Before I begin, I know the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Betty Boothroyd, who passed away yesterday. She was a remarkable woman who commanded huge admiration and respect as the first female Speaker of this House. She was as firm as she was fair and she presided over many historic moments in this House, among them the debates on the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. Her passion, wit and immeasurable contribution to our democracy will never be forgotten.
Mr Speaker, let us also send our very best wishes to Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell and his family. He is a man of immense courage, who both on and off duty has devoted himself to the service of others. This House stands united with the people and leaders of all communities across Northern Ireland in condemning those who are trying to drag us back to the past. They will never succeed.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Northern Ireland protocol. After weeks of negotiations, today we have made a decisive breakthrough. The Windsor framework delivers free-flowing trade within the whole United Kingdom. It protects Northern Ireland’s place in our Union and it safeguards sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland. By achieving all this, it preserves the delicate balance inherent in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. It does what many said could not be done: removing thousands of pages of EU laws and making permanent, legally binding changes to the protocol treaty itself. That is the breakthrough we have made. Those are the changes we will deliver. Now is the time to move forward as one United Kingdom.
Before I turn to the details, let us remind ourselves why this matters. It matters because at the heart of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the reason it has endured for a quarter of a century is equal respect for the aspirations and identities of all communities, and all its three strands. But the Northern Ireland protocol has undermined that balance. How can we say the protocol protects the Belfast/Good Friday agreement when it has caused the institutions of that agreement to collapse? So, in line with our legal responsibilities, we are acting today to preserve the balance of that agreement and chart a new way forward for Northern Ireland.
I pay tribute to: our European friends for recognising the need for change, particularly President Von der Leyen; my predecessors for laying the groundwork for today’s agreement; and my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Northern Ireland Secretary for their perseverance in finally persuading the EU to do what it spent years refusing to do: to rewrite the treaty and replace it with a radical, legally binding new framework.
Today’s agreement has three equally important objectives: first, allowing trade to flow freely within our UK internal market; secondly, protecting Northern Ireland’s place in our Union; and thirdly, safeguarding sovereignty and closing the democratic deficit. Let me take each, in turn.
Core to the problems with the protocol was that it treated goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland as if they were crossing an international customs border. This created extra costs and paperwork for businesses, who had to fill out complex customs declarations. It limited choice for the people of Northern Ireland and it undermined the UK internal market—a matter of identity, as well as economics. Today’s agreement removes any sense of a border in the Irish sea and ensures the free flow of trade within the UK.
We have secured a key negotiating objective: the introduction of a new green lane for goods destined for Northern Ireland, with a separate red lane for those going to the EU. Within the green lane, burdensome customs bureaucracy will be scrapped and replaced with data sharing of ordinary, existing commercial information. Routine checks and tests will also be scrapped. The only checks will be those required to stop smugglers and criminals. Our new green lane will be open to a broad, comprehensive range of businesses across the UK. I am pleased to say that we have also permanently protected tariff-free movement of all types of steel into Northern Ireland. For goods going the other way, from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, we have scrapped export declarations; delivering, finally, completely unfettered trade. The commitment to establish the green lane is achieved by a legally binding amendment to the text of the treaty itself. This is fundamental, far-reaching change and it permanently removes the border in the Irish sea.
Perhaps the single most important area of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is food. Three quarters of the food in Northern Ireland’s supermarkets comes from the rest of the UK, yet the protocol applied the same burdens on shipments from Cairnryan to Larne as between Holyhead and Dublin. If it was implemented in full we would see supermarket lorries needing hundreds of certificates for every individual item, every single document checked and supermarket staples like sausages banned altogether. More delays. More cost. Less choice. Today’s agreement fixes all this with a new, permanent, legally binding approach to food. We will expand the green lane to food retailers, and not just supermarkets but wholesalers and hospitality, too. Instead of hundreds of certificates, lorries will make one simple, digital declaration to confirm that goods will remain in Northern Ireland. Visual inspections will be cut from 100% now to just 5%. Physical checks and tests will be scrapped, unless we suspect fraud, smuggling or disease, so there will be no need for vets in warehouses.
