would have been better spent perfecting and testing those structures of engagement and accountability rather than engaging in some of the histrionics that we have seen.

We need work to get this right if we are to benefit from being participants in one part — not all parts — of the European single market. To go back to what the previous Member said, we are in the European single market only for goods, and, when she talks about lack of consent, I am duty-bound to point out, first, that Northern Ireland did not consent to Brexit. Secondly, the argument that one part of the community does not consent to it should give us pause for thought, but it is a completely circular argument. People here did not consent to Brexit in the first place. We do not consent to article 16 being triggered, and we do not consent to leaving —

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 4:00 pm, 18th October 2021

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close, please?

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

— the single market in everything but goods.

Rather than dwell on all those points, I will endorse the motion. We should all put our shoulder to the wheel to build the democratic accountability and to engage in proper consultation with the European institutions because that will benefit this place.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

I welcome the opportunity to speak yet again on the issue and to support the motion. In December 2019, we were told that the Prime Minister would get Brexit done. That meant a rushed and rather threadbare Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). It also meant that the Government had to face up to the fact that with the hardest of Brexits comes a trade frontier with the EU. That is the hard reality of where we are.

My party did not support the protocol, but, once we met and faced that Brexit arrangement, we had to deal with the consequences. Like others, we believe that there is no good Brexit, but we are where we are. A backstop would have been a better arrangement for Northern Ireland and the wider UK, and we should not forget what is happening in the rest of the United Kingdom. It faces many of the difficulties that we face, and, in some ways, its situation is worse. Perhaps now some of my colleagues in the DUP will recognise that and agree with us that we need to negotiate rather than have stand-offs.

Ultimately, we recognise the need to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland and that the United Kingdom Government's decision to lead us to the need for a protocol was wrong. There are problems with the operation of the protocol, but we believe that many of those can be overcome. That is what politics is about at the end of the day. Rather than shouting from the sidelines and misleading people with comments and views about the protocol and Brexit, we need to work together to remove the uncertainties that surround the situation. That is what my party and its Member of Parliament at Westminster, Stephen Farry, have been doing: working behind the scenes and up front in proposing practical, workable solutions. Unfortunately, it seems that the United Kingdom Government seem somewhat uninterested in a full discussion on the long-term resolution of problems. They were given the opportunity, which, I hope, they will grasp now.

I welcome Vice President Šefcovic's support for formal dialogue between the Assembly and the European Parliament, because it is clear to me that the majority here want workable solutions to improve the operation of the protocol in order to maximise the benefits for Northern Ireland. There are plenty of examples of how that can be achieved. One only has to look at the European free trade areas like the arrangements that the European Union has with Norway. I also strongly welcome the proposals last week from the EU Commission that would remove 80% of spot checks and cut paperwork by 50%. That is a major move and presents an opportunity, but it is not where we finally want to be. The United Kingdom and the EU need to enter into negotiations, and I am convinced that, by negotiation, a great many more of those barriers can be removed. For example, a lorry carrying food destined for retail in Northern Ireland will now require only one certificate if those proposals are taken on board. Animal products will see much lower levels of checks.

What I hear from businesses is that the protocol presents challenges but also benefits. Scrapping it is certainly not the solution. We need to look to the EU and the UK sitting down to work their way through the issues. This is probably the first time in decades that Northern Ireland has had a genuine competitive advantage over surrounding regions. We need to grasp that challenge. Rather than remain a peripheral region of Europe, we could be a pivot point for trade between the United Kingdom and the EU, attracting multinationals, new start-ups and, of course, investment in jobs. The proposal from the EU Commission makes that an even more exciting economic advantage for Northern Ireland, providing stability for the future. That is one opportunity that we must not squander.

There is concern that the goalposts seem to be moving and that the European Court of Justice has been raised as an issue by Lord Frost, despite his role in agreeing the protocol in 2019. I do not hear Northern Ireland businesses raising concern about the European Court of Justice, and nor, indeed, have I heard many Members in the Chamber refer to it in past debates.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

I thank the Member for raising the issue, because, as Hansard will show, over the past three years, in virtually every debate in the Chamber, I have mentioned the problems with the European Court of Justice.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

Thank you. I will defer to the Member on that. Of course, he will recognise that the EU and the United Kingdom must have a final arbitration system to determine where they are going. For the European Union, it is the European Court of Justice; in the United Kingdom, it is the Supreme Court. They both must have those mechanisms. Of course, what the Member fails to remember is that, in all the negotiations, past and current, there have been many resolution mechanisms that should resolve all those problems long before the two organs or bodies would ever go to their specific courts to deal with those matters. It is a red herring, at the end of the day.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Will the Member give way again?

