Motion to Annul
That an Humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Official Controls (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023 (SI 2023/17), made on 11 January and laid before the House on 12 January, be annulled because (1) they are injurious to the integrity of the United Kingdom’s Internal Market given that the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland has not been replaced by new arrangements, (2) they thereby violate the New Decade, New Approach agreement, by giving effect to a customs and sanitary and phytosanitary border that divides the UK and treats Northern Ireland like a foreign country, (3) they seek to protect the integrity of a legal regime resulting from the imposition of laws in 300 different areas by a polity of which Northern Ireland is not a part and in which it has no representation, (4) they protect the integrity of a legal regime that undermines the 1998 Belfast Agreement, as amended by the St Andrews Agreement, which affords the people of Northern Ireland the right “to pursue democratically national and political aspirations”, given that the people of Northern Ireland can no longer stand for election to pursue democratically national and political aspirations in relation to the said 300 areas of law.
Relevant document: 26th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument)
My Lords, I am glad to be able to rise, eventually, tonight to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I want to place on record my gratitude to the Minister for the discussions that we have had about these regulations, and for the time he has given to me to discuss these matters and his availability. They may appear to be technical in nature but they have enormous political and constitutional ramifications. This is an extremely important matter, and I know the Minister is aware of the sensitivities around all this. That may be one of the reasons why the regulations are being brought forward only now.
I have tabled this Motion in order to ensure that we have a debate and to have some scrutiny on the significant development of the Irish Sea border. This arises under the provisions of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the Northern Ireland protocol. It would be fairly strange indeed if such a measure were to pass without debate either in your Lordships’ House or in the other place. Given the time that has now elapsed since the tabling of the SI, I am not sure it will be debated in the other place at all, and so this the only opportunity to raise these matters in Parliament—and it is a matter of extreme importance.
The regulations allow the Secretary of State to do anything he or she
“considers appropriate … in connection with the construction of facilities”
in relation to official border control posts, despite this being a devolved matter. It is another example, in the long line of examples that we have had recently of the Government intervening in the devolved settlement when it suits them. There are many other matters, as your Lordships will realise, that are of importance in Northern Ireland on which, even when there is an agreed position among political parties, the Government will say that they are not going to intervene because it is a devolved matter—even with the Assembly not sitting. However, on other occasions they decide to step in. It is hardly an argument for the necessity of restoring the Assembly, I have to say. It would appear that, even if the Executive were to be restored, the powers taken by the Secretary of State would remain, so there would be a co-authority: the power of the Minister in Northern Ireland and the power of the Secretary of State. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify whether, in the circumstances of the Assembly’s restoration and the Executive’s reformation, the powers would revert to the Northern Ireland Executive alone.
The regulations also allow the Secretary of State to direct the competent authority in Northern Ireland
“to recruit and employ … staff to implement Article 64 of the Official Controls Regulation”,
which applies because of the Northern Ireland protocol. The Secretary of State in a Westminster department can direct the likes of Belfast City Council, the Health and Safety Executive or whomever to employ staff in Northern Ireland. In making such directions, will there be accompanying resources to fund and sustain them for as long as they are in place? Undoubtedly, this will put considerable extra burdens on those bodies.
The Explanatory Memorandum states:
“These powers will be necessary to implement either a negotiated solution with the European Union, or to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill”.
Well, the Explanatory Memorandum did not last long as far as the latter point is concerned. The regulations are brought forward under Section 8C of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as amended by the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. That section gives power only to make regulations as appropriate in relation to the current protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the withdrawal agreement. The basis for these regulations is the legal implementation of the current protocol, yet that is not mentioned at all in the Explanatory Memorandum. Why was that left out?
That brings me to the heart of the true significance of this legislation. In making his presentation on his new deal in the other place on Monday, the Prime Minister was challenged on how to square his assertion that the published framework document removes the border down the Irish Sea with the commitment in these regulations to build border control posts. The Prime Minister responded that
“the border posts are there to deal with checks in the red lane. That was something that was always envisaged. It is something that we always said that we would do. It is right that people should not be able to try to smuggle goods into the Republic of Ireland via Northern Ireland. That is why those posts, those inspection facilities, are there. The investment in them is to make sure that we can do those checks properly, as we assured the European Union that we would do. Part of having a functioning green lane is having enforcement of the red lane.”—[Official Report, Commons, 27/2/23; col. 589.]
I quoted that in full because the words are significant, and I will come on to deal with them later. I surmise that this line has been given to the Minister replying to this debate, but I very much hope it has not because, with respect, it misses the point, for reasons that I will set out.
As a matter of general principle, we should, as a sovereign country, proceed on the basis that, if we want to protect the integrity of our single market, that is our responsibility and we should foot the bill for that. If another country wants to protect the integrity of its single market, that is its responsibility and it should foot the bill for that. I do not believe that there is an example anywhere in the world of a country building border control posts for the purposes of protecting the single market of another country. I suppose a country might seek to justify spending its taxpayers’ money to build border control posts to protect the integrity of the single market of another country if this also protected the integrity of its own single market. But in relation to Northern Ireland, far from doing that, the provision of these border control posts actually disrupts the UK single market for goods and replaces it with a Great Britain single market for goods and an all-Ireland single market for goods.
Another question arises if we are building border control posts to protect just the EU single market: why is it necessary that they be built in each one of Northern Ireland’s ports, when you could just as easily build one away from the ports altogether, as suggested by many hauliers with experience of these matters? That is what happens elsewhere. The plan, for instance, for goods coming in via Liverpool and Holyhead is for them to be sent to a single inland border control at Warrington, not at the ports.
The construction of border control posts at each of our ports in Northern Ireland is being done because the controls cover not just goods being moved from Great Britain into the EU via the Irish Republic, as some of the spin would suggest and as the Prime Minister laboured in his remarks on Monday; they are being constructed because companies wishing to trade with Northern Ireland from Great Britain must still fulfil European Union requirements, including a level of checks. Great Britain is still treated as a third country as far as Northern Ireland is concerned under the new arrangements, and the Irish Sea border has not been removed.
The impression from the new deal is that it creates a situation with green lanes and red lanes, and that the red lanes are solely for goods going to the Republic of Ireland. But when you study the detail, it is clear that not only goods going to the Republic of Ireland will be subject to border control checks. Businesspeople have pointed out to me that of course we live in a free market economy, and, in this context, it is not possible to know what will happen to goods after one transaction in a single market: they may remain in the single market; they may be sold to someone outside Northern Ireland. Hauliers say that, often, around 80% of the goods they carry from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will stay in Northern Ireland, but 20% will end up in the Republic. In many cases, they have no way of knowing; this means that they are not eligible for the trusted trader scheme to use the so-called green channel, and that they will be subject to full red-lane checks, as if trading with a foreign country. That is why, contrary to what the Prime Minister told us, the border remains in place for taking goods to Northern Ireland that end up staying in Northern Ireland.
Moreover, the European Union questions and answers on the framework document make it clear that, if the EU does believe that the trusted trader scheme meets its expectations, it can revert to insisting on full border checks for everything, as if trading with a foreign country, thereby removing the green lane altogether. The new deal keeps the reality of the Irish Sea border completely in place. It will mitigate its effect—not remove it—through a reduction in bureaucracy, but only for companies which can declare for certain that none of their goods will go over the border. So border control posts are necessary, not just for goods destined for the Irish Republic but for all goods where there is any uncertainty about their end destination, such where one cannot be absolutely sure they will not end up in the Republic. That is not free trade within the United Kingdom.
Let us look at the green lane now being suggested. The European Union questions and answers on the Windsor Framework are very clear that green-lane goods are still subject to customs. That clearly demonstrates the ongoing reality of the border down the Irish Sea. The document says:
“Goods moved by trusted traders in Northern Ireland will be subject to dramatically simplified”—
but still existing—
“customs declarations … including a … number of data (21 data elements instead of more than 80 data elements normally required for a standard customs declaration).”
