I have regular discussions with the Prime Minister and others about all aspects of our exit from the European Union.
Last October, the Secretary of State gave a guarantee that her Government would not renege on the backstop, saying:
“We are committed to everything we have agreed to in the joint report and we will ensure there is no border on the island of Ireland.”
Can she explain why there has now been a U-turn and the Government’s policy has changed to ditching the backstop?
The commitments made in the joint report remain. Those commitments were that we would find a solution to the Irish border, ideally through our future relationship. We are still committed to that being the case. Last night, the House showed that there is a majority to pass the withdrawal agreement if changes are made to the backstop. The Prime Minister is working on that basis.
The deputy head of the Irish Government, Simon Coveney, has stated that
“the backstop is already a compromise…And the European Parliament will not ratify a withdrawal agreement that doesn’t have a backstop in it.”
Again, that was confirmed last night by the EU. Does the Secretary of State agree that her Government are pursuing a dead-end policy by seeking to renegotiate the backstop?
In order to protect the Good Friday agreement, the backstop protocol was designed as an insurance policy to prevent a hard border in all circumstances. The only major party in these islands that opposed the Good Friday agreement was the Democratic Unionist party. Did the Secretary of State consult with any other party in Northern Ireland before throwing her support behind the new Government policy of ditching the backstop?
As the Prime Minister develops the alternative arrangements, will the Secretary of State remember that we have an incredibly close working relationship with the Irish Government to deliver the common travel area? It seems to me that that perhaps provides a model for how we might deliver no hard border in the future.
Clearly it would not be appropriate to speculate on what discussions the Prime Minister will have with the European Union and the European Commission, but my right hon. Friend makes a very important point about the common travel area, to which, as I have said previously, we are absolutely committed.
Last night, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) made one of the most reckless and irresponsible speeches I have heard since coming to this place. The comments about the Good Friday agreement do not—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Gentleman is supposed to be asking a brief question, and the Secretary of State has no responsibility for the pronouncements of the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). Single sentence, question mark, and sit down.
I can absolutely do that. This Government are committed to ensuring that we deliver on leaving the European Union in a way that works for all people who live in the United Kingdom, wherever that may be, fully respecting the commitments that we have under the Belfast-Good Friday agreement.
We do not have much time to find new technological solutions. In October, from the Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister said that
“technical solutions effectively involve moving the border—and it would still be a border. Some involve equipment, which could come under attack, and some involve a degree of state surveillance that, frankly, I think would not be acceptable in Northern Ireland.”—[Official Report, 15 October 2018; Vol. 647, c. 421.]
Does the Secretary of State agree with the Prime Minister?
If the hon. Lady had listened to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, in his answer to the first question, it was clear that we have said as a Government that no technological solutions, off the shelf, exist today that solve this problem, but we are committed to working to find alternative arrangements because we have all agreed that the backstop, should it ever come into force, is a temporary measure. No one wants to be in it, and we want to find ways of avoiding it.