With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House, and indeed the people of Northern Ireland, on the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol as part of the withdrawal agreement with the European Union. Throughout 2020, we have worked intensively to ensure that the withdrawal agreement, in particular the Northern Ireland protocol, will be fully operational on 1 January 2021. Our aims, and the proportionate and pragmatic way that we intended to pursue them, were set out in the Command Paper that we published in May, “The UK’s Approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol”. This set out three key commitments that we believed needed to be respected in all scenarios.
We had to ensure that Northern Ireland businesses retained unfettered access to the rest of the UK market. Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s customs territory had to be protected, and that meant that goods that stayed in the UK were not subject to tariffs. We had to ensure that the important Great Britain-Northern Ireland trade flows, on which lives and livelihoods depend, were not disrupted; we needed to ensure a smooth flow of trade with no need for new physical customs infrastructure.
I am pleased to say that on Monday, the European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and I, as co-chairs of the Joint Committee set up to negotiate the implementation of the protocol, came to an agreement in principle on a deal that meets all those commitments and puts the people of Northern Ireland first. I would like to begin by paying tribute to Maroš Šefčovič and his team for their pragmatism, collaborative spirit and determination to get a deal done that would work for both sides. I would also like to thank the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and all the Members of the Northern Ireland Executive for their crucial intervention at significant moments to ensure that the rights of the people of Northern Ireland were protected.
I turn now to the first Government commitment. This deal protects unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to their most important market. As the Prime Minister underlined, this had to be protected in full, and that meant removing any prospect of export declarations for Northern Ireland goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. That is what our agreement will do. There will be no additional requirements placed on Northern Ireland businesses for these movements, with the very limited and specific exceptions of trade in endangered species and conflict diamonds.
On the second commitment, the deal safeguards Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s customs territory. As recently as July, the Commission had envisaged a default tariff scenario in which
“all goods brought into Northern Ireland”
“considered to be at risk…and are as such subject to the Common Customs Tariff.”
If that had been implemented, that would have raised the prospect of a 58% tariff on a pint of milk going from Scotland to a supermarket in Strabane or a 96% tariff on a bag of sugar going from Liverpool to the shops of Belfast. As we have repeatedly made clear, this could never have been an acceptable outcome.
Instead, I am pleased to say that under the agreement that we have reached, Northern Ireland businesses selling to consumers or using goods in Northern Ireland will be free of all tariffs, whether that is Nissan cars from Sunderland or lamb from Montgomeryshire. Internal UK trade will be protected as we promised, whether we have a free trade agreement with the EU or not.
Thirdly, this deal would keep goods flowing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in January and provide some necessary additional flexibilities. It protects Northern Ireland’s supermarket supplies. We heard throughout the year that traders needed time to adapt their systems. That is why we have a grace period for supermarkets to update their procedures. Our agreement prevents any disruption at the end of the transition period to the movement of chilled meats. British sausages will continue to make their way to Belfast and Ballymena in the new year, and we have time for reciprocal agreements between the UK and the EU on agrifood, which can be discussed in the months ahead. This deal also protects the flow of medicines and vet medicines into Northern Ireland. That means we will grant industry a period of up to 12 months to adapt to new rules under the protocol, which will avoid any disruption to critical medical supplies.
So those are three commitments entered into, and three commitments that we have upheld. But this agreement goes further still, providing additional flexibility that will enable us to make the most of the opportunities that face us as the transition period ends. As you know, Mr Speaker, this House has been concerned about the risk of so-called reach-back from the state aid provisions that the protocol applies. The concern that many colleagues had was that a company in Great Britain with only a peripheral link to commercial operations in Northern Ireland could be caught inadvertently by the tests within the protocol’s text. That would not have been acceptable, nor was it what the protocol had envisaged. That is why I am pleased that the agreement we have addresses that risk. It means that firms in Great Britain stay outside state aid rules where there is no genuine and direct link to Northern Ireland and no real foreseeable impact on Northern Ireland-EU trade. That is an important step forward in dealing with an issue raised by a number of Members across the House.
This deal also ensures that Northern Ireland will be out of the common agricultural policy, which means that the Northern Ireland Executive have full freedom to set their own agricultural subsidies for Northern Ireland’s farmers. It also means appropriate and flexible arrangements, so that more than £400 million of spending each year is totally exempt from state aid rules. As well as that, the deal ensures that support for fishermen in Northern Ireland will be exempt from EU state aid rules, which means more than £15 million of flexibility for Northern Ireland’s fishermen over the next five years. And, of course, Northern Ireland’s services industries are totally outside the scope of the protocol and its state aid measures.
The agreement also respects the protocol provisions, which were endorsed by Parliament, that allow some EU officials to be present at Northern Ireland ports as UK authorities carry out our own procedures. Let me be clear: there will be no Belfast mini embassy or mission, as some in the EU originally sought, and the EU officials will not have any powers to carry out checks themselves. There will instead be sensible, practical arrangements, with co-operation and reciprocal data sharing, so that both sides can have confidence in these unique arrangements. We also want to leave no doubt about our ongoing commitment to peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Northern Ireland Secretary will set out in the coming days further measures of financial support to help businesses and communities to prosper and thrive from the end of the year and beyond.
We have been able to deliver a package which now means that the protocol can be implemented in a pragmatic and proportionate way. It takes account of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in all its dimensions, and it protects the interests of both the EU single market and, more importantly, the territorial and constitutional integrity of the whole United Kingdom. This agreement will be approved officially at a Joint Committee meeting in the coming days. Of course, the agreement we have reached also enables the Government to withdraw clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill and avoids the need for any additional provisions in the Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill. Having put beyond doubt the primacy of the sovereignty of this place as we leave the EU, we rest safe in the knowledge that such provisions are no longer required.
