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Northern Ireland Protocol: Exceptions

Volume 719: debated on Wednesday 7 September 2022

2. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of clause 15 of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill on the (a) Northern Ireland and (b) UK economy. (901353)

4. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of clause 15 of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill on the (a) Northern Ireland and (b) UK economy. (901355)

Clause 15 ensures that the Bill can fully meet its objectives by granting powers to make clear where additional elements of the protocol and withdrawal agreement are excluded, subject to carefully defined purposes. To ensure that that is done only if necessary to meet the Bill’s objectives, that power is limited to a list of specified purposes.

With increased exports, manufacturers in Northern Ireland rank trade arrangements as the least of their post-Brexit challenges, and Office for National Statistics figures show that the protocol has actually protected Northern Irish trade. Despite those facts, the Government seem somehow beholden to the minority views of the Democratic Unionist party. Will the Secretary of State abandon the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill and work constructively with the European Union to prevent a trade war at this time of a cost of living crisis?

There is a point among all that I agree with: it is important that we work together across this House to sort out the cost of living crisis, which affects everybody, especially those in Northern Ireland. However, I humbly suggest to the hon. Gentleman that it is quite rich for the Scottish National party to try to interfere in Northern Irish business.

Follow that! During her leadership campaign, the new Prime Minister said she was determined to deliver the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in full—no matter the consequences, apparently. I appreciate that the Secretary of State is brand new, so I will give him a multiple-choice question. On those consequences, will the Government a) risk a trade war with the EU and its 500 million consumers; b) risk inflaming a potentially volatile situation in Northern Ireland; c) risk people’s livelihoods and perhaps even lives in pursuit of a hard Brexit that has failed already; or d) all of the above, in ploughing on anyway?

I think the hon. Gentleman missed the option of always putting the interests of Northern Ireland first, sorting out the problems of the protocol and getting a negotiated solution—and if not, legislating for one.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital for the future of the Northern Ireland economy that goods and services can flow freely from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom and back to Northern Ireland?

I can 100% agree with my hon. Friend. He is completely right. It is important that goods and services that are available in England, Scotland and Wales are fully available in Northern Ireland and that goods and services can flow properly. The problems that the protocol has, probably inadvertently, put in place mean that that is not the case now, and we need to solve that issue.

I take this opportunity to welcome the Secretary of State; I very much look forward to working with him.

The protocol Bill is still to make its way through the House of Lords, despite opposition to it on the Opposition Benches in this House during its passage. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether it is still the preference of the UK Government to reach a negotiated settlement with the European Union over the protocol without having to apply the terms of the protocol Bill? If it is, given that there have been no substantive negotiations since February, when does the Secretary of State plan to initiate those discussions?

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to my new role; I really do look forward to working with him. Secondly, yes, the new Prime Minister said at every single hustings, I believe, that the preferred option is negotiation to sort out the protocol, but the legislation is there and it will continue through its process.

May I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new duties, and ask him to use his well known diplomatic skills and his deep experience as a referee in his new responsibilities? Does he agree with me, as co-chair of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, that there is obviously a landing zone for an agreement? Both sides say so. In his discussions with the political parties from Northern Ireland, can he press for and redouble efforts on discussions that yield a result in the interests of us all?

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his question and for the work that he does chairing that assembly. I, too, believe, and thought when I left the Foreign Office in February, that there is a fairly obvious landing zone for the negotiations, and I very much hope and believe that that is the case today. I think that everything can be sorted out by negotiations, but we have legislation that we will use if not.