The Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about how to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and the joint report in December made it clear that the UK is committed to avoiding any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls. By accepting Lords amendment 25, the House has reiterated that position.
I am grateful for that reply, but does the Minister’s reassurance fly in the face of some of the facts on the ground? The Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland has stalled the sale of three police stations on the border and submitted a business case for up to 300 officers. Have the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues discussed that proposal and will they be supporting it?
The UK Government could not have been clearer about our commitment to ensuring no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Although the funding settlement for the PSNI is a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Administration, which we all want to be restored as soon as possible, the UK Government do not intend to allocate any resources for policing a hard border after our exit from the EU, or for the furtherance of any steps that would contradict or undermine the clear commitments we have made.
Were we to leave without an agreement, we would not put a border there, so if anyone wants one, they would have to put it there, wouldn’t they?
My right hon. Friend raises an interesting point, but it is our intention to leave with an agreement. We have been clear that our first priority is to secure the absence of a hard border through the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
Our Government, the Dublin Government and Brussels have all said that they do not want a hard border. Does the Minister have an understanding from the EU that a hard border, whoever might want it, would be totally impossible to police because of the hundreds of crossing points that everyone in Northern Ireland would use, even if someone tried to implement a hard border on the ground?
The hon. Gentleman speaks with considerable experience and knowledge of the issue. He is absolutely right. That is why, from what I have seen and conversations I have had, London, Dublin, Belfast and Brussels have all been clear about the need to avoid the creation of a hard border.
When we talk about the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, are we putting the cart before the horse? Surely we need to focus on UK-EU customs arrangements so that we know exactly where we are. We buy 850,000 German cars every year, and £3 billion of flowers and bulbs from the Dutch. Irrespective of what Wetherspoons did yesterday, we still drink more Champagne than the French and will continue to do so.
My hon. Friend is right about the advantages of ensuring frictionless trade between the UK and the EU, and that is the Government’s policy.
Would not this Parliament, and the entire island of Ireland, be reassured by what the Minister is saying about a border if the Government had allowed more time for Members of the House to discuss these hugely serious issues? What will the Government do about that, and will the Minister discuss with his Cabinet colleagues how we discuss these issues in Parliament, rather than listening to the waffle of the Minister?
I seem to remember spending quite a lot of time discussing that issue in Committee, including being harangued by the hon. Gentleman to ensure that the Bill contained a specific reference to the Belfast agreement. Thanks to the changes we have made, and the acceptance of Lords amendment 25, there is now that specific reference, which I am sure he will welcome.
I remind Members that the Prime Minister said that we are leaving the EU and it is our responsibility to find a solution to the Northern Ireland border. On Tuesday, the Government accepted the Patten amendment and rightly committed us to no controls, no checks and no infrastructure on the border in Northern Ireland. How on earth can the Government ensure that that will happen without the UK, Northern Ireland, Ireland and the EU being in, as a minimum, a customs union?
As the hon. Lady knows, we are committed to ensuring customs arrangements that allow for no physical infrastructure at the border. As she also knows, we have put forward our own proposal for a backstop in the EU negotiations, which is an important element of that. We want to secure this for the future relationship between the UK and the EU.