We know that we now need to get on and give further clarity to business as to the specifics of what this deal means for them and how it will work in practice, and we will do that through the publication of further guidance. That will sit alongside the ongoing intensive work that we will take forward to implement the protocol. Above all, we will always work with the interests of the people and businesses of Northern Ireland in mind, as this agreement and the important flexibilities it will provide reflects. We must all remember that, if the protocol is to work, it must work for the whole community in Northern Ireland. Whether it is to be maintained in the future, as the protocol itself sets out, is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide through the democratic consent mechanism that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister negotiated. On that critical note of the primacy of democracy, I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of the statement. We welcome it and are pleased that a decision has been reached on the Northern Ireland protocol. The Good Friday agreement is a source of immense pride on this side of the House, given the role that Tony Blair’s Labour Government played in building on the work of Sir John Major in achieving it. Neither of those Governments would play games with the peace process, and nor would a Government led by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). Game playing, with threats to break international law, has consequences, and it is also a dangerous distraction.
Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs says that the border infrastructure simply will not be ready in time. Manufacturing NI says that just 9% of businesses in Northern Ireland are ready for the end of the transition period. The systems needed to make trade flow, such as the trader support service, reportedly will not even be going live until 21 December—eight working days before the end of the transition period. This really does give new meaning to “the night before Christmas”.
Last December, the Prime Minister said:
“We’re a UK government, why would we put checks on goods going from NI to GB or GB to NI? It doesn't make sense.”
With that in mind, will the Minister explain why today’s documents confirm that on trade from GB to NI there will indeed be a range of checks? The trusted trader scheme will be removed after three and a half years and reviewed then, with further uncertainty at that point.
The exemption on agrifood checks is available for only three months, so will the Minister tell us what guarantees there are on prices and availability of fresh food supplies in Northern Ireland after 1 April? Will custom checks be required just three months into 2021? All that raises the question: did the Prime Minister actually know what he had signed up to last year, and then give false assurances to the House, or did he simply not care? This is a disgraceful way to treat businesses in good times, never mind in the middle of a pandemic.
On the trade deal needed for Northern Ireland, and for Great Britain too, we are told that the level playing field remains an outstanding area of disagreement, yet the Prime Minister’s political declaration, which he signed with the EU, spoke of a future relationship with
“open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field.”
Some Conservative MPs are agitated by the idea of a floor on workers’ rights. Indeed, no fewer than three Cabinet Ministers jointly wrote a book that said that British workers are
“among the worst idlers in the world.”
We on this side of the House do not agree with that statement. Neither do the people of our country, who want more security at work, not less. There are some siren voices among those on the Government Benches, who appear to view any agreement with the EU as a betrayal. The Minister should know that the true betrayal would be job losses, border chaos and price rises in our shops.
The Minister referred to cars from Nissan and lamb exports from Wales, and that they will be tariff-free in Northern Ireland, but as he knows, they need to be tariff-free with the EU too. We on this side of the House want the negotiations to succeed. We want the Government to keep their promises and come back with the oven-ready deal that we were promised at the general election less than a year ago. Sometimes it feels as though we on this side of the House want the Government to succeed and bring back this deal more than those on the Government’s own Back Benches do.
Deal or no deal, there are preparations that still need to be made for Northern Ireland, and for Great Britain too. I want to ask again about customs agents, because just minutes ago, the Prime Minister did not seem to have any answers on how many there are. Earlier in the year, the Minister agreed with industry estimates of 50,000 customs agents needed. Since then, he has told the BBC that the number had increased fourfold, but he omitted to tell us what the figure was. Let us give him another chance: how many customs agents are in place and are we ready for the end of the transition period?
It is not just me asking these questions. Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, says:
“The big issue that we face is that there are insufficient customs agents”
and that without them and the correct paperwork,
“we are likely to see vehicles being turned around… That is going to create significant chaos and significant queues.”
On lorry parks, will the Minister tell us how many inland border facilities are ready and will they ensure the free flow of lorries and vehicles from 1 January? Can he guarantee the House that there will be no disruption to medical or food supplies from 1 January?
Ours is a great country, and Labour wants to see a good life for all our people, but, as great as our country is, it cannot afford to be afflicted by Government incompetence. Every price rise, every traffic jam, every lost contract and every redundancy caused by this Government’s mistakes and poor planning holds our great country back. Next year must be a year of rebuilding and recovering from covid-19, not dealing with the fallout of reckless decision making, tariffs or incompetence. So this is decision time for this Government, and it is time to get the deal.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for the warm welcome that she gave to this agreement, and I also thank her for the kind words she offered Sir John Major: the process of concluding the Good Friday agreement, as she quite rightly reminds us, was a signal achievement of Tony Blair’s Government but was also achieved as a result of hard work across this House. And of course there has been since the Good Friday agreement was concluded 22 years of progress in Northern Ireland, and it is important that we seek to underpin and secure that.
The hon. Lady asked about border infrastructure. Let me emphasise that this border infrastructure is there to ensure that sanitary and phytosanitary checks can be made. As she and the House know, it is already the case that the island of Ireland is a single epidemiological zone, and therefore when live animals move from Great Britain to Northern Ireland there are physical checks. There will be border facilities in order to ensure that these limited and proportionate SPS checks can be carried out at the port of Foyle, Warrenpoint, Belfast and Larne, and we have reassured the Commission, and indeed others, about the speed and effectiveness with which the necessary limited infrastructure will be in place.
The hon. Lady also asked about the trader support service, which is there to help Northern Ireland businesses. I am pleased that we spend over £200 million in order to support Northern Ireland businesses, and I think it is the case that more than 10,000 businesses are now signed up to the trader support service in order to ensure that they will incur no costs as a result of the protocol.
The hon. Lady also asked about the future of the trusted trader scheme, which, as she rightly pointed out, guarantees that goods being sold in Northern Ireland and businesses operating in Northern Ireland will face no tariffs. It is the case that we will have an opportunity to review how that scheme operates, but it will only need to be reviewed if there is a demonstrable diversion or illegal activity, and in those circumstances there is an obligation on both parties to seek alternative arrangements. I should stress again that no additional customs checks will face goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
The hon. Lady asked about customs agent capacity overall. It is the case that £84 million has been made available in order to increase capacity, and the latest survey by HMRC shows that there has been a fourfold increase in capacity. Of course, one of the reasons why we are phasing in import controls over six months next year is to ensure that the sector can increase even further, but that fourfold increase in capacity gives us the confidence we need that all the staff will be there.
The hon. Lady mentioned Richard Burnett of the Road Haulage Association. He, along with Dave Wells of Logistics UK and other figures in the haulage and logistics industry, has played an invaluable role in making sure that the Government do everything necessary to prepare, but I would never shirk from saying that more needs to be done.