The paperwork may be simplified, but it is still customs paperwork; it still entails costs and declarations that we are leaving one jurisdiction for another—and this is for trade within the United Kingdom. There is no customs paperwork for moving goods between Wales, Scotland or England, because there is no customs border between Wales, Scotland or England. There was no customs paperwork for moving goods between Wales, England Scotland and Northern Ireland before 1 January 2021.
Moreover, if you qualify for the trusted trader scheme and are green-laned, you are still potentially subject to checks. Again, the European Union questions and answers on this matter, which are far more informative than anything the UK Government have published thus far, state:
“From 1 October 2023, the … rate of identity checks will be … 10% of all consignments of retail goods.”
That includes goods moving in the green lane from one part of the United Kingdom to another. So it is very clear that the purpose of the border control posts is not just to provide red-lane checks for goods moving to the Republic of Ireland but to cement the reality of a customs border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so that trading with Northern Ireland becomes more like trading with a foreign country.
If you are green-laned, you will still be subject to customs paperwork and checks. If you cannot be green-laned because some of your goods might go to the Republic, then you will be red-laned. If the EU loses faith in the trusted trader scheme, you will be red-laned. It is the European Union, not the Northern Ireland Assembly or the UK Parliament, that decides. The impact of these border controls will not be to give effect, primarily, to a border control for the Northern Ireland-Irish Republic border at a distance; it will also be to give effect to a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland for trade. The undergirding reality here is the endurance of an Irish Sea border, and the border control posts mandated by these regulations are necessary to give effect to it: that is why we oppose these regulations.
There may be a temptation to look the other way and say, “Well, this is only Northern Ireland”, but let us not kid ourselves about the future of the United Kingdom as a whole. If the Government make it clear they are happy to accommodate a border down the Irish Sea so that Northern Ireland can remain in the EU for these purposes, it makes it very difficult to argue against accommodating a border between England and Scotland. This is an important moment in the history of these islands and the Government, noble Lords and all elected representatives in Northern Ireland need to think very carefully about the massive implications flowing from how we respond to these matters at this time. I genuinely hope that the Minister will be able to provide reassurances that go some way to assuaging people’s concerns in this area. However, given what we know is actually in the regulations before us, and the justification for them, I fear that I will be disappointed. However, we will be listening intently, and I think that all who believe in our union back home will be listening intently as well.
My Lords, in many ways this Motion, as the noble Lord will acknowledge, has been somewhat overtaken by events, but he is commenting on the events. It was clear from the outset that Boris Johnson’s oven-ready deal was anything but; we know that now. The claim that there would be no restrictions or paperwork on goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland has never been true, as the Government’s website clearly showed on the day that Boris Johnson made his preposterous speech during the 2019 election.
I say to the noble Lord that I understand the way unionists see the friction he has outlined, the limitations on movements and transactions, as undermining their sense of identity. I understand that, but I do not understand why the DUP was so adamant in its determination to secure Brexit, when the EU had actually created an umbrella that allowed freedom of movement all ways. To leave the EU and expect there to be no paperwork, which is what I think the DUP wants, was never achievable. I have said that on a number of occasions in debates on this House: it was always possible, right from the outset, to secure reduced friction—the noble Lord has acknowledged that the agreement has done that—and the idea of green and red channels was in the frame from the beginning; it has been discussed for several years.
What was not on offer was trust and good will. What we were subjected to was just cheap, xenophobic rhetoric. Ursula von der Leyen’s relationship with “Dear Rishi” shows how the atmosphere has changed, and a change in the atmosphere is somewhat crucial. I welcome that. I am pleased that the way is now open to secure the UK’s associate membership of Horizon and to begin to explore, I hope, how the trade and co-operation agreement can also be renegotiated, in a similar way, to smooth the way for reduced friction for trade between the rest of the UK and the EU. It was, after all, astonishing and revealing that the Government were boasting yesterday of the privileged position of Northern Ireland as being in both the UK and the EU single markets, something that many people in the rest of the UK wish they had on offer.
It is undeniable that the protocol came about from a mess of the UK’s—specifically, Boris Johnson’s—own making. The ideology that has seized this Conservative Government has caused them to inflict more damage in more ways and in a shorter time than probably any Government in history. That said, I ask the DUP to consider carefully what it does next. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, has been open in his criticism but careful not to say what he will do next.
All politics is surely about compromise; I would say that Irish politics is especially so. You can claim that playing hardball got us here, but I would refute that. Playing hardball stalled progress and engagement. There is a clear indication that the protocol Bill, far from pressurising a deal, stood in the way of it, and its abandonment is a victory for common sense. Whatever its reservations about the agreement, I suggest that the DUP should admit, privately if not publicly, that it is far better than it would have expected, even if it is not happy with it. The Prime Minister has said that it cannot be renegotiated, though there may be room for clarification here and there. I believe that the majority of people in Northern Ireland, although they may care little for the detail, will welcome an end to the deadlock that has plagued them.
I also suggest to the DUP that, over time, when this agreement is implemented, businesses with interests in Northern Ireland and the public of Northern Ireland will see that the removal of uncertainty creates economic space and a better climate. If that goes ahead and is demonstrated, the DUP will be exposed as people who opposed that improvement in circumstances in the Province. It may find that there is a price to pay.
On the restoration of the Assembly and the Executive, I have contested that there has never been a justification for the DUP withdrawal, any more than there was for the Sinn Féin withdrawal on a previous occasion. Two wrongs do not make a right. The people of Northern Ireland have voted and the DUP did not win. It is entitled to stand up vigorously for its supporters, and it does, but it is not democracy to deny the majority of citizens the right to be represented and to see government tackle the manifold challenges we all face. The protocol and certainly this new agreement pale into insignificance compared with the challenges that most people face in their everyday lives.
It has also been pointed out that one of the safeguards in this deal is the Stormont brake, but that requires the existence of an Assembly and Executive. I am hearing rather mixed messages about what different parties think about it, but I believe it was put in precisely for the benefit of the concerns that the DUP had expressed. If it is not very happy with it, maybe the easiest thing to do is remove it.
The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, referred to the Scottish border, which is of some concern to me—I cross it very regularly. In reality, Brexit has created a problem for the DUP—although by campaigning for Brexit it somewhat brought that on itself—but it has also created a problem for Scottish nationalists. Their ambition was an independent Scotland somehow rejoining Europe, which we all know would be long drawn out, difficult and on unknown terms and would inevitably lead to a hard border between Scotland and the rest of the UK. All these things suggest that the way forward for the UK is to recognise that this first step is the beginning of an improvement in relations with the EU and sets the potential for us to rebuild practical relations—Brexit excepted—that enable the minimum friction, not just between Great Britain and Northern Ireland but between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and uncertainty to be removed and businesses to flourish.
While I understand the reason for this Motion, the DUP should reflect very carefully. If it remains recalcitrant, the danger for it is that the rules in Northern Ireland may have to change, and the mood may change too. The DUP may be very confident of its base, but it should remember and respect that it is not a majority. There are no majorities in Northern Ireland. The only way that Northern Ireland will progress is if people are prepared to accept compromise. The DUP has made its tough stand; now is the time to recognise that compromise needs to be secured.
My Lords, that was an interesting speech on the Windsor Framework, but I did not hear any comments on the very serious specific issues that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds? Have the Liberal Democrats nothing to say about those extremely serious points?