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

The Member is obviously fully aware of the role of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the international arbitration system that is already set out. Would that not be a more apposite method? It would not bring in either the European Court of Justice or the Supreme Court; in fact, it is independent arbitration. Would that not be better?

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

The fact is that the negotiations are between the European Union and the United Kingdom. It is for them to resolve those matters between them, and, rather than our troubles and issues being taken to other bodies —

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I advise the Member that his time is up.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

— they should be dealt with internally between those two organisations.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

I thank the Chairperson of the Economy Committee for tabling the motion. I rise on behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party to support the amendment. We will not support the original motion. However, we note that the party opposite has, at long last, recognised that its policy and that of the Alliance Party, the SDLP and the Green Party for the full and rigorous implementation of the protocol in all its parts was completely flawed. Indeed, we and many people across Northern Ireland recall those parties' leaders driving down to Dublin for a photocall with Simon Coveney during the COVID outbreak. We should all now recognise that the protocol, even with the amendments proposed by the EU, is a failed treaty that does not enjoy the support of much of the business, economic and pro-Union communities in Northern Ireland.

While we welcome the recognition from Maroš Šefcovic and Lord Frost that the protocol has failed and that it patently does not uphold its supposedly overriding principle to support the Belfast Agreement in all its parts, we recognise that both statements last week set out negotiation positions that will move. Having been told for months by the EU, Coveney, Stephen Farry et al that the so-called concessions in the original protocol were generous ways in which to make Northern Ireland work, that has all been seen to be patent nonsense. There is much amendment to be made if we are ever to have an agreement that recognises the central tenet of Northern Ireland's being an integral part of the United Kingdom while maintaining, on a minimalist risk approach, access to the single market.

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

The Member has just mentioned a minimalist risk-based approach to the EU single market. In order to be absolutely clear about the Ulster Unionist Party's position, will he tell the House whether it wants Northern Ireland to have greater access to the EU single market than Britain, either through the protocol or some other arrangement, or to have exactly the same access to the EU single market as Great Britain?

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

I thank the Member for his intervention, and thank you very much for the extra minute, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Member will be fully aware that we have said time and time again that we do not want to see any borders, North or South, east or west. That is where we want to be. Allow me to move on.

The crux of the problem needs to be resolved, as has been identified by others, by intensive talks that, at the least, should include the parties who sit by right in the Executive. They should have direct involvement in the talks. As for the better communication and involvement with the EU institutions laid out in the non-paper, it is not good enough just being an observer.

If you look at the six items that have been raised, you will see that the first one — I talked to Maroš Šefcovic last week about a list — is about increasing transparency. They will do that by a website. The second item is about the work of the Joint Committee working group. That is item number two, and it merely explains what the Joint Committee working group does. It does not give it any additional work. The paper talks about "dedicated fora" but does not say what those dedicated fora will be or what we will do in the dedicated fora apart from talking. The paper then talks about a timetable for meetings. This is the European Union. We are being told that a timetable for meetings is a major concession. It then talks about participation, saying, basically, "You will be allowed to come to the meeting, but you will not have a veto on anything that affects Northern Ireland. You will not be able to amend anything that affects Northern Ireland, and you will not be in a position to put a stop to anything that affects people in Northern Ireland, but you can be invited to go. You can go to Brussels. You can sit at the back and have your head patted or whatever. You will be put in the position of being there as window dressing". That is not transparency. That is not openness. That is not democratic accountability. It is none of those things.

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

I thank the Member for giving way. In lambasting the potential approach to accountability set out by the EU and to be agreed by the EU and UK, how would he describe the approach to accountability offered by the UK Government in the years since 2016, including through the beloved and very-well-thought-of Joint Committee? Did he think that that was a useful piece of accountability for the Assembly?

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

I do not think that anybody thinks that a degree of accountability or responsibility was passed to the Assembly. The Member will recall the numerous times when the previous First Minister was in position — sorry, the previous-but-two First Ministers — on which I said to her that one of the things that Northern Ireland should push for was our own ability to trigger article 16 or to trigger those concerns. That was turned down by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister. Where is the position that we have an actual say in what will happen to us and where we go?