The hon. Lady asked about the level playing field and workers’ rights. We have a proud tradition of upholding workers’ rights and ensuring that we have social and environmental protections in this country that are higher than in many other European countries. That will not change—that is a source of pride—but one thing we cannot accept in the course of the level playing field negotiations is the demand from some in the EU that if the EU adopts new laws, we would automatically have to follow those laws or face penalties. We are not afraid to say that our standards are high and we will uphold them, but we are also not afraid to say that the people of this country voted to take back control, and that is what this Government will do.
The implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol has become my right hon. Friend’s equivalent of the Schleswig-Holstein question, given the variety of interpretations that surround it, but fundamentally does what my right hon. Friend agreed yesterday make it more or less likely that a free trade agreement with the European Union that, crucially, ensures United Kingdom sovereignty in its entirety can be secured?
I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs for his question. I think it was Palmerston who said that there were only three people who knew the answer to the Schleswig-Holstein question: one was dead, another was mad, and he himself had forgotten what the answer was. But on the Northern Ireland protocol, there are all sorts of hon. and right hon. Members in this House who have played a part in making sure that we can indeed secure Northern Ireland’s constitutional future within the UK and ensure that we leave the European Union as one country, whole and entire.
I thank the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for his statement. It is one of these statements that I suppose is good news until we actually see the scale of the Brexit horrors that are now just in front of us. We are now at the stage of this chaotic Brexit where we have a sort of Schrödinger’s deal—one that is sort of there but also not.
I do not know whether the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has come to the House today looking for some sort of “congratulations and well done” for all this. I suppose it is “well done” for taking us all to the very brink with the very worst of negotiation statecraft on what was supposed to be the easiest deal in the world, “well done” for the emerging chaos at our ports and businesses taking flight, or maybe even “well done” for in a few weeks denying our young people the right to live, work and love freely across a continent. Tonight, we are going to have the last supper—but we know it is the British people who will be crucified.
Yes, what Northern Ireland has got is great for it. “Best of both worlds” is a phrase that we in Scotland are pretty much familiar with; it is what we were promised in 2014. Now, in 2020, we are faced with the worst of all worlds. We would give our right arm for access to the EU single market and unfettered access across the rest of the UK market, so can the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster explain to the Scottish people exactly why Scotland is the only part of the United Kingdom that will not get any part of what it voted for on Brexit?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman once again for his questions; they are masterpieces of metaphorical concatenation. He managed to bring in both Schrödinger’s cat and the Easter and Passiontide narrative before he eventually got to his question. It was a masterpiece, as I say, of lyrical concision, which we would expect from Runrig’s principal star.
On the basic question, it is the case—the hon. Gentleman recognises, as I recognise—that Northern Ireland has a unique position within the United Kingdom as a result of having a land border with the European Union, which no other part of the United Kingdom does, and that requires specific arrangements. But whatever those specific arrangements, it is the case that Northern Ireland, by the will of its people, remains part of the United Kingdom. Long may it remain so.
I very much agree with what the Prime Minister said today at Prime Minister’s questions. Does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster also agree? And is there anything in his statement that would be allowed to undermine the unfettered sovereignty of the United Kingdom as asserted by successive democratic votes and the referendum, and successive Acts of Parliament, including sections 30 and 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020?
Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster also confirm today that he will appear before the European Scrutiny Committee? As he knows, he has declined to do so on at least three occasions, most recently on 26 November. We put this to him in writing but so far he has not been able to come. Will he please commit right now, today, to coming before the Committee as soon as possible?
On the first point, my hon. Friend is absolutely right: section 38 of the Act that gave effect to the withdrawal agreement upheld the sovereignty of this place, and there is nothing in what we have concluded that in any way diverges from that. On the second question, I am very sorry that I have played hard to get, but I will make sure that we can have a date before Christmas when the two of us can meet in suitably covid-compliant surroundings.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s statement, because it shows what can be achieved with political commitment, and I do hope that we will see more of that later today. However, he seems to have brought back not a permanent arrangement but a series of grace periods, and I want to ask him about that.
For example, it has been reported that food products coming from GB into Northern Ireland will be exempt from export health certificates for a period of at least three months, and that chilled meats—the right hon. Gentleman referred to sausages—will be allowed for a period of time, pending a review, after which they might be prevented any more from moving from GB to Northern Ireland. What is going to happen after those dates? How exactly are businesses going to be able to prepare when they have not yet seen the detailed arrangements, because the Joint Committee is not going to meet for a couple of days, and when those details may well change yet again in a few months’ time?
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his questions—and indeed for the work of his Future Relationship with the European Union Committee, which has helped us as we have sought to resolve these issues—and his welcome is very welcome. On the detailed points he makes, we have been talking to traders, supermarkets in particular, to make sure that they are ready for any export health certificate requirements. We know that some supermarkets are already ready. One or two others need time in order to get ready, and they requested a grace period. Originally, those in the Commission argued that that would be impossible or, if it did exist, that it could only be a matter of weeks. We have managed to secure three months, which is sufficient time, we understand, to ensure that supermarkets are ready. On the chilled meat provision, it is the case that we have secured a six-month period during which there will be absolutely no change. Again, it was the case that there were some in the EU who argued that that should be a strictly non-renewable provision. We secured an approach that meant we could keep under review how things were operating in order to ensure that we provided people in Northern Ireland with access to the food they currently enjoy, without any disruption to the integrated supply chains that supermarkets have and which they will adjust.
Many of the life science and other businesses of South Cambridgeshire export to Northern Ireland. Can my right hon. Friend reassure them that they will not face any new bureaucratic obstacles or tariffs as they sell their goods and services there?
My hon. Friend is a brilliant advocate for the life science sector, and I know that it provides jobs and investment in Cambridgeshire and beyond. It is also the case that there is a thriving life science and pharmaceuticals sector in Northern Ireland, and it will be the case that there are no impediments to the continued successful integration of that work.
The right hon. Gentleman and I have known each other for many years, and while we might have differed on Brexit, there is another issue—and it is Scotland—on which we are very much in agreement. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us today that every effort will be made to ensure that this agreement, good as it is for Northern Ireland, is not used to undermine Scotland’s position within the Union, and does he consider that my constituents in Edinburgh West and elsewhere might benefit from the same sort of phasing-in agreement as has been agreed for Northern Ireland?