I acknowledged that there were points of issue and clarification; I understand them. My point, however, is that an agreement has been reached which encapsulates some of those concerns. The choice is whether we accept the agreement or whether we use those grievances to reject it and consequently leave Northern Ireland in a double limbo, denied democracy in terms of a Government and an Assembly and continuing to have the uncertainty of a non-achievable protocol. I am giving some credit, for heaven’s sake, to this Government, who have taken a common-sense approach to try to secure something which many people did not think would be achievable—I personally always thought it was and we could have done it a lot earlier. I think they are whistling in the wind if they think that raising those objections is going to change the basis of what has been agreed by any fundamental and significant amount. I think I have acknowledged that, and I am suggesting we face political reality.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn, and thank him for giving us this real opportunity, which we have not yet had, to discuss what came out earlier in the week from the Prime Minister and the EU. I say right away that it is very interesting to hear from so many people, not just here but everywhere, how awful things were and how they were not working, including in the framework document itself, where every single item starts with an attack on the protocol. It is very interesting because some of us have been saying that for a very long time and got quite a lot of pushback from Ministers and others, who kept saying, “Oh, no, nothing can ever change; the protocol has to stay.” I say gently to the noble Lord who has just spoken that his party in Northern Ireland, which I think has a very strong relationship with the Alliance Party, went down to Dublin with Sinn Féin during the Covid regulations to call for the rigorous implementation of the protocol. I may have missed it over the last few days, but maybe the Alliance Party has now decided to apologise for the nonsense of calling for rigorous implementation of something which has now been accepted by everyone to have been wrong and did not work.
I have sympathy for the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Benyon. I know there will be lots of things coming up tonight that will not really be his direct responsibility, but I think he will understand that those of us from Northern Ireland feel that we have to take every opportunity to make sure that our grievances and our strongly held views, particularly on the issue of sovereignty, are raised at every opportunity. I agree with everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and I will not go over the specific issues on some of the pitfalls of these green and red lanes. It is sufficient to say that it was disappointing that our Prime Minister so vigorously implied that now it was all sorted; the green lanes had made a great difference, and there were going to be no checks—I think he actually used the words “no checks”.
I have spent a bit of time reading—I hope, like other noble Lords—what the EU said just after the framework document was published. I have to say, it is very different in every single aspect. You look at what the Prime Minister said, you then compare it to what the European Union is saying, and it is very different indeed.
I am afraid that this means that once again there is an over-positivity coming through from the Government, and I understand that—they want to show that they have made real changes. The reality, as the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, has pointed out is that they have not made real changes, and as each hour and each day passes, and the detail of what has been agreed is examined and scrutinised, we find more and more that it does not live up to reality.
I look forward very much—I think it will be around now or perhaps later this evening—to the first legal opinion. There will be many legal opinions over the next week or two, and it is right that the Prime Minister has said that there is time for people to study this, but the first legal opinion will come out tonight on the legality—particularly relating to the Act of Union, but on other aspects too. We are going to see some very strong legal opinions that will show that the Prime Minister has overplayed this very much.
I want to say one further thing on the green lanes, because it is important. If a trader in Bristol trades with Birmingham, and then decides the next day to trade with Belfast—part of the same United Kingdom—they must be able to trade in exactly the same way. That is not going to happen: the green lanes are going to require around 30 documents to be filled in, and then the checks that will happen will depend very much on what is in the load. If it were a genuine green lane, we would not need a green lane; we would simply be sending goods as we do to any other part of the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, has gone into that in detail, and I hope that people have the opportunity to listen to some of those people who are engaged in sending lorries back and forward, what they have to go through and how this will not make very much difference. Indeed, what it will do is cause a huge divergence of trade, something that was very important to the internal market within Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I want to mention a couple of things and I ask the Minister that, if he cannot answer them, perhaps he will pass them on to someone who can. I know that the Northern Ireland Office may be finding it difficult to deal with all the questions that are going in because they do not necessarily have the answers, but somebody must have this answer because somebody has agreed and signed this agreement. For example, we now understand that Northern Ireland consumers who are buying products online, which many people do, will be able to do so only if the seller is prepared to fill in customs declarations. I ask the Minister if this is right.
If a new car exported for sale by a Northern Ireland dealer will have to be made to EU standards, not UK ones, that does not seem to me like “no Irish sea border”. At the moment the regulations and standards might well be similar, but eventually there will be divergence. There is absolutely no point to us having left the European Union if we do not take advantage of the fact that we can diverge and do things differently, and live up to the standards of our own country. So could the Minister confirm whether this is correct?
Now for something that is perhaps more in his line of understanding: we understand that the GB-Northern Ireland seed potato ban—the Minister looks more interested when I talk about seed potatoes—is not totally reversed. They will be able to be traded from grower to grower, but direct-to-consumer and retail packs are still excluded. So people who I know who grow small amounts and get their seeds from Great Britain will still not be able to have that without all the bureaucracy and paperwork that already exists. I have asked about that, and I know the noble Lord, Lord Caine, who is here, has been very kind in seeing if he can find an answer to it.
Something that matters a lot to people in Northern Ireland are their pets. We have been told by Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, that—great—everybody can take their pets, but they might need a little document. In fact, what the EU says is that people will be able to travel with their pets from GB to Northern Ireland—is it not good of the EU to let us do that?—with only a simple pet document needed and a declaration by the owner that the pet will not go into the EU; that is into the Republic of Ireland. How is that going to work? Is it not absolutely amazing that our own country is saying that you can take your pet to Wales or Scotland but you cannot take it to Northern Ireland without all this bureaucracy and hassle?
One of my favourite ones, which I have brought up before—again, I had hoped that this declaration might actually have the answer—and which also matters to people, although it is not a huge issue, is the question of duty-free. Since we left the European Union, duty-free has been restored to Great Britain, but it has not, of course, been restored to Northern Ireland. So, if you fly from Belfast to somewhere in the EU, you would expect to get duty-free, as you could if you flew from Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow or Cardiff. But you cannot, because we are still in the EU single market. Then you might say, “Great, so I’ll be able to get from Belfast to London, or Belfast to Birmingham”, as you can from Dublin to London. “Oh, no”, says the Treasury, “you can’t do that either”. Nothing in this document will say whether that has now been changed. We cannot just be left in this kind of limbo situation where we are allowed to do something when it suits the European Union but are not allowed when it does not suit it. So that is another question: what is the situation with duty-free?
I am not going to mention state aid. For anyone that is interested in that, if they look at the detail, they will see that the state aid issue has not been sorted—and neither has the VAT issue. There is a huge number of things that have not been sorted in any way to make things better.
Some of your Lordships may know Brendan O’Neill; I am going to give him a bit of publicity. He wrote a most brilliant article in something called Spiked, which I am not sure is regular reading for your Lordships. He wrote in a very amusing but serious way about what the framework document is doing. He talks a lot about the body language between the Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission and the fact that they obviously really like each other and get on well. He said:
“Behind the niceties, what we had here was the prime minister of a supposedly free nation expressing child-like glee that a foreign oligarchy had granted him permission to enact certain policies within his own borders.”
He then goes through all the things that the Prime Minister was welcoming. For example, he has welcomed the fact that, in our own country, we are now going to be allowed to have medicines travelling properly throughout the United Kingdom.
I end by saying that I am sorry that, although everyone who is here does care about Northern Ireland, there are obviously a lot of noble Lords and Members of the other place who are interested in Northern Ireland only when something terrible has happened or when something like this is causing problems for the Government. I ask your Lordships to read the document the European Union has come out with. I am afraid that it shows that our Prime Minister has overegged the pudding—I think that is the right expression—and, by doing so, he has actually treated Northern Ireland people as if they are just that little bit stupid and that they will not understand it.
I got that feeling a bit from the noble Lord, Lord Bruce —I am sorry to be seeming to attack him again, but his attitude was one of how terrible it is of the DUP to be even thinking it might not be go back into government. But it is very clear that, if the DUP does go back into the Northern Ireland Executive, it is going to have to implement this protocol. Call it what you like, but the basis of the protocol is still there and the fundamental issue of sovereignty is still there. This issue has not been solved, and this framework document—to which I refuse to give the name it has been given by the Prime Minister—will not solve the issue. I appeal genuinely to all noble Lords to read the EU document and then compare it to what our Prime Minister has said.
My Lords, I express great sympathy with the Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn. I hope to do so briefly, and I will be assisted in that by the fact that, unlike other noble Lords, I am not going to talk about the Windsor Framework—which, after all, has appeared only in the last two days, while this statutory instrument has been on the table for several weeks. I am not, in fact, really going to talk about Ireland or Northern Ireland; I am going to talk briefly about the United Kingdom. I like my noble friend the Minister and I respect him for the work he does for the Government and the country at large, so he will understand that, as other speakers have said, these remarks are not intended to refer to him in any personal way at all.