Bear it in mind that this is about the peace process. It is about the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in all its strands. We are told that the European Union is a guardian of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement; we are told that the British Government are guardians of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement; but we — the Assembly and Executive — are guardians of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement as well. We should be able to have a say in what happens to Northern Ireland.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I ask the Member to draw his remarks to a close, please.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Far too many forget that we are the guardians of the Belfast Agreement. Making sure that the Assembly has a voice and an influence is indeed a worthy task for Maroš, Lord Frost and everybody.

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin

I support this sensible motion and oppose the amendment, which has been driven by fear, short-sightedness and the prioritisation of insular ideology over the interests of businesses, community groups and farmers and the rights of the citizens whom all here represent.

Halloween is approaching, but we do not need to rehash the horror story of how Brexit happened. We all know that a big-money propaganda machine lied to people, that wealthy Tories funded the ideas of English nationalists and that the North ended up being dragged out of the EU against the will of the people.

The motion calls for exactly what we did not have during the conversations that led to the Brexit referendum but that protected us from the worst ravages in the aftermath. Dialogue about the impact of Brexit on Ireland, the need to avoid the reimposition of a hard border and the importance of protecting the Good Friday Agreement ensured that the 27 member states kept our small island high on the list of priorities when it came to negotiating what we now know as "the protocol".

Regardless of your position on the Brexit debate or the future of Ireland, why anyone would want to rule out discussion and, indeed, a dedicated channel for such discussion baffles me. At the minute, we have Brexiteers jumping on the continued role of the European Court of Justice as their latest problem with the EU, but who else will provide oversight? The Tory party told us explicitly a fortnight ago that it wants to make significant changes to the Human Rights Act 1998. That party is implementing legacy proposals that no parties here have approved. We still do not have single equality legislation in the North, and we have a rights deficit that has yet to be worked out. The British Government cannot be trusted. In conversation with the EU, we need to represent our constituents, because the House of Commons does not possess the emotional bandwidth to do so. It does not care about the North of Ireland or the people here, be they unionist, nationalist, republican or loyalist.

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin

No, thank you.

To ramp up tensions, get involved in dangerous rhetoric or make mountains out of molehills is ill-advised. There has not been any constitutional change — yet.

Many Irish citizens in the North are thankful for their retained European citizenship rights, as evidenced, of course, by the flurry of Irish passport applications in the wake of the referendum decision in 2016. Many of us would like to explore our options as we go forward. Students here, who may have older siblings who took part in the ERASMUS programme, are wondering whether something similar will be made available to them. Farmers in Tyrone are wondering what single farm payment they will see in the coming years, whilst their neighbours in Donegal —.

Photo of Keith Buchanan Keith Buchanan DUP

Thank you very much for giving way. I appreciate that. Will the Member, who is a Mid Ulster constituency colleague, give me some analysis of the number of people who have come into her office to tell her that the protocol is working for them? Since it has come in, I have had none — not one. Will the Member say how many have told her that it is working?

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his intervention. I am not able to give you a figure. However, I have constituents who come to me about a number of issues and problems that have arisen because of Brexit, and I have constituents telling me that business is as good as it has ever been. I have farmers contacting me to say that trade is up as a result of the protocol and the protections that we have and that North/South trade is increasing and improving. I cannot give you statistics off the top of my head, but I have constituents coming to me saying that they are glad that we have the protocol to protect us from the worst impacts of Brexit. Definitely.

The point that I was making is that the Donegal neighbours of farmers we represent in County Tyrone have more security and stability in their income, and they are grateful for that.

We know that academics are looking at outside-the-box thinking to find ways in which Irish citizens here can continue to have a say. The discussions on potential voting rights are particularly interesting. We can see from last week's announcements that the EU is willing to find solutions to any outstanding provisions that have real-life impacts for the people of the North. It is important that that can-do approach continues and that we all find sensible ways of delivering for our constituents. The rigorous implementation of democracy is something that we should strive for at all times.

Photo of Pádraig Delargy Pádraig Delargy Sinn Féin

Positive and mature political dialogue has brought us here today. None of us have anything to be afraid of in political dialogue and having those conversations. The motion gives every Member across the Chamber, and, by extension, all citizens in the North, the opportunity to have an input into the protocol. The majority of people in the North want to have their say on the protocol, according to a recent Queen's University Belfast study. Some 75% of people want an input into the protocol, so let us give them that. Dialogue allows us to bring to the table the views of those on the ground, not just to find problems but to create solutions. Our views are best articulated by people in the North and by us having those conversations with the EU, not leaving it up to Westminster to speak on our behalf. I have met many business leaders in Derry who have highlighted the limitations of the protocol, but they are trying to find solutions. They are working within the protocol to find ways in which we can better it and make it work for our businesses and all people here.