I have known the hon. Lady, as she says, for a few years—she is a brilliant MP and she is absolutely right. The shadow Minister said that people should not play politics with the Good Friday agreement, and I do not think they should. I think it is important to recognise that Northern Ireland is in a unique position within the UK, and I think the majority of people in Scotland and across the UK recognise that, but it is also important—the hon. Lady is absolutely right—that in our arrangements with the EU, we take specific account of the needs that Scotland has. On everything from the provision of seasonal agricultural workers to making sure that we can expedite fish and shellfish from the north-east to the EU, and indeed the principled position that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is taking on whisky exports, it is absolutely important that we recognise that Scotland has distinct needs and that working with the Scottish Government and Scottish MPs, like herself, we can advance Scotland’s interests.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There were some in the EU who wanted to mount a sort of land grab, as it were, and to have a part of Northern Ireland that was forever Brussels. But what we have agreed is a pragmatic approach, which means that the EU, quite rightly, can have people in Northern Ireland so that it can be assured that the UK officials who are carrying out our own sovereign procedures are doing so in a way in which everyone can have confidence. I want again to place on record my thanks to Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič for making sure that it was pragmatic arrangements, rather than symbolism, that won through.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman is as passionate as I am about the Union. Article 6 of the Act of Union states very clearly there should be no barrier to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as is now. Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol also makes it clear that if
“this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist…the United Kingdom”
“may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures.”
Safeguarding the Union is not a three-month, six-month or three-year project; it is an enduring commitment. Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster now give a commitment that, if necessary, the Government will introduce safeguard measures to ensure unfettered access in both directions for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point in drawing attention to a very important provision within the Northern Ireland protocol. The Government came under criticism from some for having provisions in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill that upheld the sovereignty of this place in order to uphold the constitutional and territorial integrity of the UK. We no longer need to use those provisions, because of the agreement we have reached, but he is absolutely right. Of course, that provision remains, but I hope it will be the case that through patient and pragmatic discussion we can resolve any future issues in the way that we have resolved existing issues.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on reaching his agreement in principle, which shows that Britain is willing to make constructive compromises. As it now stands, is there any part of the withdrawal agreement that requires direct application of EU law to any part of the UK?
Yes, it is the case that as a result of some of the provisions in the Northern Ireland protocol, there will be a requirement on some businesses in Northern Ireland specifically to follow the acquis. That is one of the ways in which we can ensure that there is no need for border infrastructure between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
We welcome yesterday’s agreement. We want for Northern Ireland just what we want for Wales: unfettered access to our most important markets with the rest of the UK and with the EU. However, the fundamentals of trade, particularly between Wales and Northern Ireland and indeed the Republic of Ireland, remain uncertain. Hauliers fear serious disruption on the Holyhead to Dublin route, with the Welsh Government’s plans, agreed on Monday, for contraflows and parking lots being too little, too late. What steps has the right hon. Gentleman taken to lessen this potential disruption?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I know that because of the geographical proximity of his constituency to Ynys Môn—to the island of Anglesey—he has a particular concern. However, we have been working well with the Welsh Government—I particularly thank their Counsel General, Jeremy Miles—to make sure that we will have infrastructure in Holyhead that can ensure that the second busiest roll-on roll-off port in the UK continues to prosper.
May I just point out to my right hon. Friend that whatever he agreed in the Joint Committee yesterday remains subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice under the disputes procedure? Moreover, whatever he agreed yesterday was agreed only because we had the clauses in the UKIM Bill that were threatening to block the ECJ’s jurisdiction. Does he agree that it is very important that we maintain the position that this House can at any time put blocks in front of the ECJ while this withdrawal agreement remains in force?
My hon. Friend is right: this House is sovereign. This is as a result of bringing forward the UKIM Bill. I understand some of the unease and controversy that it generated, but he is absolutely right that following on from that we were able to make progress. We are now no longer in a position where we need to bring forward those clauses, but of course it is the sovereign right of this Parliament to legislate as it thinks fit.
We welcome details that businesses have sought anxiously all year, and of course we keenly anticipate a wider trade deal that might finally allow us to continue to enjoy the conditions that we currently enjoy. How does he propose to ensure continuity of supply for squeezed Northern Ireland households so that they can have choice and affordability after mitigations on export health certificates expire in six months?
We have been working with supermarkets and other traders to ensure that their supply lines and the provision of all the goods that consumers in Northern Ireland currently enjoy, which I hope in future will be enhanced, can remain. The Trader Support Service is there, alongside other support that we are giving to businesses in Northern Ireland and indeed across the UK, to make sure that a fully integrated part of the UK internal market enjoys the same access to the same goods as the rest of us.
Can my right hon. Friend assure me and all my constituents that, should we strike a trade agreement with the EU, we will not compromise in any way on our fishing waters, our borders and our laws, and, most importantly, that any governance arrangements that may flow from any trade agreement are completely consistent with those of a fully sovereign country?
I wish we were in a different place, where we did not need the protocol, but I recognise the progress that has been made through the provisional agreement. Does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster recognise that there is a range of unfinished business in relation to protecting the Northern Ireland economy, including on issues such as: transit from Great Britain via the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland; access to EU free trade agreements, particularly for our agrifood and dairy sectors; data adequacy and the protection of the service sector on an all-Ireland basis?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those points. He is right that there is important work still to be done. As I think he noted, it is the case that the services sector in Northern Ireland is totally exempt from any state aid provisions. However, it is also the case that Northern Ireland has benefited from commercial links with the Irish Republic, as well as its strong position within the UK internal market. More work is required to strengthen Northern Ireland’s formidable competitive position.
The good people of my Workington constituency stand squarely behind my right hon. Friend and Lord Frost in the negotiations. Will he confirm that, with the agreement on the protocol in place, the UK will leave the transition period at the end of this month regardless of whether we reach an agreement with the EU?