Of course, to deliver this we need to reassure the EU that food imports will not be taken into Ireland, so we will ask retailers to mark a small number of particularly high risk food products as “not for EU”, with a phased roll-out of this requirement to give them time to adjust. More fundamentally, we have delivered a form of dual regulation for food, the single biggest sector by far for east-west trade and one of the most important in people’s lives. Under the protocol, retail food products made to UK standards could not be sold in Northern Ireland. Today’s agreement completely changes that. This means the ban on British products like sausages entering Northern Ireland has now been scrapped. If it is available on supermarket shelves in Great Britain, then it will be available on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland. We still need to make sure that goods moved into Northern Ireland do not risk bringing in animal and plant diseases, but that is clearly a common sense measure, never opposed by anyone, to prevent diseases circulating within the long-standing single epidemiological zone on the island of Ireland.
That brings me to the treatment of parcels. If the protocol was fully implemented, every single parcel travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland would be subject to full international customs. You would have needed a long, complex form to send every single parcel, even a birthday present for a niece or nephew, and you could only have shopped online from retailers willing to deal with all that bureaucracy, with some already pulling out of Northern Ireland. Today’s agreement fixes all of this. It achieves something we have never achieved before: removing requirements of the EU customs code for people sending and receiving parcels. Families can, rightly, send packages to each other without filling in forms, online retailers can serve customers in Northern Ireland as they did before, and businesses can ship parcels through the green lane—all underpinned by data sharing by parcel operators, with a phased roll-out and time for them to adjust.
No burdensome customs bureaucracy. No routine checks. Bans on food products: scrapped. Steel tariff rate quotas: fixed. Tariff reimbursement scheme: approved. Vet inspections: gone. Export declarations: gone. Parcels paperwork: gone. We have delivered what the people of Northern Ireland asked for and the Command Paper promised—we have removed the border in the Irish sea.
To preserve the balance of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, we also need to protect Northern Ireland’s place in our Union. The Windsor framework is about making sure that Northern Ireland gets the full benefit of being part of the United Kingdom in every respect. Under the protocol, in too many ways that simply was not the case. Take tax. When I was Chancellor, it frustrated me that when I cut VAT on solar panels or beer duty in pubs, those tax cuts did not apply in Northern Ireland. We have amended the legal text of the treaty so that critical VAT and excise changes will apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. That means zero rates of VAT on energy-saving materials will now apply in Northern Ireland. Reforms to alcohol duty to cut the cost of a pint in pubs will now apply in Northern Ireland. Because we now have control over VAT policy, we can make sure that the EU’s plan to reduce the VAT threshold by £10,000 will not apply in Northern Ireland, nor will the SME VAT directive that would have brought huge amounts of EU red tape for small businesses.
We are also making subsidy control provisions work as intended. Already, just 2% of subsidy measures in Northern Ireland fall within the scope of the EU approvals under the protocol. Nevertheless, today’s agreement goes further, addressing the so-called reach-back of EU state aid law by imposing stringent new tests. For the EU to argue that we are in breach of its rules, it would now have to demonstrate that there is a real, genuine and material impact on Northern Ireland’s trade with the EU. That is a much higher threshold than in the protocol, limiting disputes to what the 2021 Command Paper called
“subsidies on a significant scale relating directly to Northern Ireland”.
We have also protected the special status of agriculture and fisheries subsidies in Northern Ireland, which will be completely outside the EU’s common agricultural policy. All that means that the problem of reach-back is fixed.
As well as tax and spend, the UK Government have a responsibility to protect the supply of medicines to all its citizens, but our ability to do that was constrained by the protocol. The biggest problem is that drugs approved for use by the UK’s medicines regulator are not automatically available in Northern Ireland. Imagine someone suffering with cancer in Belfast seeing a potentially life-changing new drug available everywhere else in the UK, but unable to access it at home. When the current grace period ends in 2024, the situation will get worse still: expensive and burdensome checks on all medicines; companies having to manufacture drugs with two completely different labels and supply chains; and pharmacies needing to check every package with complex scanners.