The terms of the proposals in the EU non-paper, which, I am sure, all Members will have had the opportunity to look at, offer a number of solutions in the areas of transparency and accountability as we negotiate the new trading realities that have been brought about by Brexit. This is an opportunity that we should take. The EU wants us to have our say; it wants us to shape this process and determine how we can make it work for all the people who live here. By creating and opening new channels of dialogue, we can make sure that the process of implementing the protocol is informed by those who live and do business here.

Photo of Sinead McLaughlin Sinead McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party

There are many reasons why it is essential that we have a sober and sensible discussion in and around Brexit and its specific impact in Ireland on both sides of the border. We all know that this is not just about trade, but we also know just how important trade is. Above all, it is about respect — respect for all the traditions that exist on this island. Many of us, including me, regard ourselves as Irish, not as British. I am proud to be an Irish passport holder. I am an Irish citizen who lives in the city of Derry, but I respect the identity of those who are British. We must have mutual respect and the self-confidence to be comfortable with others having a different identity from us.

We have been here before, however. The Good Friday Agreement and the work of my party's former leader John Hume was based on ensuring that mutual respect was built into very the foundations of the Assembly and the Executive. I regret that the operations of the Assembly and the relationships in it and the Executive have not always lived up to our lofty collective aspirations. It is sad and unfortunate that the situation —.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

I thank the Member for giving way. I congratulate her on her promotion to being the new Chair of the Executive Office Committee. As the new Chair, can she explain what role the Northern Ireland Executive will have in a:

"Structured dialogue between stakeholders and co-chairs of the Joint Committee"?

Quite frankly, that just sounds like EU gobbledygook to me.

Photo of Sinead McLaughlin Sinead McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party

Thank you very much. There is a lot of work to be done in order for us to get the correct procedures in place so that there is true governance and transparency. However, that work has started as a result of the announcements by the EU. It is on all of us to, collectively, find a pathway through so that we all feel that we are represented and we all have a voice. We are not there yet, but we will get there if we work together.

It is sad and unfortunate that, during the Brexit debate, the situation on the island of Ireland was not treated with the consideration that it deserved. I remember meeting Tony Blair and John Major in Derry back in 2016. They both understood the implications of Brexit for Ireland and the border because of the work that they did, along with John Hume and others, in reaching our peace agreement. Sadly, others who do not have that history of intensive involvement in bringing peace to this island do not have the same understanding. Consequently, the border on our island got only a passing mention in the referendum debate.

The SDLP supports the motion. My party supports dialogue across the border through the North/South institutions and by way of informal, as well as formal, means. We support dialogue east-west. We support dialogue between those who identify as unionist; those who, like me, pursue Irish unity; and those who are, frankly, constitutionally agnostic. Only in that way will we achieve progress, which is why my party has established the New Ireland Commission. We support dialogue with the European Parliament and the European institutions. The European Union has been good to us and good for us. Peace funds have been important to the city of Derry and for the rest of the North. It was highly symbolic when John Major and Tony Blair walked across the Peace Bridge in Derry during their visit in 2016. The EU funded that bridge. It helped to pay for it. The bridge was opened by an EU commissioner and it did much to bring communities together in Derry, particularly the city side and the Waterside.

The SDLP very much welcomes close engagement with the European Parliament. In fact, my party has worked very closely with Barry Andrews MEP to ensure that the European Parliament considers further legislation that affects the North of Ireland and that it consults with the parties here and with local civic society, engaging properly and fully. Of course, that is on top of the existing commitments to engagement with North/South bodies. We support the motion.

Photo of Andrew Muir Andrew Muir Alliance

I speak today conscious of the tone of the debate against earlier remarks today and the need to support dialogue. I am also conscious of the context of Brexit and where we find ourselves today. In the run-up to the referendum in June 2016, there were lots of debates and comments about worries and concerns around the implications of Brexit. Subsequent to that, there was the general election in 2017, with the opportunity to shape a Brexit that would not be so significant to Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, however, a hard Brexit was pursued, and we are in the situation that we are in today. There has been lots of uncertainty and many worrying months since what was described as "Brexit day" on 31 January 2020, which seems like quite a long time ago.

The impact of Brexit is being seen across the United Kingdom as the end of the transition period occurs and COVID restrictions ease. It is important to bear in mind the context of trading relationships under the protocol. Many businesses in Great Britain, particularly those concerned with seafood in Scotland, would give their eye teeth to have the relationships that we do for accessing the UK internal market and also the single market. That fact is lost in an awful lot of the discussions and dialogues about the protocol and in the issues that people cite, but we have a unique position and trading relationship. Of course, there are issues. There were always going to be issues with Brexit. Associating them with the protocol rather than with Brexit is, in my view, disingenuous.