It is objectively a humiliation for the Government to send up a Minister of the Crown to this House to ask permission to take powers to erect border infrastructure between one part of our country and another. It is a humiliation that is unprecedented, as far as I am aware, in any other country. I cannot think of another country that would accept it for the convenience of a foreign power. It is a humiliation that is unprecedented in our history as a United Kingdom, certainly since 1801. It is a humiliation that would astonish even the generation of politicians who, in the 1960s and 1970s, argued so strongly that we should enter the European Union, the Common Market, or whatever name it was known by at the time. It is an illustration of the constitutional havoc that our 50 years’ wrong-headed membership of the European Union has wreaked upon this country. I ask my noble friend, who has a strong and long-standing connection with Berkshire, if he would accept and advocate that the people of Berkshire might be surrounded by border infrastructure separating them from the rest of the country, and how he would expect them to feel and react if that were asked of them.
This instrument has been on the table since long before the Windsor Framework came to light on Monday. When that came to light, and the very positive words of our Prime Minister were uttered about how the border would become effectively invisible or painless—I am not quoting him, but his words were to that effect—I wrote to my noble friend and asked if I could assume that he would be withdrawing this instrument and deferring it because the situation had changed, according to the Prime Minister, in a very dramatic way. I do not accuse the Minister of rudeness in not replying to me because Ministers never reply to Conservative Back-Benchers on queries like that. I did not expect a reply, it might be said, but I put it to him now that he has the opportunity to defer this. He has an opportunity to stand at the Dispatch Box and say: “We can put this to one side for a moment; we need to look at the implications of the Windsor Framework before we press ahead with this”.
These powers do nothing to the credit of the United Kingdom. They do nothing to the credit of our national pride and self-belief. They do nothing to help the people of this country in working together as one united realm.
My Lords, I find it rather odd that no one has responded to the opening point from the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn, about the propriety of transferring these powers from elected legislatures to Ministers. I say I find it odd because I have sat here, as have a number of your Lordships, night after night, during the passage of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill and the retained EU law Bill, listening to Peer after Peer from the Opposition Benches howling about Henry VIII powers and the absolute constitutional monstrosity of transferring powers from Parliament to unelected Ministers. Great, I thought, joy shall be in heaven more over one sinner that repenteth than over 99 just men that have no need for repentance—how wonderful that there is now this great interest in parliamentary sovereignty. You might almost say that Brexit is already working, and that people who had previously shown no great concern for the supremacy of our legislature now care about it very much. I think I may have been premature in saying that.
Here we have exactly such an example—you may say that it is dubious constitutional propriety but you cannot say that this one is okay and all the others were wrong—and yet I look on empty Opposition Benches and hear not a single voice raised to complain about executive overreach. Perhaps we have a little bit further to go before we can say that it has worked.
My Lords, I thought by now that this House would be acutely aware of how Northern Ireland is governed, but obviously it is not. We have heard comments here tonight that allude to majoritarianism. Northern Ireland is not governed that way, nor has it been. As a matter of fact, from the time I came of voting age Northern Ireland has not been governed that way.
Sinn Féin pulled down the Northern Ireland Assembly for a period of three years. I have been in this House since 2006—I know I do not look that age but I am—and I have never ever heard a single word from the Benches opposite in condemnation of what Sinn Féin had done.
Hold on; I did not hear it —and I certainly did not hear it from the Liberal Benches.
We need to get this into our heads. What will happen if you leave one large section of the community behind, as has been advocated here tonight and was advocated from the same Benches in an earlier debate when it was said that if we do not get on with it, Dublin is waiting and will take you over—another threat? It is time that this House, and in particular the Opposition Benches, acted like adults. Do your Lordships not read any history at all? Do you not understand that we had 3,500 people slaughtered on our streets? Does it not dawn upon your souls that we do not need or want to go back to that? Please: we do not govern by majority.
There is this idea of introducing a new voting system and leaving unionists behind—they are naughty boys and girls over there, so we will leave them behind. What happens when it turns round the other way? The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, is a very intelligent man, but he needs to start looking at reality. When you leave one community behind in Northern Ireland, it is a recipe for disaster. It will not work. Just because Sinn Féin has got a few extra seats and the unionists—who we represent the majority of—have not, people think that this is the time to move on. That is a recipe for disaster. Anyone who pushes down that road will live to regret it, and will see that it just does not work, even though it is the other way round. I hope the noble Lord takes cognisance of that.
Many pieces of secondary legislation are introduced without so much as a murmur from the public. It is striking that these proposals resulted in 18 submissions being made to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which published them. Together they amounted to a 48-page document. I am sure that all Members opposite and elsewhere have read them. Most of these submissions are from hauliers, expressing deep-seated concerns about the building of border control posts to service a border within the United Kingdom—a point adequately made by the previous speaker.
A number of submissions from beyond the hauliers made the important point that the purpose of these border control posts was to uphold the integrity of the different legal regime that pertains to Northern Ireland. This is because we are now subject to laws in some 300 areas which are different from those pertaining to the rest of the United Kingdom. I have never heard the Lib Dems refer to that, but maybe I missed it too. Moreover, these laws are the result not of devolution, but of an imposition on us by a polity of which we are not part and on which we have absolutely no representation. These border control posts therefore constitute the border of our disfranchisement; we have been disfranchised. I hope that Members will take note. It is their purpose to protect and uphold the legal consequences of our disfranchisement.
It is quite extraordinary that we should be considering such provisions today, less than two months from the anniversary of the signing of the Belfast agreement, which has now been in existence for almost 25 years. It has had its hiccups and its difficult days, but what novel agreement does not? In signing that agreement, the state parties—the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland—committed themselves to upholding the rights of the people of Northern Ireland to pursue their democratic, national and political aspirations at the level at which those rights were enjoyed at that time. In 1998, the people of Northern Ireland could stand for election to make all the laws to which they were subject, or they could vote for fellow citizens to represent them. Those rights were upheld until 1 January 2021, when the state parties turned their back on that obligation, approving a dramatic erosion of our democratic rights. Today, the law shouts out that the people of England, Wales and Scotland are worthy of the right to make all the laws to which they are subject, just as it shouts out that the people of Northern Ireland are worthy of the right to make only some of the laws to which they are subject. It is the job of these regulations to hold the integrity of the legal regime resulting from our humiliation.
In the last couple of days, we have heard about the Stormont brake which, it is suggested, will fix the democratic deficit. Doubts have already been expressed about whether it will ever be possible to use the brake, or even to find it. This all misses the point. Citizenship of the United Kingdom is about citizenship of a parliamentary democracy wherein we can stand for election and make all the laws to which we are subject, or can elect fellow citizens to undertake this task for us. If we have concern about a Bill, we can contact our legislator and ask for a meeting. They can represent our concern in Parliament in the making of the law, by tabling amendments and making the case for the rest of the Parliament to change what they believe is necessary.
In short, citizenship in the UK is about being part of a process wherein the laws to which you are ultimately subject are made. The Stormont brake seems to be about something entirely different. It appears intent on cementing in our second-class citizenship, disinheriting us from the right to be involved in making the law to which we are subject in some areas. It appears to say, “You will continue to be subject to laws made for you by a polity of which you are not a part and by a legislator of which you are not a member, and you will have to make do with the opportunity after the law has been made for you to say that you do not like it”. That is not the British political tradition. I sincerely hope that I have misunderstood this brake or that there is something else in the Windsor Framework that addresses the democratic deficit, for the brake does not. If there is not, the purpose of these regulations will be merely to protect the integrity of a legal regime predicated on our disfranchisement.