When 80% of Northern Ireland’s medicines come from Great Britain, those frictions pose a serious risk to the supply of medicines to the people of Northern Ireland. To fix that, today’s agreement achieves something unprecedented: it provides dual regulation for medicines. The UK’s regulator will approve all drugs for the whole UK market, including Northern Ireland, with no role for the European Medicines Agency. That fully protects the supply of medicines from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, and once again asserts the primacy of UK regulation. The same medicines, in the same packs, with the same labels, will be available in every pharmacy and hospital in the United Kingdom. Crucially, dual regulation means that Northern Ireland’s world-leading healthcare industry, which brings much-needed jobs and investment, can still trade with both the EU and UK markets. This is a landmark deal for patients in Northern Ireland. It is a permanent solution that brings peace of mind.
The protocol banned quintessentially British products going to Northern Ireland. When people wanted to import oak trees to mark Her late Majesty’s platinum jubilee, the protocol stood in their way. It suspended the historic trade in seed potatoes between Scotland and Northern Ireland. If implemented, it would create massive costs and bureaucracy for people travelling around the UK with their pets, disrupting family life and our family of nations. That is why today’s agreement will lift the ban on shrubs, plants and trees going to Northern Ireland. It will lift the ban on the movement of seed potatoes—particularly important for Scottish businesses. We will deliver that by expanding the existing UK plant passport scheme.
When it comes to pets, we have made sure that people from Northern Ireland will have completely free access to travel to Great Britain. A pet owner travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland just needs to make sure that their pet is microchipped and then they will simply need to tick a box when booking their travel. Whether it is lower VAT rates, lower beer duty, jubilee oaks in garden centres, seamless travel with pets, seamless trade in seed potatoes or the seamless supply of cutting-edge medicines, all that is now available for everyone, everywhere in the United Kingdom.
The Windsor framework goes further still, by safeguarding sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland and eliminating the democratic deficit. Fundamentally, the protocol meant that the EU could impose new laws on the people of Northern Ireland without their having a say. Some Members of this House, whose voices I deeply respect, say that EU laws should have no role whatsoever in Northern Ireland. I understand that view and I am sympathetic to it, but for as long as the people of Northern Ireland continue to support their businesses having privileged access to the EU market, and if we want to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland—as we all do—there will be some role for EU law. The question is: what is the absolute minimum amount necessary to avoid a hard border?
Today’s agreement scraps 1,700 pages of EU law. The amount of EU law that applies in Northern Ireland is less than 3%, and the people of Northern Ireland retain the right to reject that 3% through next year’s consent vote. However, that consent vote is about the whole protocol so it cannot, by its nature, provide oversight of individual new laws. It does not address the No. 1 challenge to sovereignty made by the protocol: the EU’s ability to impose new or amended goods laws on Northern Ireland without its having a say. To address that, today’s agreement introduces a new Stormont brake.
The Stormont brake does more than just give Northern Ireland a say over new EU laws; it means that it can block them. How will that work? The democratically elected Assembly can oppose new EU goods rules that would have significant and lasting effects on their everyday lives. It will do so on the same basis as the petition of concern mechanism in the Good Friday agreement, needing the support of 30 Members from at least two parties. If that happens, the UK Government will have a veto. We will work with the Northern Ireland Assembly and all parties to codify how the UK Government will use that veto.
Let me tell the House the full significance of that breakthrough. The Stormont brake gives the institutions of the Good Friday agreement a powerful new safeguard. It means that the United Kingdom can veto new EU laws if they are not supported by both communities in Northern Ireland. Yes, it is true that until now the EU had refused to consider treaty change; we were told that it was impossible, and that EU negotiators would never consider it. The Stormont brake has been introduced by fundamentally rewriting the treaty—specifically, the provisions relating to dynamic alignment. That is a permanent change and it ends the automatic ratchet of EU law. If the veto is used, the European courts can never overturn our decision.