The statement from the European Union last week was welcome, particularly that part in relation to dialogue and engagement. I stand here as a proud European who also considers themselves to be British and Irish. I know that trust and good relations are vital, now and in the future. I find it hard to see anybody disagreeing with me about the fact that Brexit has caused divisions throughout our society and within these islands. Today's motion and the generality of politics show the importance of dialogue.

In Northern Ireland, there is a need for particular and more structured consultations, focused on Northern Ireland, as the EU develops policies and legislation, particularly in relation to Brexit. The Northern Ireland institutions should get early sight of proposed legislation in its formative stages. Our partnership with the European Union started in 1973. It continued until —.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

I thank the Member for giving way. Does the Member agree that we should probably have something a bit more concrete than the method, proposed in the non-papers, of using a website as the way in which the Assembly is to understand what legislation is coming in its direction?

Photo of Andrew Muir Andrew Muir Alliance

I think that you will find that there is common ground in the Assembly. People who are elected to this place wish to be able to engage and to ensure that the policy and legislation that influences Northern Ireland is fit for purpose.

It is important that the UK Government genuinely and sincerely engage in dialogue over the next number of weeks to find a solution for Northern Ireland. The fact that we left the European Union does not mean that good relationships cannot continue. If anything, it is more important than ever that we foster those relationships and find different forums and structures through which to engage. We no longer have representation at the European Parliament. We had that through three MEPs. One former MEP is in the House today. Another is my party leader, who I wish was able to continue in that role. We left the European Union, however, so we do not have influence within the European Parliament.

There is an amendment, and I will speak to that. The Alliance Party cannot support the amendment, because we believe that it raises the unfairly ambitious and undeliverable ambition that there is a viable alternative to the protocol.

I have yet to hear it, because there is not one.

Many warned about the particular impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland. The Member for Foyle outlined how two former Prime Ministers came to Derry and voiced their concerns on Brexit and the impact that it would have. They were ignored. It was always going to be hard to have Brexit in Northern Ireland because of the unique set-up of a land border with the European Union and also, let us note, the hard Brexit pursued by the UK Government.

We are living with the consequences of that, but dialogue, engagement and a focus on solutions, rather than on the problems, is key for the way forward.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice 4:30 pm, 18th October 2021

I am not given to quoting the late Tony Benn, but, in one of his last speeches — perhaps it was his last — in the House of Commons, he said:

"in the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person—Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates—"

— I would add the EU —

"ask them five questions: 'What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?' If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system."

A Member:

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Perhaps in a moment.

This, of course, is the fundamental, defining question of the protocol: who governs? I wonder, when I listen to some of them, whether those who boast of the title "Member of the Legislative Assembly" have ever even read the protocol. Have they ever read annex 2 to it? Have they ever noticed that there are 300 defined and named pieces of legislation that are imposed on us, that we cannot change and that we did not make? Has it even come to their attention that, during this year, a further 20 regulations, 12 of them dealing with DAERA and eight with the Department of Health, have been made, applied and imposed, without any consent or input from the people of Northern Ireland?

How can you seriously call yourself, with pride, a Member of the Legislative Assembly, if you are content not to legislate on 60% of that which governs our economy? That is the reality of the protocol. Some 60% of the laws that govern us economically are made not in Belfast or London but in a foreign jurisdiction that we have no control over or even input into.

Then, along comes the EU, that most benevolent of organisations, some would have us say. It produces a "non-paper": well named. That non-paper, to deal with the democratic deficit, shows the calculated contempt in which Members of the Legislative Assembly are held. To deal with this situation — that we are governed by laws that we do not make, over which we have no control and into which we have no input — what does the mighty EU say? It says, "We will give you a website". Wow. It says, "We will even give a talking shop, as a backup to the Joint Committee. If you are really good, we might even let some MLAs sit on another talking shop and talk to some MPs and MEPs". There are people in the House who salivate over that and think that that is democratic accountability, such is their blindness and their obeisance to the EU. If the EU says it, that is enough for them.