As noble Lords reflect on the implications of these border control posts, which not only divide the UK but are implicated in the disfranchisement of part of the UK, I commend to their attention a submission made to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. It should cause everyone pause for thought. One submission was made by Jack Steele, an 18 year-old who is still in school and whom I have had the privilege of meeting. I will read part of his submission:
“For the last 25 years, my parents and grandparents have enjoyed the right to ‘pursue democratically political and national aspirations’. This right, enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, bequeathed the citizens of Northern Ireland the right to elect someone on their behalf to legislate and to stand for election themselves, and legislate. My generation, the teenagers and students, the new voters, have had this fundamentally important right, stolen from us. We are devoid of any ability to impact nor influence in the EU’s foreign legislature. This is unacceptable. The purpose of the Good Friday Agreement was to bring about peace, balance and a cessation of hostilities. The importance of maintaining this was absolutely paramount to prevent the scourge of terrorism from once again sparking violence and holding democracy to ransom. As a young person, I have not experienced this violent extremism.
As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, we ought to be mindful that it was intended to stop the hostilities of the day, but also to ensure the proceeding generations would enjoy democratic rights. Article 2 (1) of the Northern Ireland Protocol, outlines a UK Government commitment to ensure the protection of Northern Irish citizen rights and to prevent the erosion of said rights. I fail to understand therefore, why the UK Government are now seeking to implement regulations that would solidify a legal system that is eroding those precious citizen rights, as guaranteed by the ‘right to pursue democratically national and political aspirations’ in the ‘Rights, Safeguards and Equalities’ section of the Good Friday Agreement.
I understand that these regulations are not directly responsible for the degradation of Northern Ireland’s democracy and citizen rights. However, the regulations are complacent in the perpetual perversion of Northern Ireland’s position, democratic institutions and citizen rights. I find it outrageous that these regulations deem the erosion of my rights as a young person. From my perspective as a young person, these regulations serve as a cog in the oppressive legal machine which is currently steamrolling Northern Irish democracy and citizen rights. This is a grotesque mutilation of democracy, and for me as person, an 18-year-old first time voter to be, this is utterly horrifying to watch the erosion of my rights.
As I have mentioned, I would like to see the importance of my rights restored to an equal footing with that of other members of the United Kingdom. I would like to see the rights which my parents enjoyed for 25 years, delegated to me. I would like to see the continuity of peace and civility rather than violence and disorder. I would like to see the restoration of democracy in Northern Ireland.
I am young and I have a life to live. It’s my desire to see Northern Ireland work and to make a difference. However, I cannot make a difference as the right to elect people to legislate or stand for election myself, has been stripped from my generation.
It is for that reason that I implore the Committee to take my comments into account as a young person, and with the interests of Northern Irish democracy, citizens and the Good Friday Agreement at Heart, that the Committee would also recommend the Lords to oppose this legislation and acknowledge its dangerous potential to protect the continued desecration and degradation of my citizen rights as a young voter.”
So said Jack Steele, an 18 year-old.
My Lords, I rise to challenge some of the terms of this Motion for an Humble Address with considerable reluctance, because many of the arguments that have been advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, and many of the things said tonight by the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, I still think are totally pertinent, reasonable arguments. I certainly have no question in my mind that the DUP strategy has been effective in withdrawing from Parliament. It was a legitimate strategy to achieve an outcome. The outcome is the White Paper which, though nobody would realise it from anything that has been said tonight, is the most unionist document produced by a British Government since the Ireland Act produced by the Labour Government of 1949. I just remark on that. Nobody who listened to this discussion so far would realise that.
I absolutely take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannan. The other side is quite right to say that this House is very random about Henry VIII powers, essentially according to fashion. For fashionable reasons, it gets very worked up one day about Henry VIII powers but, on another day, if the Henry VIII power falls on the head of the unfortunate DUP, too bad. I absolutely accept that this is a double standard, and there are many other double standards, but let us cut to the quick. I remember the “way forward” document, signed by Peter Robinson, a former leader of the DUP, as far back as 1987, dealing with the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which was a far sharper dilution of the equal citizenship of the people of Northern Ireland and was far more radical than anything in the current proposals. It was far sharper. That is a simple reality check.
However, for the unionist parties looking at the problem created for them, there is a key sentence in that report—that it can make no sense for the junior partner in a union to be permanently estranged from the larger partner. That is much more important than any of the details, even about seed potatoes. By the way, I am sure that there will be challenge and counterchallenge, and that there will be challenge against what some hauliers have said. I am certain that we are about to enter a debate.
I am pleased by the Act of Union and slightly surprised because, in another life, I wrote the Oxford history of Ireland, which is a 600-page reflection on the Act of Union. I did not know that people were so fascinated by these terms. I did not know that there was such intense feeling and so much understanding from lawyers in Northern Ireland. I did not know any of that. I wish that it had existed when that book came out, as I would be far richer today. I now discover that the world is full of experts on the Act of Union. I am slightly astounded for a variety of reasons; actually, I do not think that is a serious problem.
Regarding diversion of trade, one of the second tests and one of the things that our own figures show is that there has not been a significant diversion of trade as a function of the protocol, even up to now. Presumably there will be even less of that. It is a simple issue. Statistically, there is no argument about diversion of trade. There are many other problems and massive problems about an Irish Sea border. It is a rhetorical phrase, by the way; none of the lawyers really knows what an Irish Sea border is or what a sea border is. Michel Barnier in the EU always insisted that there was none. The phrase has quite correctly entered common use because of the vast range of pettifogging restrictions that have been implemented in the last few years, a large number of which have now gone, so the content of that phrase itself has been seriously diluted, at least.
The most important consideration I have—it goes to the heart of it, because there are many points to be made tonight—is the point that these are unique arrangements. I am not aware that the history of Ireland and its relationship to this country is not entirely unique. To say that these are unique arrangements—“I haven’t heard about anything else like this in the rest of the world”—is frankly not a case against these arrangements. It may be that at the end we decide that they are not worth while and so on, but the fact that they are unique is not in any sense an argument.
Again, to talk about a section of the business class is totally right; as the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, has said, some hauliers have expressed their doubts about how this works. That is entirely correct. It is also entirely correct to say that the Government think that they have good replies in that respect, and this is how the debate will unfold. But the real point is this: you cannot take out one section. If we are going to talk about business classes, they were overwhelmingly in favour of this agreement. Nobody really disputes that. So if the opinion of the business classes matters, then the totality of the business classes and their opinion must also be something that people have to take into account.
But the biggest problem I have with the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, is Part 4 of this Humble Address. I do regret to advance this argument, but I think that it is fundamental to everything that has gone on. He says that what we are asked to do here is to undermine the 1998 Belfast agreement. What has actually happened in Parliament here since the appearance of the May withdrawal agreement—which does not even mention the Northern Ireland Assembly; that is how far we have moved, by the way, to a brake, et cetera—is a dramatic change over a period of years to try to restore the democratic rights of the people of Northern Ireland. There is really no doubt about that huge shift in British thinking. What has powered it is a feeling, first announced on 12 March 2019 by the then Brexit Secretary, that in the view of the Government—it was the first time this was said—they have the right to resile from provisions in the May withdrawal agreement in the light of the prior agreement, the Good Friday agreement, and that the prior agreement counted. That is the beginning of the debate in which the Good Friday agreement, the Assembly, and the democratic deficit have been at the heart of the way that British government thinking has moved.
The Government have now moved very radically to address the problems of the democratic deficit, and they have argued very strongly that their whole thinking behind the production of this new agreement is based on fidelity to the Good Friday agreement. In the May agreement, following the negotiation, frankly and to our great embarrassment—and this is the real embarrassment to us as a nation—we were being laughed at by government officials for the weakness of the negotiation and the fact that we allowed them, as stated by one of them in cold print, to take control and ownership of the Good Friday agreement. It is a joint agreement, but the greater responsibilities in that agreement fall on the government with sovereign powers, which is the United Kingdom Government. Therefore, for a government to do that is the real humiliation.
We have tried to pull back from that, and there is steady progress in the thinking of the UK Government in the period since that statement by the Brexit Secretary on 12 March 2019. It is always on the same lines; the Government said, more and more, that the Good Friday agreement must be respected. This also means, of course, not just that there is an east-west dimension, which was entirely forgotten about in the May withdrawal agreement; it also means that the Government, under Article 1, Paragraph 5, have a commitment to address the long-term alienation of either community and to actually respect the aspirations of the unionist community.
