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UK Internal Market Bill: Effect on the Union

Volume 681: debated on Wednesday 30 September 2020

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential effect of the UK Internal Market Bill on Northern Ireland's place in the Union. (906625)

The UK’s internal market has functioned seamlessly for centuries. As the transition period ends, we will ensure that the most successful Union of nations in the world continues to thrive, and we will do this while maintaining the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the gains of the peace process. The Secretary of State and I regularly meet Cabinet and ministerial colleagues across Government on this point, including through the Cabinet Committee on Union policy implementation, which is driving forward the Government’s Union strategy.

To continue a theme, Wrexham has one of the largest trading estates in the UK, and trading with Northern Ireland via Holyhead port is vital for Wrexham’s future growth. Will the Minister give us reassurances that from January, seamless trade around the UK will continue as it is essential to our Union’s growth and prosperity?

Yes, I can. That is why the Government are very pleased that the Bill has completed its passage through the House this week. The provisions in the Bill ensure that there will be no new checks, controls or administrative processes on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and provide a power for Ministers to disapply or modify the requirement for export declarations or other export procedures on such movements.

It is very welcome to hear that a slimmed-down Finance Bill is coming later in the year, but not a single clause in the internal market Bill changes the fact that new requirements on trade between Britain and Northern Ireland will be coming into force in 13 weeks’ time. Why is a coalition of business groups still waiting for answers on 60 of the 67 basic questions that it put to the Secretary of State in June on how the protocol will work? Why is there still no border operating model? Why has the necessary infrastructure been described by the permanent secretary for environment and agriculture as undeliverable? Is it not time for both the EU and the UK to act in Northern Ireland’s interests and deliver the certainty that businesses are crying out for?

The hon. Lady rightly calls for certainty, but in making the criticism that she does, she appears to be criticising the protocol that her Front Benchers have been arguing that we cannot interfere with. It is essential that we deliver on the protocol and deliver certainty for businesses, and the steps that we have taken in the UK Internal Market Bill help us to do so. I am not going to take lectures on upholding the integrity of our Union from a party that refuses to rule out backing a divisive second independence referendum in Scotland.

Those are absolutely ridiculous comments from the Minister. We have been supporting the protocol and the implementation of it, and it is the divisive, law-breaking UK Internal Market Bill that has undermined the implementation of the protocol. While criticism from five former Prime Ministers, the leaders of three Northern Ireland parties, the Speaker of the US Congress and the resignation of the Government’s most senior law officer may not have concerned the Government, I wonder whether the comments of the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland have. Sir Declan Morgan said that the threat to break the law may have undermined public confidence in the legal system. I wonder whether the Minister now regrets the comments made by the Secretary of State and the actions of Governments over the past fortnight.

We have been repeatedly clear through the passage of the Bill that we are respecting and delivering on the protocol. We remain absolutely committed to the peace process, the Good Friday agreement and to acting within the UK’s constitutional set-up, and that is what we will continue to do.