Where is your self-respect as a legislator? Where is your duty to your constituents, who sent you to here to legislate, when you surrender so willingly and so wantonly control over 60% of the laws that govern our Assembly? This House is a disgrace, if it takes the view that it is for us not to legislate but to kowtow to Brussels, accept what it says and be grateful for the crumbs, even the crumb of a website. My my, how have the mighty fallen? Those who call themselves the Social Democratic and Labour Party are so democratic that they eschew the very notion that we should rule ourselves. What an outrage has been put upon us by the protocol. I think that Mr O'Toole wants to enlighten me.

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

I am grateful to the Member for giving way. He famously asked Tony Benn's five questions:

"What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it?", etc. If he were to ask those questions of some institutions, for example the House of Lords, the royal family or, indeed, the Conservative Government, which are elected wholly on votes in England, what answers does he think that he would receive?

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member has up to six minutes.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I can ask those of a democratically elected Assembly, and I can ask those of a democratically elected Parliament, but I cannot ask them of an EU Commission or the European Parliament, yet they are the bodies that put their laws upon us. If Mr O'Toole is sanguine and satisfied about that and thinks that it is great to expunge democracy from Northern Ireland and to grovel to accept a website and a talking shop, it says a great deal about Mr O'Toole and his party's democratic credentials. This motion is a grovelling salute to the oppression of Brussels and therefore should be rejected, but it will not be, because this is a grovelling House when it comes to the EU.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I call Mrs Diane Dodds to make a winding-up speech on the amendment. You have up to five minutes, Mrs Dodds.

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

Every time that the Member for South Belfast gets up, he is at pains to say that there are some things that he and I will agree on but many, many things on which we will not agree. He also always says that, when we engage in Brexit conversation, we go in a kind of circular argument. Then he proceeded to go in a circular argument. Let us pick up some of the issues in the circular argument that I have heard right across the House this afternoon.

First, let us deal with the issue that the protocol is the child of Brexit. Of course, those of us who voted for Brexit voted for the United Kingdom to leave as one United Kingdom and that we in Northern Ireland would leave on the same basis as every other part of the United Kingdom. I regret that the Boris Johnson Government did not do that, and I think that it will be to their shame forever that they did such a thing.

A Member:

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

No, I want to get through this. There is a lot of stuff in this debate that has exercised me as I have listened to it.

We then had the other circular argument that we are in a unique position and have the best of both worlds. I visited a logistics business in my constituency last Friday. That business told me that it had had to employ four extra people to manage customs between one part of the United Kingdom's internal market and another and that that Brexit, because of lorry drivers' times, was adding cost — 18% to 20% in its estimation — to its business. You cannot absorb 18% to 20% of costs; ultimately, that will be passed on to the consumer.

We then went on the circular argument around constructive and sustainable dialogue and consent, and, of course, we heard that we did not consent to Brexit. The Member for South Belfast was really keen to tell us all this, but he does not tell us what he is going to do about the Belfast Agreement that sets up that very delicate balance of relationships and demands consent from one side of the community and from the other on these very strategic and important matters. It seems that the people who created the Belfast Agreement no longer really care about it in all of its parts.

We had a further contribution from Alliance that said that it did not support the protocol, yet, in the middle of a pandemic, it went down to Dublin to tell Simon Coveney that it wanted to make sure that he called for the rigorous implementation of the protocol. It is hard to acknowledge that, and I know that Alliance Party members get a bit embarrassed when they are reminded of it. It is not a gotcha; it is a reality. That is what happened.

We are not standing and shouting from the sidelines. My party leader has said that we welcome the movement from the EU. Not that long ago, they were telling us that we could never renegotiate the protocol.

A Member:

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

No, I want to get through this. Now, they are saying that we can move on the protocol. However, it is hard to escape the fact that the EU moves only when pushed to do so in extreme circumstances.

Members talked about the challenges and benefits of the protocol and even the genuine competitive advantages. The Subsidy Control Bill is going through Westminster — our national Parliament. That Bill will legalise differences between how Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom are treated under the protocol with regard to state aid. When I talk to businesses in my constituency, I hear of their fear that there will no longer be a level playing field for businesses in Northern Ireland within the internal market of the United Kingdom. That is what we should be worried about. Westminster is already legislating for differences between different parts of the United Kingdom. I recently wrote to the Competition and Markets Authority to ask how it is going to regulate the situation and ensure that there is fair —.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I ask the Member to draw her remarks to a close.

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

I will finish in one second. I asked how it will ensure that there is fair competition. I will finish —.

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I say, though, that —

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

— my amendment is not driven by fear and insularity but by fact and reality?