The Secretary of State will be—I hope—aware that many of us will feel very sad that his career will end in failure if we do not get an agreement with the European Union today or very soon. The Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, of which I am a member, recently listened to leaders from the Northern Ireland business, manufacturing and farming communities saying that they do not think that everything is fully operational. They do not think anything is oven-ready. They think that if anything were in the oven, it would be pretty thin pickings. Will he please, please, at this late stage, make every effort to make sure we get a deal, rather than leave without a deal?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his words. We will do everything we possibly can to get a deal, but it cannot be a deal at any price. As for his point about my career ending in failure, my career has, I am afraid, been marked by failure consistently in so many ways. Often in politics I am reminded of the words of Winston Churchill, who said that success means going from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm. That is what I hope to do.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and careers advice. I warmly welcome the news of this significant progress, but can he reassure the House that while the Government have said they will withdraw clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, the rest of the Bill will remain in place, so we can ensure that goods can move seamlessly across the UK, benefiting businesses and consumers across all four nations?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is a critical piece of legislation which safeguards the rights of producers and consumers across the UK. The clauses she mentions excited controversy, but I think they were necessary. In any case, that controversy can now pass because they are being withdrawn. I hope the Bill will pass as well.
The Government’s “Get Ready for Brexit” campaign looks lovely, but it does not answer the question: get ready for what? Deal? No deal? What deal? Businesses have a pandemic to deal with. Will the right hon. Gentleman admit that the combination of Brexit shambles with the absence of proper support for small businesses facing covid-19 measures, and the total exclusion from support of so many businesses, means that the Government are totally letting down small businesses in the north-east and across the country?
It will probably not surprise the hon. Lady to learn that I do not agree with her. When it comes to Brexit transition, we know that because we are leaving the single market and the customs union, and whether or not we secure a free trade agreement, much of what most businesses need to do is broadly the same, and of course the Government stand ready to help businesses to adjust.
The fate and the future of businesses in the north-east are very dear to me, having lived and worked in Newcastle in the past. It is striking how many of those who work for businesses in the north-east voted Conservative just 12 months ago, which is why Conservative MPs in Blyth Valley, in Bishop Auckland, in Redcar and across the north-east are standing up—[Interruption.] I will mention more constituencies that the Conservatives won if the hon. Lady likes: North West Durham, with Consett, is now a Conservative constituency; Sedgefield, with Spennymoor, is now a Conservative constituency—[Interruption.] Anyway, as the hon. Lady and the House know, the north-east is Tory, and that is because we stand up for workers.
I remind Opposition Members that we all want a deal. There is no one on this side who does not want a deal, but it must be a fair deal and one that respects the UK’s integrity. On that point, my right hon. Friend has said on many occasions that we must leave together. In answering questions from my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin), he said—unless I am incorrect—that EU law will apply in Northern Ireland, as will the European Court of Justice. We have gone to all this effort to be free of those structures. Can he say whether I have got it wrong or he has got it wrong—one or the other?
My hon. Friend never gets it wrong, and he is right. It is there in the withdrawal agreement and in the protocol that we accept the acquis in a specific number of areas in Northern Ireland. That is part of the withdrawal agreement, which was signed before the general election, and which many, though not all, Members of this House supported. It was also in the Conservative manifesto. Of course there were understandable concerns that the way in which the protocol applied would mean that we would face tariffs and other restrictions. The agreement that we have concluded means that that will not be the case. The UK will leave and Northern Ireland will be capable of benefiting from trade deals that we do as a result of Brexit; it will also be outside the common agricultural policy and it will benefit from the Australian-style points-based immigration system that applies across the UK.
While the Minister is telling Northern Ireland that it can have the best of both worlds, he is using the same reasoning to tell Scotland, “Shut up and get back in your box,” all the while claiming that any negative impacts are not Brexit-related. Perhaps he has now become the Government’s very own Bart Simpson, causing chaos in presenting their agenda regardless of cost while claiming, “I didn’t do it. Nobody saw me do it. You can’t prove anything.”
The Simpsons character I most remembered was Groundskeeper Willie, because he is an Aberdonian. [Interruption.] I am not sure what his position is on independence, but as jannies go, he is certainly one of the best. To the hon. Gentleman’s point, Scotland does have the best of both worlds. It has a devolved Administration in Holyrood and representation by great MPs such as himself here in Westminster.
I commend my right hon. Friend for the role he has played and very much welcome this agreement. It is good news that the EU has compromised; its previous position on everything from unlimited checks to export declarations could have choked trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Given that this agreement will add an impetus to the wider trade talks, will he commend the Prime Minister for not making last-minute compromises just to get a trade deal over the line? The Prime Minister has the support of the Conservative party, should he decide to walk away and trade on Australia and Canada terms. After all, a trade deal is for keeps, not just for Christmas.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The point he makes, and the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) made earlier, reinforce the fact that the Conservative party is united behind the Prime Minister. It is willing him to get a deal, but it is also ready to accept that if we cannot get the deal we want, we will not accept a deal at any price. That has to be the right way forward.
Some 95% of Cumbrian farm exports are to the single market, so our farmers too need unfettered access to that market. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said at the weekend that British farmers would not find tariffs with the EU to be “manageable”. In addition, in three weeks’ time, deal or no deal, English farmers will see the beginning of huge, uncompensated cuts to their income. We risk the loss of hundreds of family farms in the Lakes, the Dales and elsewhere. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a country that cannot feed itself has no sovereignty?
The hon. Gentleman makes several very important points. The first is that we absolutely need to support upland farmers, not just in his beautiful constituency and Cumbria, but across the United Kingdom. It is the case that sustainable livestock farming is the only way in which we can make sure that we have agriculture in the future in upland and grassland areas such as the one that he represents. The second thing is that, yes, there is a prospect of tariffs if we do not secure a free trade agreement, which is why we need to have support systems in place for those. The third point is that the new system of support that we are giving to farmers combines support not just for small farmers, but for the climate change and environmental goals that we both share. It is important that we reform the common agricultural policy in that way, but I look forward to continuing to work with him, because I know that his commitment to rural England and our farmers is resolute.
I welcome the principle that exit summary declarations for goods from Northern Ireland to the rest of UK will not be required, but while it is reasonable for EU authorities to supervise the application of the protocol to Northern Ireland, can my right hon. Friend assure me that all processes in UK sovereign territory will be carried out by UK authorities?