The EU has also explicitly accepted an important principle in the political declaration. It is there in black and white that the treaty is subject to the Vienna convention. This means that, unequivocally, the legal basis for the Windsor framework is in international law. I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) for his support in negotiating this point. It puts it beyond all doubt that we have now taken back control.
From the very start, we have listened closely and carefully to views on all sides of this debate. I am grateful to many Members of this House, the communities of Northern Ireland and the voices of business and civil society for putting forward their suggestions. I want particularly to thank the Northern Ireland business groups that I have spoken to. I hope in today’s agreement they recognise that we have addressed their concerns. We are delivering stability, certainty, simplicity, affordability and clarity, as well as strengthened representation for the businesses of Northern Ireland.
I also want to speak directly to the Unionist community. I understand and have listened to your frustrations and concerns, and I would not be standing here today if I did not believe that today’s agreement marks a turning point for the people of Northern Ireland. It is clearly in the interests of the people, and those of us who are passionate about the cause of Unionism, for power sharing to return.
Of course, parties will want to consider the agreement in detail, a process that will need time and care. There are, of course, many voices and perspectives within Northern Ireland, and it is the job of Government to respect them all, but I have kept the concerns raised by the elected representatives of Unionism at the forefront of my mind, because it is their concerns with the protocol that have been so pronounced.
What I can say is this: our goal has been to ensure the economic rights of the people of Northern Ireland under the Act of Union and the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, placing them on an equal footing with the rest of the UK with respect to tax, trade and the availability of goods. We have worked to end the prospect of trade diversion, removed any sense of a border for UK internal trade, removed routine customs or checks for goods destined for Northern Ireland, removed thousands of pages of existing EU law and introduced a UK veto on dynamic alignment, through the Stormont brake. We have created a form of dual regulation where it works and is needed the most, in sectors like medicines and food retail. We have delivered unfettered access to the whole UK market for Northern Ireland’s businesses, and we will take further steps to avoid regulatory divergence in future. We have secured a clear EU commitment and process to manage future changes with a special goods body.
All of this means that Northern Ireland’s businesses have continued access to the EU market, as they requested. It means that we have protected the letter and the spirit of Northern Ireland’s constitutional guarantee in the Belfast agreement, with the Stormont brake creating an effective cross-community safeguard. There are two distinct economies on the island of Ireland, and that will remain the case. Today’s agreement puts it beyond all doubt that Northern Ireland’s place in the internal market and the United Kingdom is fully restored.
I want to conclude by directly addressing the question of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. As I and my predecessors always said, the Bill was only ever meant to be a last resort, meant for a world where we could not get negotiations going. As the Government said at the time of its introduction, our
“clear preference remains a negotiated solution”.
Now that we have persuaded the EU to rewrite fundamentally the treaty text of the protocol, we have a new and better option. The Windsor framework delivers a decisively better outcome than the Bill, achieving what people said could not be done and what the Bill does not offer. It permanently removes any sense of a border in the Irish sea. It gives us control over dynamic alignment, through the Stormont brake, beyond what the Bill promised. The Bill did not change a thing in international law, keeping the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and leaving us open to months—maybe years—of uncertainty, disruption and legal challenge. Today’s agreement makes binding legal changes to the treaty itself and is explicitly based on international law. Unlike the Bill, it is an agreement that provides certainty and stability and, crucially, can start delivering benefits almost immediately for the people and businesses of Northern Ireland.
Of course, the House would expect to be informed of the Government’s updated legal position on whether there is a lawful basis to proceed with the Bill, so I am publishing it today. It says that because we have achieved a new negotiated agreement, which preserves the balance of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, the original and sound legal justification for the Bill has now fallen away. In other words, neither do we need the Bill nor do we have a credible basis to pursue it. We will therefore no longer proceed with the Bill, and the EU will no longer proceed with its legal actions against the UK. Instead, we will pursue the certainty of a new way forward with the Windsor framework.