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Glaoim ar John O’Dowd le deireadh a chur leis an díospóireacht ar an rún. I call John O'Dowd to conclude the debate on the motion. He has 10 minutes.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the debate ended up being about the protocol rather than about the inter-parliamentary dialogue that was proposed last week and, indeed, prior to that. It is about engagement between this institution and the European institutions. It is also about a better understanding of each other's position and of how Brexit has impacted on our society, economy and politics, and how the mechanism that was put in place to deal with that — the protocol — is being managed. I am disappointed to learn that there are those who are opposed to that. They have come up with a variety of reasons as to why they are opposed to it. Some claim that it does not go far enough. OK, let us make sure that our voices are heard not only in the European Parliament but in capitals around Europe, in the United States and elsewhere, because that is how we built our peace process. That is how we created the change that was necessary to move away from a society in conflict to a society in peace and transition. Let us use our ability to use dialogue. I have no doubt that, if we establish inter-parliamentary dialogue, Diane Dodds and other DUP representatives sitting in the far corner, Jim Allister, Steve Aiken, my colleagues and I on these Benches will be able to represent the views of the people of the North in a way that makes a difference, because I have more in common with the Members on the Benches opposite and on these Benches than I have with the representatives of the EU or Westminster. Collectively, we have the ability to make our voices heard. I see Mr Allister looking to come in.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Does the Member recognise that there are light years' difference between making representations and the right to be heard, and making the laws that govern you? The issue is that we are being denied, in our own country, the right to make the laws that govern our economy in Northern Ireland, if it is affected by the EU single market. We are meant to settle for making representations. Is that what the Member has come to be — an MLA making representation to a foreign legislature?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin 4:45 pm, 18th October 2021

I will make a republican out of you yet, Mr Allister. I am concerned that our laws are made in a foreign land and we do not have powers over ourselves.

We had power in Brussels. We had representation. The Member shakes his head to say that we did not; maybe he was not a very effective MEP. I suspect that he was, in fairness to him. We had voices in the European Parliament. We had commissioners, and we had representation at all levels. You and others told us to vote to do away with that and did not give an alternative way in which we would manage the relationships between these islands as we move forward. We ended up with the protocol as the best way to mitigate that situation.

Photo of Andrew Muir Andrew Muir Alliance

Will the Member agree that there were multiple occasions in the House of Commons when alternatives were offered to the DUP for Brexit, particularly on EFTA? All of those alternatives were rejected.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Yes. It was all rejected. The hardest of hard Brexits was demanded. Thankfully, there was more common sense among the many people who said, "No. We just cannot have a hard Brexit on the island of Ireland. We need to respect the relationships and the foundations on which our peace has been built and moved forward".

It is interesting that the DUP has had only one Member to speak: the proposer of the amendment and the Member making the winding-up speech being the same person. They are perfectly entitled to do that, although I thought that, under the new leadership of the DUP —

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

One moment.

— there was going to be more opportunity for DUP MLAs to have their voices heard. Now they are restricted to one Member speaking in a debate.

Photo of Joanne Bunting Joanne Bunting DUP

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am not entirely clear on whether it is in order for the Member to refer to issues like that when he does not know what has gone on over here. We have had illness in this section of the House. There are reasons why Members who were due to participate are not here. Perhaps he will want to reconsider those remarks.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

That is not a point of order. It is for the Member to decide what he says or not.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

As I said, it is a matter for the DUP to decide who is put up to speak. You have a lot of talented people still on the Benches who could contribute to the debate, but that is a matter for you.

I am beginning to have a firm point of view about where the DUP is going. They are being wound up by Mr Allister in the corner. He is very effective at that. He knows how to wind and wind and push them. I am convinced that the DUP want an election for Christmas. It does not matter what the EU does at this stage. The DUP, for strategic reasons, wants an election before Christmas. It does not matter what happens, they want to see the result of the ballot under the Christmas tree. Now, that is fine. As elected representatives, we should never fear an election; it is the ultimate test of democracy. However, the question in my head is this: what happens after the election?

Preconditions have been set, and, each week, new preconditions are set. We have now been told that the DUP is very concerned about the European Court of Justice. They were not that concerned about it when they were writing their seven-point plan or eight-point plan or whatever, but now that Lord Frost has introduced it, they are concerned. In fairness to Mr Allister in the corner, he will wind them up about it until they become more concerned about it. So, you will possibly have your pre-Christmas election; you will have the election results. Some of you may get a bag of coal for Christmas. You might not get the present you wanted. However, what happens afterwards? You have set such high preconditions. Will we be able to come back into the Chamber? Do you have a plan for what happens after Christmas?

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I will give way after this point.