This was the never-ending story, but it seems a bit like it is turning into a never-ending nightmare for businesses, which have been told not of a settled situation, but that the can is going to be kicked down the road for three to six months. Is it not time to be honest with the British people and say, “This will never end. Negotiations will continue forever,” because this Government are just not capable of securing decent deals that are settled wills with the European Union?
I absolutely take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but it is the case that in the future we will be negotiating new free trade deals, as it happens, with other countries outside the European Union that we could not have negotiated inside the EU. These negotiations are led by my brilliant colleague, the President of the Board of Trade. She has secured deals—for example, with Japan—that are even better than that we had in the EU, so negotiating going on is what Trade Secretaries do, and we are lucky to have the best in the world.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, in which he spoke of the importance of providing clarity for business. Will he confirm that clarity will include ensuring that manufacturers from across the UK will continue to be able to trade freely with a market of 500 million consumers who are on our doorstep?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. He has been a consistently strong and coherent voice for manufacturing, not just in his native west midlands, but across the United Kingdom. One of the things that we want to secure is a free trade agreement that ensures that our manufacturing and advanced manufacturing sector can continue to sell into a market on our doorstep.
I, too, welcome this package and what it means for business, peace and our Union. Dare I say that news of tariff-free lamb comes close to being glad tidings for the shepherds on the hillsides above Aberconwy this Christmas time. Lest we get lost in that kind of detail, will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is nothing in this agreement that compromises the integrity of either our sovereignty or the Union?
The Democratic Unionist party opposed the protocol and warned about all the problems that the Minister is now having to address. We welcome the changes that have been made today. Nevertheless, the real test will be how these measures work on the ground, rather than the spin that we get in this House. As far as EU officials are concerned, is it not a fact that although they will not carry out the searches and investigations, they will be able to direct UK officials on the ground, and, under article 5 of the protocol, UK officials will have to carry out their demands? The Irish Government are now spinning that the six-month period is simply to allow supermarkets in Northern Ireland to source their products from the Irish Republic. Does the Minister believe that we have gained back sovereignty if we are allowing EU officials to direct our officials and other Governments to tell us where we can get our food from?
As the right hon. Gentleman quite rightly points out, there were a number of very principled opponents of the whole idea of the protocol itself. He and his colleagues in his party laid out some of their concerns in a very cogent fashion. In the end, the House of Commons decided that the protocol, as part of the withdrawal agreement, was the right way to proceed, but, as he quite rightly points out, it was important that a number of difficult questions were addressed. He is also absolutely right that the proof will be in the implementation on the ground.
Let me turn to the two specific areas that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. It is the case that the limited number of EU officials—I think it is probably no more than two dozen at most—who will come into Northern Ireland will be working alongside UK officials. The UK officials will be in the lead there, but we want to provide the EU with assurance. On the matter of where goods are sourced from, I cannot think of any better place for goods in Northern Ireland supermarkets to be sourced from than Northern Ireland itself. Wonderful though produce in the Republic of Ireland is, I do not think it is the case that there is any better producer—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) asks about bananas. I think he is referring, of course, to SNP policy on trade. But when it comes to pork products, there is nothing better than an Ulster fry.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your kindness—and I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office for his kindness—towards my many children, who have been here on many occasions. My nine-year-old, Atticus, said to me when he got sight of the question that I was going to ask today, “But, dad, the answer to that question is so obvious!” I am going to ask it anyway. Despite our desire for a good trade deal with the European Union, does my right hon. Friend agree that we must never again cede control of our borders or coastal waters to a foreign power?
Well, I knew that my hon. Friend was a great dad, because his son absolutely hits the nail on the head in saying that the answer to that question is obvious. No, we absolutely should not cede that control. Very good question; the answer is clear. Excellent son; brilliant dad.
The vehicle industry has consistently warned that a no-deal Brexit risks the future of UK plants and skilled, unionised jobs. Without a deal, Luton-made Vauxhall vans could face tariffs of 22%. Coupled with covid, cuts to our council and no support for our aviation industry, for Luton no deal would make this a job-killing Government. With just 22 days to go before the end of the transition period, can the Minister guarantee that there will be no tariffs on vans and cars made in this country?
The automobile sector is important not just in Luton, where there are so many skilled people producing fantastic products, but across the UK. Of course, if we secure a free trade agreement, it will be a zero-tariffs, zero-quota agreement. If we do not secure that agreement, there will be tariffs, but there will also be tariffs on automobiles coming into the UK, and that will have an impact on industry in the EU.
I see that I have some agreement from the right hon. Gentleman, who is quite far down the list. I must therefore insist on having questions—just short questions—and not great big statements. We all know what has already happened. Let us just have questions for the Minister, so that we can then just have answers from the Minister.
I welcome the agreement and thank my right hon. Friend and his civil service team for getting us to this stage, but may I urge him to spend some time with the Protestant Unionist loyalist community, who have retained concerns about the detail? I suggest that Mikala’s Kitchen on the Shankill Road is the best place for that engagement. Could he also now spend some time with the nationalist community, unaligned voters and passionate supporters of the European Union in Northern Ireland to demonstrate to them that the practical approach that he and the EU have taken on the protocol can now be replicated on issues such as climate change, health, jobs and the future of all people across the island of Ireland?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: there is more work to do. I always enjoy any opportunity to be in Northern Ireland with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) was an outstanding Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and he makes a series of very important points that I take completely to heart.
Honda has just announced that it has had to pause production because of problems with getting components through ports. Does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster suggest that failing to get those parts is entirely down to Honda, or do the Government share some of the blame?
I welcome the withdrawal of clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, but has the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster any plans to carry out an assessment of the impact of the threats to breach a recently signed treaty on the United Kingdom’s international standing and its ability to enter future agreements, given that it is now known across the world that the United Kingdom is prepared to break its word to get its way?
My right hon. Friend has played a blinder, but given that the EU withdrawal means that British Government procurement will no longer be subject to Official Journal of the European Union rules, what concrete steps will he take to ensure that Northern Ireland companies and businesses across Great Britain that wish to procure contracts with Government can do so only if they employ a significant number of apprentices?