For a similar reason, the noble Lord, Lord Caine, quite rightly introduced an Irish language Act, to address the aspirations and long-term sentiments of the nationalist community, in this House a few weeks ago. The Government are pursuing the same policy with respect to the alienation of the unionist community and this document is the final proof of their efforts to deal with that, but there can be no final resolution to the alienation of the unionist community which in turn alienates the nationalist community.
The commitment is to equality of esteem. The very arguments that have been advanced in favour of saying to the European Union, “We have to do something in the light of the Good Friday agreement to address the alienation of the unionist community” and the various substantial changes, going well beyond what was expected in Northern Ireland, which have been brought about the White Paper are an attempt to deal with that alienation, but if you go to the point where you say, “We can have a hard border on the island”—and that is the logic of saying no tincture of European law can be accepted in Northern Ireland; the logic must mean a hard border—it must mean that the views of the nationalist community about the right to the single market and of the Irish Government about the protection of the single market on the island of Ireland should be disregarded. That is the logic, and you must be honest in saying so.
Boris Johnson never promised that. When he talked about the protocol and introduced the Bill, he said it was to fix the protocol, not to nix it. It was never advertised as nixing it. That was quite right because to do so would undermine the entire basis of the Government’s approach. The Good Friday agreement requires substantial action to meet the alienation of the unionist community, but it is also perfectly clear under that same article that action which went so far as to destroy—
The noble Lord talks, as many people do, about a hard border. Could he quickly define a hard border and then say why it is not possible, given the small amount of trade that goes across it, as we know, for this border to be not at the frontier but inside the Republic of Ireland?
The noble Baroness has a point. It fits with something which I think is widely misunderstood in this House. The Financial Times, which I believe is regularly read on European matters by those in this House who are pro-Europe, had a report at the beginning of December which said that as a result of this Bill the European Union is pointing out to the Irish Government that it might indeed be the case that as a result of the Bill they will have to consider these checks, which, by the way, were considered by the Irish Government in the early phase of these discussions.
There is another very important point, which is that we have signed two international agreements. I might protest about what happened in the negotiations, but it has happened and there is now no possibility of getting nationalist Northern Ireland to accept any form of checks at the border within the island of Ireland. You can say that is emotional, you can say it is carrying it too far, but lots of things that the unionist community believes are emotional and possibly carried too far. That is just where we are. There needs to be equality of esteem for both communities. We cannot escape that. The Government’s whole case for the past two years has been based on that principle and on trying to level up for the unionist community. They have achieved considerable success with this Bill. These provisions which the Minister has to defend tonight were always advertised as being technically necessary as part of these changes. There is nothing new or surprising about them. The Government’s whole case has been based on a particular line of argument. It has now reached a terminus. We are now in a new place. There is no possibility of carrying on the argument about equality of esteem or neglect of unionists’ interests. There are things that might be done or added or whatever but, in substance, we have reached a logical moment of terminus. This has changed everything. There is no point in just talking in general terms about “I’m unhappy” or “my identity.” We now have to achieve a balance of both identities. That is the heart of my problem with point (4) of this Motion: it does not actually challenge the Good Friday agreement.
It is important, and I understand what the noble Lord is saying about the feeling there would be—although I am talking about not at the frontier but inside—but does he not accept that there is exactly the same fear and feeling about Northern Ireland people who feel British and pro-union having a border imposed on them in their country? Why does the noble Lord feel that the border at the other frontier is so much more difficult and important than having one within our own country?
Because as a matter of fact it actually is, and the noble Baroness knows that.
We talk about sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland. Two years from now there will be a vote in an Assembly on these arrangements. The Assembly will have the right to consider all these matters. There will be no issue of sovereignty then, and we will know what the people of Northern Ireland think. I guarantee that you will not get a majority in the Assembly for any systematic series of checks along the internal border of Ireland—that is just not going to happen—nor will you get the unionist community to accept the protocol as was. It is always a matter of balance. It is very simple.
Many things have been said about sovereignty tonight. Suppose we meet two years from now, and the Assembly has voted and accepted this arrangement, as I think most people believe is extremely likely. All these arguments about sovereignty—“I’ve never heard anything like this”, “It’s outrageous”, “It’s imposed”—would disappear. That vote is coming. To those who are so alarmed about imposition, I say that that vote is coming.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I have the deepest respect for his opinions on these matters, and he knows that. But on the issue of the vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly, would he accept that that vote, uniquely, would be by majority? The Government changed the rules of the Assembly, in breach of the Belfast agreement, which we are all supposed to protect—the Minister may shake his head, but it is true. The reality is that we vote in Northern Ireland on important issues by cross-community vote: the majority of unionists, the majority of nationalists and an overall majority. So when he says that there will be the consent of the Assembly, it is effectively a rigged vote. It is not a vote based on the Belfast agreement. It is not a cross-community vote. It has been deliberately engineered to ensure that unionists will not have the right to say no. That is the only vote of any significance in the Northern Ireland Assembly that is not cross-community or capable of being turned into a cross-community vote. That was deliberately changed, in breach of the Belfast agreement, not in defence of it.
I thank the noble Lord for that intervention as it will allow me to conclude—to the relief of the House—very quickly. He is right about the nature of the vote but wrong about the context. In the first place, under the Government of Ireland Act and the Good Friday agreement, trade is a reserved matter. It was a decision of this Parliament, and the beginning of the change from the May agreement—Johnson’s agreement at least mentioned the Northern Ireland Assembly, which was not mentioned a few months earlier. It is part of the long struggle to deal with significant parts of the democratic deficit. I take the noble Lord’s point completely. You could argue that it would be better if it was a different style of vote.
However, in this new White Paper we have the announcement of a new Stormont brake, where the voting system is exactly what the noble Lord wants. Suddenly we discover that we have a voting system for a petition of concern. It is exactly what has been asked for, but it is still not good enough. There is a point at which one really has to respond to the seriousness of the moment.
My Lords, I know it may dismay some Members that noble Lords from Northern Ireland want to speak on the future of our country. We were expecting this debate not to be at this time but earlier on. However, seemingly the usual channels decided to put it off so that other Members could get home and would not be inconvenienced.
I support everything that my noble friend Lord Dodds of Duncairn said in his introduction to this debate. What we are witnessing, through the powers that are being given here, is a Defra Secretary of State being given the powers to order permanent border control posts. That is undermining the authority and power of the Northern Ireland Assembly, because this is its responsibility.
Even though they believe this will undermine the union, the decision tonight will force the Ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly to acquiesce—even though they disagree with it. That is not an appropriate way to go forward.
I have sat in numerous debates in this House when the Benches opposite were absolutely packed with noble Lords expressing absolute horror that the Government would dare to ever think of introducing Henry VIII powers. Yet the Opposition Benches are empty tonight because it is to do with Northern Ireland. There has been much talk of the exercise of powers that my noble friend mentioned; they are also the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but whenever it suits the Government, they will take it and exercise it here. They say it is because the Assembly is not meeting. The Assembly is not meeting at this present moment, and there is agreement across all the major parties in Northern Ireland for reorganisation of health, but that did not come here, because they have full powers. They say that the health service is in such a crisis that we need this reorganisation now. Well, why has it not been brought here when they are able to do it on other occasions? It suits them: they believe by not doing it, even though there is a crisis in the health service in Northern Ireland, that will force the DUP back in because there is constant pressure.
