Skip to main content

EU Withdrawal Agreement: Backstop Protocol

Volume 655: debated on Wednesday 6 March 2019

7. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on the backstop protocol in the EU Withdrawal Agreement. (909564)

My right hon. Friend asks what discussions the Secretary of State has had with Cabinet colleagues about the Irish backstop. The short answer is, a lot. The country and this Parliament seem to have been discussing little else for weeks, and it is the same with knobs on for the Cabinet.

Surely, never has something so important, namely Brexit, been put at risk in preventing something that will never happen, namely a hard border in Northern Ireland. Why will the EU, the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom Government simply not attach an instrument to the withdrawal agreement, making it clear that we will never impose a hard border in Northern Ireland? That can be achieved in time and with good will, first with customs arrangements, then with a free trade deal backed by technology. It is so simple—let us do it.

My right hon. Friend raises a creative potential legal solution, which he discussed in an Adjournment debate two weeks ago. The whole House will know that the Attorney General is currently involved in detailed negotiations on how to modify the backstop in line with Parliament’s wishes. Ultimately, it must be for him to judge whether my right hon. Friend’s proposal gets him closer to a legally effective solution that will allow him to change his advice. I will make sure that the Attorney General is aware of the proposal so that he can incorporate it if it is worth while.

From the Minister’s discussions with ministerial colleagues, can he indicate whether they are indicating to him that, at this very late stage in our discussions with the European Union, a sliver of light is beginning to emerge that the EU understands the need for a fundamental change to the backstop?

I suspect that is well above my pay grade. I am sure we would all want to hear what the Attorney General and the Prime Minister have to say when it comes to the meaningful vote next Tuesday.