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Brexit: Customs Controls at Holyhead

Volume 800: debated on Thursday 17 October 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their latest proposals to avoid delays at customs control on goods being transported between Dublin and Holyhead, following the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.

My Lords, I am pleased to tell the House that the Government have this morning concluded a new withdrawal agreement with the EU. Our intention is to agree an ambitious future partnership, including a best-in-class free trade agreement, which will establish an effective customs agreement for the movement of goods between the UK and the EU once we leave. In a no-deal scenario, the Government have agreed to prioritise flow and move to new border requirements over time to allow businesses to adjust.

My Lords, we all realise that the trade relationship between Ireland, the north of Ireland and the United Kingdom has been a central sticking point in the Brexit process. But the devil is in the detail, and therefore the detail has to be transparent and watertight. Will the Minister tell the House what assessment the Government have made in the specific context of Northern Ireland-produced perishable goods bound for England, up to 60% of which go on lorries via Dublin and Holyhead, as to whether they will be subject to border controls at Holyhead? To avoid queues of 500 lorries stretching three miles long, the movement of goods through Holyhead has to remain seamless and unhindered, as it is today.

The noble Lord makes an important point. He can be assured that we are working hard to make sure that there are zero queues at Holyhead. We want the new arrangements to be as seamless as possible so that the transport of perishable goods goes forward without any hindrance.

My Lords, yesterday we asked what would happen under the new deal about the length of the transition period, given that we originally asked for two years. I think that the Government the first time settled for 20 months; it now seems that, if the date of December next year is true, we would have only 14 months to put all this in place. Given that Holyhead is our second-busiest port, how does the Minister expect all the new checks on animal welfare, perishable goods, customs and VAT to be implemented by December next year?

The noble Baroness is correct that the end of December 2020 will be the end of the implementation period, should the deal be agreed—which I hope it will be. But there is of course the option to extend if that is necessary. But we are confident that the new arrangements can be put in place during that period, provided that there is good will on both sides.

My Lords, a border in the Irish Sea is a hurdle, whichever way you look at it. What estimates have the Government made of the impact of this arrangement on the volume of trade between Great Britain and Ireland, both north and south? Can the Minister tell us whether additional funding will be provided to the Welsh Government to help them deal with the logistical problems of the back-up of lorries referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley?

The noble Baroness is being too pessimistic. We hope that there will not be the back-up of queues to which she refers. We want to agree a best-in-class free trade agreement that will make sure that there are no tariffs and no quotas and, therefore, that minimal checks will be required. There should be no queues—but, of course, we are working closely with the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Scottish Government to ensure that all these arrangements are as seamless as possible.

My Lords, my noble friend tells the House that a deal has been agreed. If the Government propose to proceed with the Saturday sitting, can he at the same time assure us that we will have a definitive, authoritative text before us, and not merely a Statement?

Whether we proceed with the Saturday sitting is a matter for the House of Commons, but we have said that we want to do that. There will of course be a text for noble Lords to consider.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what arrangements might be put in place if there were a small group of Welsh MPs of different parties whose price for voting for the deal was the same as the DUP managed to achieve two years ago? Have the Government given any thought to this?

We want all MPs, whether from Wales or from Northern Ireland, to back the deal because we think that it is a good deal for the United Kingdom. We should pay credit to the Prime Minister, who has done what all the opposition parties said was impossible. They said that it was impossible to reopen the agreement, but we have done that and concluded a new deal. Yet again, he has proved the gloomsters wrong.

My Lords, does the Minister wish to pay tribute also to Mrs May for the work that she did to bring us to this point—albeit that Prime Minister Johnson has taken us to the final hurdle?

Yes, of course. I loyally served in her Government. As Prime Minister she put a great deal of work into getting the original withdrawal agreement. Of course, there is a new backstop now—but, substantively, most of the rest of the withdrawal agreement is as previously negotiated.