Tonight, we had it once again. At the beginning of the week, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, told us that if we did not accept the agreement between the European Union and the Prime Minister that was coming—even though he did know at that time what it really was; it was not called the Windsor Framework at that time—unionists should “just remember this”. He was looking across at us and said: “It is not going to be rule from Westminster; it will be joint authority with Dublin.” That was the threat that came from the Lib Dems at the beginning of the week, and now we have a threat today from the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, just to add to it. If that did not make us sit up—we have been told a number of things—we will “pay a price at the ballot box”. With the greatest of respect to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, and the noble Members of this House, the Democratic Unionist Party is always happy to go to the ballot box; that is where we get the authority for our stand and the support. We have been written off so many times. As the Democratic Unionist Party in this House, we have been told what the people of Northern Ireland want and what unionist people want. Yet many of the people who say that have seldom, if ever, been to the Province, but they know what they people of Ulster are thinking; they know what unionist family is thinking. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, said, “If you don’t accept what you are given now, we’ll change the Assembly rules”—that was tonight, that was him. We are being to do what we are told: “Sit in the corner and do what you are told, or else. This is what you’ll get, and you’ll have to suck it up.” So much for the Belfast agreement.
The Belfast agreement is premised on cross-community support. Members across the Benches, in every debate about Northern Ireland, said that the Belfast agreement is sacrosanct and the greatest treaty in the world, and nothing—but nothing—must be done to undermine it. But, when it does not suit the Benches opposite, or even some Members on the Benches around us, they tell us that they will change the rules.
Majority rule has gone from Northern Ireland. Whenever unionists were the majority, they were told, “No, you can’t have it”. But now it is suggested, “If you don’t take what we give you, sit in the corner and eat humble pie, you will have majority rule”. What does that mean? It means that the Alliance Party, Sinn Féin and the SDLP is the rule—but, in actual fact, they are all shades of republican or nationalist. Therefore, let us be honest that, on practically every vote, whenever it came down to it—whether it was British or nationalist/republican—the Alliance Party, the sister party of the Lib Dems, voted with Sinn Féin. So we know exactly what this is all about. Those three parties demanded the rigorous implementation of the previous protocol. Now they say that this new one must be rigorously implemented. Since the protocol came in, we were told that it could not be changed. Yet the Prime Minister said:
“The Stormont brake has been introduced by fundamentally rewriting the treaty”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/2/23; col. 574.]
We were told that it could not be rewritten: it had to be rigorously implemented. But, of course, what the Prime Minister and Europe say about the brake is different. The European Commission described the Stormont brake not as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, did but as an “emergency mechanism” that could be used
“in the most exceptional circumstances, as a last resort”.
It is to be used not often but just as a last resort in the “most exceptional circumstances”.
I and my colleagues will study, and are studying, this very carefully, line by line. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, said that there are now a lot of experts on the Acts of Union that he never knew about: the Windsor Framework has only just come out and, believe it or not, the country is full of experts about what it means. But the truth is that many of them have never read it—or they have read the headlines about what it means in the Times, Express or Guardian. But you have to read it: you must put what our Government say and what Europe says down together, and you will find a divergence of view between those two documents.
Therefore, we will take our time, because there is a difference between us and many other Members of this House. My day is nearly done. I have passed the threescore years and 10, and I thank God that I have lived them as a part of the United Kingdom. That is being threatened. But I want to pass on to my children and grandchildren the privilege and honour that have been given to me as a free citizen, with all of the rest of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, for facilitating this debate. Even though we do not support fatal Motions, it is important that this debate has taken place, as he said.
I will be brief; it is very late, and I do not think that there is any need to go back and repeat the concerns and arguments which have been very clearly laid out by noble Lords this evening. As the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, said, it is important to have a debate on this instrument, which was introduced, according to the Explanatory Notes, to implement either a negotiated outcome with the EU or the system envisaged under the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. As we have heard this evening, that outcome has now been negotiated in the form of the Windsor Framework, which we have welcomed.
We believe that the agreement of a green lane, which is designed to ease the movement of goods between GB and Northern Ireland and to support the functioning of a UK internal market, will be the subject of much discussion and debate as we go forward with the framework—it has received a lot of debate and discussion tonight. There has been a lot of talk about the paperwork and checks that will come in. I read the submissions to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, and road hauliers were mentioned by noble Lords in the debate, so I know it is important that any checks or paperwork are not onerous, and that trade can continue as smoothly as possible under the circumstances.
We also understand that the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and his party need the time and space to fully analyse the agreement and the accompanying legal text—that is only right. We are glad that the Government have committed to providing any supplementary evidence that they may request.
The Government have also said that, if the Executive are restored, Ministers will negotiate whether and how this power can be handed back to the Northern Ireland department. Can the Minister give any more information about what assurances or commitments Defra would seek in those negotiations? We know that Northern Ireland businesses want the protocol to work and for disruption to be minimised, so there must be sufficient capacity for checks to be carried out so that they do not become too onerous.
We do not oppose the measure, but the fact that the Government have deemed it necessary is regrettable. I believe that compromise and respect would create a better situation. This is a very complex issue, and I say again that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, for bringing us the time to debate it. I will listen to the Minister’s response with great interest.
My Lords, I begin by sending the whole House’s best wishes to DCI John Caldwell and his family, following the despicable attack that took place last week. As the Prime Minister set out on Monday, there is no place for such attacks in Northern Ireland or anywhere in the United Kingdom.
I thank noble Lords for their contribution to the debate, and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, for introducing it; I have huge respect for him and his colleagues. I will start and finish my response to the debate on the basis of years spent in Northern Ireland in my early 20s, where I saw some of the terrible things that the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, spoke about—and I have heard others speak in similar ways. I understand, perhaps more than many, the levels of compromise which have been required of him and his colleagues to get to where we are today, and the levels of leadership in the communities they represent, which the rest of us in these islands will never be called on to show. They have demonstrated quite remarkable levels of compromise and leadership, and I fully respect them for doing that.
The instrument which the Motion seeks to annul, the Official Controls (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023, was laid on 12 January this year. In direct response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, I assure the House that, if the Assembly is restored, the implementation of these measures will become the responsibility of the Executive and be delivered through the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland. Their purpose is to grant the Secretary of State concurrent powers: first, to allow Defra to construct facilities for the purposes of performing official controls, with the primary purpose of controlling goods travelling via Northern Ireland into the European Union; and secondly, to enable Defra to direct the competent authority, DAERA—the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs—to hire suitably qualified staff to perform these controls.
The Windsor Framework announced by the Government this week establishes a new way forward for Northern Ireland, making substantial changes to the protocol. It addresses the full range of issues it caused, safeguarding both economic and democratic principles in Northern Ireland. It was always this Government’s preference to secure a negotiated outcome, and this agreement, we hope, delivers for all communities in Northern Ireland. I entirely respect the points made by the noble Lord, and his and his party’s wish to really study this: we must be patient with them.
Benefits from the agreement are significant and wide-ranging and I shall provide noble Lords, briefly, with a couple of examples. We have scrapped all unnecessary red tape for internal UK trade into Northern Ireland. We have also permanently guaranteed unfettered access for Northern Ireland goods to the whole UK market, maintaining the integrity and smooth functioning of the UK internal market. The only controls that remain are for a very limited subset of goods, such as endangered species. We have secured an expansion of the green lane for UK food retailers. Supermarkets, wholesalers, hospitality and catering companies, and those providing food to public services, such as schools and hospitals, will be able to use the green lane. We have removed the requirement for costly health certificates for individual food products; and the requirement for up to 100% physical checks is replaced with a purely risk-based and intelligence-led arrangement.
We have also successfully negotiated significant changes on plants. Previously banned seed potatoes and other commercially important plants described by the EU as “high risk”, such as British oak trees, will now be able to move between GB and NI. Overall, the Windsor Framework delivers for businesses, consumers and all people and communities in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
I now turn from the benefits of the Windsor Framework to this specific SI. As we have explained previously, this legislation was required in all scenarios. I pick up the point made by my noble friend Lord Moylan: SPS checks into Northern Ireland have happened for decades. The whole island of Ireland has been an epidemiological area for these purposes for several decades. The SPS inspection facilities that we are talking about in this SI will ensure that goods destined for the European Union travelling via Northern Ireland are subject to EU checks and controls. These will mainly be goods travelling directly to the Republic of Ireland from Northern Ireland ports. They are necessary checks, as the former DUP Minister for Agriculture, Edwin Poots, acknowledged. They will ensure that checks on live animals are performed safely and with due regard to animal and staff welfare, something that is not possible at the moment with the temporary arrangements that have been put in place. This is a long-standing commitment to protect against disease, given that the island of Ireland is a single epidemiological unit, pre-dating Brexit. They ensure that Irish trucks are not using Northern Ireland ports as a backdoor into the EU without red-lane checks. So, as we said in the Bill and have always maintained, we will need to have the appropriate facilities to carry out red-lane checks.