The Chairman of the Select Committee on Education makes a very important point. My noble Friend Lord Agnew will shortly bring forward a paper on procurement reform, which will show exactly how we can achieve the ambition for apprenticeships that my right hon. Friend has so consistently and brilliantly put forward.
May I follow on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) about the situation with Honda? Given that chaos at ports is already occurring before the end of the transition period—I understand that that is because people are stockpiling because they are so worried about what will happen next year—can the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster confidently say that the perfect storm of Christmas, Brexit stockpiling, covid restrictions and the new customs regime will not lead to significant disruption come January?
It is a very fair point that a number of things are coming together this Christmas, and it is helpful that the hon. Lady contextualises the fact that the situation with containers is a result of many factors. We are doing everything we can to ensure that trade continues to flow freely, but as she quite rightly points out, there are a number of factors with which all Governments are having to grapple.
With clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill now withdrawn, can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that seamless trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will continue, despite any suggestion from the European Union to interpret the withdrawal agreement in such a way as to prevent our internal market, which has functioned for centuries?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I should stress that there were some in the EU who did have precisely that agenda, but Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič has done a great job of making sure that this is an arrangement that works for everyone. The superb ceramic products made in my hon. Friend’s constituency will continue to flow on to tables in Belfast, Ballymena, Strabane and Derry/Londonderry.
Does the Minister regret the fact that the Government abolished the expert trade advisory groups, which were set up to advise the Government on customs and continuity in trade, and were disbanded in July because some of the members refused to sign non-disclosure agreements? Would it not have made more sense to keep the trade advisory groups going to help to avoid the disruption we have been hearing about at the ports and the delays in essential food and manufacturing parts that are being widely reported today?
I commend my right hon. Friend, and also the vice-president, for reaching an amicable and sensible agreement. I also wish the Prime Minister well, and hope that neither of the two diners tonight gets indigestion and that they achieve an acceptable deal for both the EU and, in particular, our own country.
At the end of last month, Jim Harra told the Public Accounts Committee that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is concentrating on seven key IT systems that need to be changed or built from new to enable GB-EU trade to continue and to enable us to comply, particularly, with the Northern Ireland protocol. Will my right hon. Friend update me on those systems? Will they be completed before the end of the transition period?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are a number of systems: the trader support Service, or TSS; the movement assistance scheme, or MAS; the goods vehicle management scheme, or GVMS; and CDS, or the customs declaration service, which is the new replacement for CHIEF—customs handling of import and export freight—in HMRC. That is quite a lot of acronyms. A lot of work has gone into making sure that we will be ready. Some of it is close to the wire, but I am confident that everything will be in place.
From 1 January onwards, if he was a business owner primarily exporting to the UK, would the right hon. Gentleman prefer to be located in Northern Ireland or Wales?
That is the most difficult question I have ever faced in this House, because I love Northern Ireland and I love Wales as well, and there are all sorts of advantages to being located in either jurisdiction. I suspect that my choice would be made even more difficult if I had to choose between, say, Carmarthenshire and North Antrim—two uniquely beautiful parts of the United Kingdom. It is Sophie’s choice, in business terms, because wherever you are located in the United Kingdom, you benefit from having a strong Government determined to ensure that this country can take advantage of global opportunities.
Will the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice continue to prevail in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol, and if that is the case, how is that state of affairs compatible with the restoration of United Kingdom sovereignty?
In the withdrawal agreement that we concluded before the last election and which this House voted on—not every Member, of course, supported it, but a majority did—we made it clear that within the Northern Ireland protocol there would be a limited portion of the acquis relating to goods in the single market that would apply in Northern Ireland. It was the aim of this House and the aim of this Government to ensure that we could reach a satisfactory arrangement on the protocol in line with the principles that we laid out in the Command Paper, and that is what we have done. That upholds the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom and the ability of every citizen of the UK to benefit from all the opportunities that Brexit provides.
Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that in tonight’s negotiations, and in the ongoing negotiations with the EU, the Prime Minister and his team will remember just how important securing a deal will be to Cumbrian farmers, and indeed farmers across the four nations?
The temporary food waiver for trusted traders is very much to be welcomed and my right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on securing it, but may I press him a little on the detail of what will then follow, because businesses need certainty? What he has had to say will of course be welcome to the big supermarkets, but smaller operators, small shops and street traders, on whom the great Ulster fry depends so much, will still be left in a level of uncertainty, particularly if they are not signed up to the trusted trader scheme. Will he say to what extent the trusted trader scheme will extend to small operators of that sort?
My right hon. Friend, who was an outstanding Northern Ireland Minister, is absolutely right. Once the Joint Committee concludes, we will go into more detail on exactly how we can safeguard the interests of small and medium-sized enterprises as well. We will notify the Commission of those businesses that need to take advantage of the grace period that we have got.
RTÉ reports on the derogation for sausages, chilled meats and unfrozen prepared meals and notes that
“once a derogation period has elapsed, Northern supermarkets will have to source such products locally or from the South.”
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why it is acceptable to him to disadvantage Scotland and our food exporters in such a way? Is it not just another example of why Scotland would be better off as an independent nation state within the EU?
If Scotland were an independent nation state, it would face trade barriers at Berwick and Cairnryan. By leaving the European Union, Scotland would be—[Interruption.] I am just pointing out the inevitable consequences of the course on which the hon. Lady has set her heart, which would make sure that if Scotland became independent, it would face tariff and regulatory barriers to access its biggest market, which is the rest of the UK. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady asks why; that is the inevitable consequence of independence, alongside the abandonment of the pound sterling and re-entry into the common fisheries policy. It is a terrible course to go on. Because I admire the hon. Lady so much, I hope she will recognise that the future of her Glasgow constituents is better secured by staying in the United Kingdom than by going down the perilous path to separation that the SNP have argued for, like a pied piper, for many decades.
I welcome the pragmatic approach that has been taken in reaching this agreement, which respects the UK’s sovereignty and independence as we leave the EU while recognising the need for the EU to protect its single market. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that same pragmatism now needs to be applied to a trade deal, while respecting those same principles? Will he join me in wishing the Prime Minister well at his dinner tonight?
If there is no data adequacy agreement by the end of this month, what is the right hon. Gentleman’s current estimate of the legal and admin cost to businesses of putting in place the new contractual clauses they will have to introduce in order to continue to exchange data with their European partners?
