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NI Protocol Bill: Discussions with the EU

Volume 716: debated on Wednesday 22 June 2022

Our preference remains to resolve the problems with the protocol through talks. Our door remains open to discussions, but the EU has so far not been willing to make meaningful changes to the protocol, which are necessary to deliver the solutions needed.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but the Government walked away from negotiations. By rejecting negotiation in favour of lawbreaking and, in doing so, disregarding the wishes of the majority of MLAs, businesses and the Northern Irish public, the UK Government have utterly destroyed the trust that not only the EU had in the UK, but that Ireland and the United States had too. Trust is easily lost and hard won, so how do the Government plan to be seen as a good faith partner in international negotiations ever again?

Last year, we published a Command Paper that set out solutions, with which the EU has never properly engaged. It did publish its ideas in October, which the business community in Northern Ireland said did not work. We have continually been in engagements and negotiations with the EU. It has been clear that it is not willing to show the flexibility needed to resolve the protocol issues, which is why we have introduced this Bill.

The hon. Gentleman might want to look back at Hansard to see the statement from the Foreign Secretary when we introduced the Bill. We are very clear, as I have said today, that we will continue to negotiate with the EU. We would like to seek a resolution by agreeing with the EU, but it is right that we table this legislation at this point as well to resolve the issues.

Belfast harbour has reported levels of trade and increase in turnover of profits of 17% to £73.3 million from 2021, with pre-tax profits up 13% to £34 million. Can the Secretary of State advise the House why their Government would jeopardise 25.6 million tonnes of cargo, a 9% increase on the 23.5 million a year earlier, which was up by 5% on the previous record levels of 2019, by unilaterally changing the Northern Ireland protocol?

The hon. Gentleman should read the full article, because then he would realise that, between the easements, the standstill and the grace periods, we are not actually fully implementing the protocol let alone the other business that Belfast harbour takes in that has nothing to do with the protocol. What we do know is that—

Order. Mr Docherty-Hughes, I think those whippets that you own need a little walk. That is where you will be going shortly.

I will leave the hon. Gentleman to read the article, so that he can realise just how wrong his question was.

Many of the issues related to trade and movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland are plant and animal-related. What progress have the Government made in trying to secure an arrangement between the UK and the EU on veterinary and sanitary and phytosanitary matters? That would address these issues and also enhance the UK’s biosecurity.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. One frustration with this failure by the EU to see the flexibility that we need is that, by resolving some of these issues, we could have avoided the need for us to legislate and to take this period of time to resolve things. Our legislation will resolve all of these issues and create a method that not only protects the EU single market, but, importantly, works for businesses, works for citizens, and works for all three aspects of the Good Friday agreement, dealing with those very issues that he raises.

One of my predecessors in Redcar was the political giant Dr Marjorie Mowlam, most notable for her work in securing the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. Can the Minister confirm that any arrangement we reach with the EU in relation to the protocol will take account of and address the issues that are disrupting the delicate balance of that agreement?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important that we respect the balance in that agreement. It is important because it has given us peace for 24 years, and that is where our focus is.

I have to remind the Secretary of State that it was this Government who signed up to the trade and co-operation agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol as it currently stands. It might not be necessary to try to renegotiate had more time been given over to this Chamber to allow Members to scrutinise it before it entered into law. Does the Secretary of State regret the decision taken by the Government to curtail the amount of parliamentary time available to Members to scrutinise that before Brexit was done?

I think the hon. Gentleman is arguing to go back in time and take even longer to get Brexit done. I am not sure the British public or anybody would thank him for that, but of course the business of the House is generally agreed through the usual channels; that is always the case.