I want to ask something just for the sake of clarification. My understanding is that the checks that have been carried out for many years relate to livestock and that most people understand SPS checks, which may technically include livestock, as checks on food, seeds, plants and so forth. While I fully accept that there have always been checks on livestock, for good reason, and that they are uncontroversial—I do not think anyone is asking that they be abolished—it slightly overeggs the position to suggest that there have always been SPS checks in the broader sense in which that term has come to be used in the course of the debate following the referendum vote in 2016. However, I am happy to be corrected.
I am happy to talk to the noble Lord after this and clarify that point. Time is moving on.
I was talking about an important safeguard for Northern Ireland businesses. It means that they and they alone benefit from being part of the UK’s internal market. Irish businesses are not part of this and should not benefit from the green lane. Indeed, the implementation of the Windsor Framework can give Northern Irish businesses a competitive advantage over those in the south. We will encourage Irish firms to relocate jobs and investment into Northern Ireland.
The improvement of these facilities is also an important part of providing safe conditions for staff and animal welfare. The present contingency facilities were constructed at speed to allow controls to be delivered when we left the EU. Improving the facilities will ensure that consignments, including for live animal movements, move quickly through ports and on to final destinations, which could include Northern Irish farms. These arrangements are needed for Northern Ireland—its businesses and its reputation for high health status and high-quality agriculture and food production.
I turn to questions of timing and procedure for the introduction of this legislation, as raised by noble Lords. This legislation is time critical. As I set out, the conditions of the current facilities are of concern for both animal and staff welfare reasons. We want to ensure that, as above, the benefits of the new green lane are felt only by internal UK trade and that Irish traders are subject to full EU law checks and controls, as we have always said.
On process, although a public consultation was not required for this legislation as it relates to the implementation of an existing commitment and introduces no new policy, my officials and ministerial colleagues have engaged with industry and businesses extensively over the last two years and will continue to do so. Defra hosts a weekly forum attended by, on average, 150 businesses and organisations across Northern Ireland and Great Britain’s food supply chain, where people can raise issues, hear information and share their views. We have engaged with Northern Irish businesses, for which the integrity and reputation of their goods, from farm to fork, is critical to their success and viability. A useful example is milk; 30% of Northern Ireland’s milk is processed in the Republic, and milk and milk products were worth over £126 million in gross added value to Northern Ireland in 2020.
On the implications of this legislation for the devolution settlement, I reaffirm that the Government recognise that the delivery of these facilities is a devolved responsibility. In the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, it falls to the UK Government to be able to take that work forward.
I hope I have reassured noble Lords on the scope and aim of this statutory instrument. We have had a long, wide-ranging debate, but this is specifically about SPS measures that we need to put in place regardless of the changes, welcome though they may be, that have been announced in the last few days. I hope that, as the benefits we will draw from the historic Windsor Framework become apparent, we will put in place this week measures to ensure that we have proper sanitary and phytosanitary facilities in four ports in Northern Ireland. That is what the statutory instrument seeks to do. I hope I have persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, not to press his fatal Motion.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said and I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It is usual to say it has been a wide-ranging debate, and we can certainly agree on that if not much else at times.
I do not want to go back over some of the elements of this debate, but I want to say something in response to the noble Lord, Lord Bew. He ended on a note of challenge to us, saying that we have got what we wanted but are still not happy. I want to make a point, and it is worth putting on the record. He says that we demand a cross-community vote, whether or not we accept the protocol. That is a legitimate request because it is in keeping with the Belfast agreement. That has been changed and I have outlined the reasons why it is unacceptable. He then said that we have got a cross-community vote in relation to the Stormont brake and are still not happy. But the majority vote that has been granted to the Assembly in 2024 puts an end to the current protocol and instigates a period of negotiation for something new. The cross-community vote under the Stormont brake does not veto the law. It does not give the right to the Assembly to change anything, and that is the fundamental difference.
The devil is in the detail. We have heard the grand statements. We heard tonight that SPS checks have always happened between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, is exactly right on the facts of that matter. It is easy to make wide-ranging statements and claim wonderful progress when you do not actually look at the details. People are saying that we now have free access between Great Britain to Northern Ireland for all goods coming through border control posts, but as I have pointed out—and nobody has challenged this—even for goods coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in the green channel, customs forms will have to be filled in. That is an Irish Sea border. Where else between any country or region of the United Kingdom does anyone have to fill in a customs form to transfer goods, and be subject to checks and to giving all the data and information to the European Union? Where else does anyone have to put goods that nobody can certify for definite will go into the Irish Republic down into the red lane, where the full checks of an international customs barrier are implemented?
We need to get real about this. No one need lecture me about entering and making agreements. I was part of the leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party that sat down and entered government with Sinn Féin, and shared power for years with it on a more stable basis than the Ulster Unionists did previously, when they had the majority. These are people who went out to murder our kith and kin, and who targeted my family visiting a hospital and tried to murder me. My noble friend Lord McCrea’s house was riddled with bullets. We sat down and shared power with them. They still eulogise these terrorists and murderers; they still praise and elevate them. The Minister is right to raise the matter of DCI Caldwell, and we have already expressed our sympathy and wish him well. Sinn Féin stand today and condemn that murder and say it is terrible, but the very same Ministers and leaders of Sinn Féin will stand up and eulogise and praise the murderers of police officers in front of their children—today.
We are still willing to enter government and to move forward with the people of Northern Ireland. Nobody need lecture us about being unreasonable. We agreed the New Decade, New Approach agreement. We agreed the various agreements down through the years. There is no one who should point the figure. At St Andrews, Ian Paisley made that historic agreement with Martin McGuinness. People have this idea that it is no to everything.
We will insist on our rights as British citizens. All we demand is equal citizenship. People talk about not wanting to create a hard border on the island of Ireland. We do not want a hard border. We have never sought a hard border on the island of Ireland. But we will not accept a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. What do we mean by a hard border? What was it defined as by Sinn Féin and nationalist leaders, and by Leo Varadkar? As anything that changed—even a camera was not acceptable. How ridiculous. But for Northern Ireland there is the full panoply of border control posts, and officials jointly responsible to the EU and the UK, sharing data—all the things that are relevant to a third country. Britain is now designated for customs and trade purposes as a third country as far as Northern Ireland is concerned.
These things matter and that is why we are sitting tonight debating these issues—I wish that we could have debated them earlier and we would all be long home, but sadly that was out of our control. However, when we do debate these matters, we feel very strongly about what has been imposed. We will look in detail at all the issues that have been brought forward in this new deal. I hesitate to call it the Windsor agreement because the King was dragged into this whole affair needlessly and wrongly in a somewhat counterproductive, crass attempt to sell it to unionists—the Government should have known better and thought much more about that, as well as the overegging and overselling of it.
We will look at these issues in detail, but what we have seen thus far makes us question some of the propaganda and the claims that have been made. Be honest about it, tell us exactly what is going to happen regarding the equal citizenship of the people of Northern Ireland; do not claim that we are equal citizens and then put in place barriers between our citizenship—between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. We are prepared to make sacrifices to move Northern Ireland forward, but we will not sacrifice our equal citizenship within the United Kingdom.
My Lords, just to keep the House waiting a bit longer, the Minister has addressed some of the points; not many other Members necessarily have—I wonder why. I want to thank in particular the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, who on his birthday has taken time out to come and speak in this debate. There are wider issues that we will be coming to very soon, and we will test the House on many of them in a short time, but in succeeding in raising these issues, highlighting them, and having a debate on them, it is important that we concentrate on the wider issues that are now before us and return to them in greater detail. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
House adjourned at 11.27 pm.