That is a very important question. I do not have an exact estimate of what the cost of the standard contractual clauses would be, but because we are currently compliant with the general data protection regulation, I see no reason why data adequacy should not be granted.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and congratulate him on his hard work in achieving this agreement. Will he confirm that this is a pragmatic and sensible approach to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s customs territory?
Will the right hon. Gentleman correct his claim on this morning’s “Today” programme that, in the event of no deal, we will continue to benefit from free healthcare if we visit the rest of Europe after 1 January and our students will continue to benefit from the Erasmus programmes?
It is the case that students who are currently engaged on Erasmus programmes will continue to be part of them until the end of that academic course. It is also the case that UK citizens who have been living in EU countries are covered by the withdrawal agreement rights that we all voted on—I think the right hon. Gentleman voted against, but nevertheless we protected their rights.
Given that there is very little trade that I am aware of in conflict diamonds from Northern Ireland to Great Britain—if anything, it is an even smaller trade than, for example, endangered species products such as tiger skins—I suspect that the bureaucratic burden will be so small as to be almost naked—sorry, I mean invisible to the naked eye. [Laughter.]
The mind boggles.
I am all for pragmatism, because that is the best way to sort out a deal that works for Welsh lamb farmers and, for that matter, British car manufacturers and all the rest of it, but I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman about the foreign policy element. On a pragmatic basis, we have always done rather well out of persuading other countries in Europe to adopt, for instance, sanctions against Putin, and we have tried to get people on board with our policy on Hong Kong. How will we be able to do that in future if we have poisoned the well by not having any long-lasting trade deal at the end of the week?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Obviously it would be in our interests to secure a deal, but not at any price. He has been a consistent champion of a tougher approach towards Russia and an advocate of the Magnitsky sanctions. The Foreign Secretary also was a consistent champion for that. We adopted those sanctions, and the EU followed. That is no criticism of the EU, but it is the case that we can continue to have influence. Obviously, if we have a satisfactory arrangement with the EU, that would work for everyone.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that today’s welcome announcement is the perfect combination of principle and pragmatism—an approach to the negotiations that our businessmen take every day, which will serve them well as we embrace the future, and that only the Opposition seem to find exceptional?
My hon. Friend has had a brilliant business career, and he is absolutely right: we need to negotiate toughly and be prepared to be flexible in certain circumstances but know ultimately what we want. As we heard from the Leader of the Opposition earlier, I am afraid that when it comes to Brexit, we still do not know what Labour wants.
If Brexit is shaping up to be such a success, why is it that four and a half years after the referendum, no other European country is seeking to follow the UK out the door? Why are they not looking at these deals being negotiated with envy and thinking that they want a piece of the action? In fact, what is happening is that countries such as Scotland are looking at the European Union and deciding that that is where they want their future to be. It is the United Kingdom that is being left isolated.
What a remarkable rewriting of history. Just yesterday I was watching CNN, and I saw an amazing 91-year-old gentleman called Martin Kenyon—one of the first people in the world to be vaccinated, and he was vaccinated here in the United Kingdom. It is because of the United Kingdom’s superb regulatory work, our vaccine taskforce, our NHS and our Health Secretary that the first people in the world to be vaccinated were here in the United Kingdom. There are vaccines in Scotland thanks to the UK. The rest of the world is looking on in admiration at our British NHS. On today of all days, it would be nice—and, to be fair, lots of Scottish nationalist Ministers have made this point—to acknowledge that the UK Government have been working in the interests of everyone, and people have been looking at Britain and saying, “That’s great.”
I commanded on and off a hard checkpoint on the A5 between South Tyrone and County Monaghan for up to two years, where we had chicanes, sangars and obstacles. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that, on 1 January, there will be no sign of that hard checkpoint left?
My hon. Friend, like so many who served with distinction in Northern Ireland, contributed to ending terrorism. Those were hard-won gains, and there will certainly be no return to physical infrastructure of the kind that he had to negotiate when he so bravely served his country.
Can the right hon. Gentleman give me an indication of when we will finish negotiating and debating Brexit, given that 10 months on from getting Brexit done, we are still debating the same issues, and he said in his statement that further details will be worked through in the month ahead?
Far be it from me to prevent Liberal Democrats talking about whatever they wish to talk about. As I recall, the first person in this House to argue for an in/out referendum was the former right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and people in the Liberal Democrats are still calling for referendums. I am a traditionalist; I love the fact that the Liberal Democrats are consistent in their determination to ensure that, however many referendums we have, we must have more. I am sure that Gladstone, Grey, Harcourt and Chamberlain would all salute the determination of the Liberal Democrats to stay true to their tradition and, when everyone else has settled the question, to say, “Let’s reopen it.”
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this agreement. It is absolutely right that it must be only the UK authorities that perform any checks. When it comes to the EU authorities supervising or observing, will he confirm that they will be paying for that and that they do not expect UK taxpayers to pick up the bill for their presence?
The Democratic Unionist party has remained consistent that there must be no border down the Irish sea. Can the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster give me an assurance that in 2021, the year we mark the centenary of the Union, the good people of Strangford will have no impediment placed on them by Brussels to buying foodstuffs from fellow British citizens in England, Scotland and Wales?
My constituents will be joyed by the changes to the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, as my right hon. Friend knows. The Joint Committee has clearly done its job and shown that rumours of compromise’s demise are greatly over- stated. The British Government have moved and shown much seasonal goodwill, but does he agrees that this announcement truly works for us all only if it is followed imminently by good news on the wider EU-UK trade deal?
I thank and congratulate my right hon. Friend on arriving at the position that he has. The Good Friday agreement is protected, the Union has been secured and, more importantly, the rule of law has been upheld. I seek his assurance that, during the grace period, he and his ministerial colleagues will provide strong and active support to businesses of all sizes in Great Britain and Northern Ireland to ensure that they are able to meet the challenges of the new regime successfully.
My hon. Friend makes an absolutely critical point. I thank him and the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which he chairs, for the rigorous scrutiny that they have applied throughout this process, which has ensured that the Government have been kept up to the mark. He is right that concluding the agreement is just one step. We need to continue to support businesses in Northern Ireland, large and small, as they face the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities ahead.