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Northern Ireland Protocol: Dispute Resolution

Volume 707: debated on Tuesday 25 January 2022

5. Whether she has plans to change the dispute resolution mechanism in the Northern Ireland protocol. (905228)

The fact is that the Northern Ireland protocol is not working. We need to make sure that the dispute resolution mechanism under the protocol is in line with that in the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement and end the role of the European Court of Justice as the final arbiter.

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that reply, but as she will know, article 5 of the protocol requires Northern Ireland to maintain regulatory alignment with EU rules governing manufactured and agricultural goods; there are about 287 in all, set out in annex 2. Do the Government agree that that regulatory alignment should continue, and if so, what type of dispute resolution mechanism does the Foreign Secretary think would be appropriate to determine whether those rules are in fact being applied?

Our view is that the type of arbitration mechanism we need is the type in any standard trade agreement, which is an independent arbitration mechanism.

Recent Office for National Statistics data shows the Northern Ireland economy recovering more quickly from the pandemic than any other part of the UK, and a survey by Queen’s University has shown that, while people remain concerned about the impact of Brexit, the majority feels that the protocol is providing a unique trading position compared with Great Britain. While there are clearly some specific issues to be resolved, does the Foreign Secretary not recognise that demands to exclude the ECJ are confrontational, and suggestions that article 16 removes the protocol in its entirety are misleading and are creating unrealistic expectations within Northern Ireland?

I am taking a constructive approach to these negotiations. I was in Brussels yesterday meeting Maroš Šefčovič, and I do believe there is a deal to be done that helps protect peace and political stability in Northern Ireland and enables the free flow of goods between GB and Northern Ireland. Our officials are negotiating all this week, and I will be seeing Maroš Šefčovič again next week to make positive progress.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s constructive approach to the negotiations, but two years on from Brexit, can she confirm that disputes cannot go unresolved forever and that this situation has to be brought to an end sooner rather than later?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend on the urgency of this situation, which is why we have been holding intensive talks with the EU to resolve the very real issues there are for traders in GB and Northern Ireland. We do need to make sure that we maintain the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom and that we fix this issue once and for all.

Is the Secretary of State aware that confidence in Northern Ireland that the Government will take decisive action on this and do it quickly has evaporated? We need to see that action taken immediately.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am working very hard with my EU counterparts to resolve the difficult situation in Northern Ireland. We need to sort this out as soon as possible, and that is why we are in intensive negotiations. I believe that there is a deal to be done and that that is in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, the people of Great Britain and the people of the EU.

We have learned that viruses and many infectious agents do not stick to international or, indeed, domestic borders. That is all too true in the human setting, but also in the veterinary setting. With that in mind, what discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the EU about the possibility of a veterinary or sanitary and phytosanitary agreement?

My hon. Friend makes a good point about biosecurity. Of course, that is a key priority for us and the European Union. We are exploring all options that maintain the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the UK. I completely recognise what my hon. Friend says: those issues cross borders, so of course we need to work with our EU partners to sort them out.