What will the New Year party look like? That is the question you need to ask yourselves.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Thank you very much for giving way and for your digression. I want to bring us back to the motion that we are debating. Will the Member accept the fact that there are really strong concerns in Poland, Slovenia, the Baltic states, Germany, France and Italy about democratic accountability in the European Parliament and the European institutions? Why would we want to negotiate to be part of that when the states that are part of the European Union cannot get a say? Why would we wish to be part of that?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I have concerns about what is happening in Poland and elsewhere. There is the abuse of human rights. There is the abuse of the LGBT community. The fact that there is an international mechanism to hold countries to account is a good thing.

The British judiciary had access to sit on and make representations to the European Court of Justice, and the decision was made to walk away from it, so you cannot for one second say, "Oh, we disagree with that international provider of arbitration. We don't have a place on it". There are people in the Chamber who lobbied to remove your places from it. When Britain goes around the world and tries to sign trade deals, it will find that there will be arbitration, and it will not be on Britain's terms alone.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I will in a second.

The reality of the new world that Britain has stepped into is that it is now a third-party country to the European Union. Thankfully, we will have the protocol to protect us from the worst aspects of that, though, even without the DUP's latest stunt, there was always an opportunity to reach the point we are now at with the European Union in terms of changes to the protocol, relaxations, better dialogue and more democracy around the protocol. All those could have been achieved because they were knitted into the original protocol. However, when Britain goes out and looks around the world for new trading arrangements, it will find that it is in a new reality.

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

I appreciate the Member giving way. I have never heard anyone at a business level in Northern Ireland raise the European Court of Justice. The honourable Member for South Antrim said that he has raised it — I am sure that he has — but lots of businesses talk about the protocol, and I have never heard any of them complain about it. Does the Member recognise that, in order to gain the privileged access to the European single market that businesses in England, Scotland and Wales are crying out for, you need ultimately to have the arbitration of the European Court of Justice, because that is how the European single market works? If we do not have that, we do not have the opportunities.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Yes. As, I think, Mr Muir said, traders, fishermen, farmers and businesses in Scotland would give their hind teeth for what we have at the minute. There are businesses in England and Wales that would give their hind teeth for it because of the added protections that we have.

When people say, "Oh, you should never have asked for the rigorous implementation of the protocol", to me, the rigorous implementation of the protocol is this: all the mechanisms of the protocol are properly used, including the Specialised Committee —

[Interruption]

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I ask the Member to draw his remarks to a close, please. No remarks from a seated position, either.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

— which, if they had been properly used, would have alleviated a lot of the problems that some of our businesses faced and would have given huge opportunities to many of our businesses to create jobs and prosperity for all our people.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Before the Assembly divides, I remind you that, as per Standing Order 112, the Assembly has proxy voting arrangements in place. Members who have authorised another Member to vote on their behalf are not entitled to vote in person and should not enter the Lobbies. I remind all Members of the requirement for social distancing while the Division takes place. I ask you to ensure that you maintain a gap of at least 2 metres between yourself and others when moving around in the Chamber or the Rotunda and especially in the Lobbies. Please be patient at all times, observe the signage and follow the instructions of the Lobby Clerks.

The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 39; Noes 46

AYES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Mr Allister, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mr Butler, Mrs Cameron, Mr Chambers, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Stalford, Mr Stewart, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr K Buchanan, Mr Harvey

NOES

Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Catney, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCann, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Miss Woods

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Delargy, Ms Sheerin

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I have been advised by the party Whips that, in accordance with Standing Order 113(5)(b), there is agreement that we can dispense with the three minutes and move straight to the Division.

I remind all Members of the requirement for social distancing when the Division takes place. Please ensure that you maintain at least a 2-metre gap between yourself and other people when moving around the Chamber or the Rotunda and especially in the Lobbies.

The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 46; Noes 39

AYES

Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Catney, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCann, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Miss Woods

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Delargy, Ms Sheerin

NOES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Mr Allister, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mr Butler, Mrs Cameron, Mr Chambers, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Stalford, Mr Stewart, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr K Buchanan, Mr Harvey

Main Question accordingly agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly welcomes Vice President Maroš Šefcovic's support for formal dialogue between the Assembly and the European Parliament; supports this effort to include the perspectives of local elected representatives and stakeholders on matters relating to the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland and the broader peace process; and calls on the President of the European Parliament to undertake, immediately, work to set up direct inter-parliamentary dialogue between the two institutions.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I suggest that Members take their ease while we move to the next item of business.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)