Let me just remind the House of the full breadth and significance of what we have achieved today. We have achieved free-flowing trade, with a green lane for goods, no burdensome customs bureaucracy, no routine checks on trade, no paperwork whatsoever for Northern Irish goods moving into Great Britain and no border in the Irish sea. We have protected Northern Ireland’s place in the Union, with state aid reach-back fixed, the same tax rules applying everywhere, vet certificates for food lorries gone, the ban on British sausages gone, parcel paperwork gone, pet paperwork gone, garden centres now selling the same trees, supermarkets selling the same food and pharmacies selling the same medicines. We have safeguarded sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland, with the democratic deficit closed, the Vienna convention confirmed and thousands of pages of EU law scrapped. With the Stormont brake, we have safeguarded democracy and sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland.
That is the choice before us, Mr Speaker. Let us seize the opportunity of this moment—the certainty of an agreement that fixes the problems we face, commands broad support and consensus and offers us, at last, the freedom to move forward together. That is what the people of Northern Ireland deserve; that is what the Windsor framework delivers. As a Conservative, a Brexiteer and a Unionist, I believe passionately, with my head and my heart, that this is the right way forward—right for Northern Ireland, right for our United Kingdom. I commend it to this House.
Order. I want to make sure we get everybody in—this is a very important day. I call the Leader of the Opposition.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement and for the briefing that I was given earlier this afternoon.
I would like to start by joining the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Betty Boothroyd. As Speaker of this House, she was at the forefront of a generation who smashed the glass ceiling for female politicians. She was an inspirational woman and a dedicated and devoted public servant who will be missed by all who knew her. My thoughts and the thoughts of the whole House are with her very many friends and family.
The Good Friday agreement and the peace and prosperity that it brought to Northern Ireland are among the proudest achievements of the last Labour Government, but we in the Labour party have always recognised that this achievement does not belong principally to us. It belongs to the people of Northern Ireland, who, over a quarter of a century, have overcome differences that once seemed insurmountable and have shown that they can work together to build a better future for themselves and for the generations to come.
I had the privilege of working for a number of years with the Police Service of Northern Ireland so that it could serve and represent both communities, but it is the police officers themselves who carried out that change. They helped to make the peace of the Good Friday agreement stick. I was deeply saddened by the shooting of DCI John Caldwell. Our thoughts and the thoughts of the whole House are with him, his family and his colleagues. DCI Caldwell’s shooting is a reminder that we must continue to strive for peace, and that we in the House must take our obligations under the Good Friday agreement and to the people of Northern Ireland as seriously as they do. It is in that spirit that I have made it clear for some time that if the Prime Minister were to get an agreement with the EU, and if that agreement were in the interest of this country and Northern Ireland, Labour would support it, and we will stick to our word. We will not snipe, we will not seek to play political games, and when the Prime Minister puts this deal forward for a vote, Labour will support it and vote for it.
The protocol will never be perfect—it is a compromise—but I have always been clear about the fact that if implemented correctly, it is an agreement that can work in the spirit of the Good Friday agreement. Now that it has been agreed, we all have an obligation to make it work. The moral core of the Good Friday agreement is simple. All people of Northern Ireland have the right to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British or both, and freely participating in the economic life of the UK or the Republic of Ireland is an essential part of that. That is why it is good that the deal before us will see fewer unnecessary checks on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The red and green lanes proposal is a good one. It will make life easier for business, and it will enable the people of Northern Ireland to participate more freely in the economic life of the UK. It has our full support. The protocol will continue to ensure that there is no physical border on the island of Ireland. That is essential because, as we all know, any physical border would be a source of tension—a physical manifestation of new barriers between communities in Northern Ireland and the economic life in the Republic.
This agreement will allow us to move forward as a country, rather than being locked in endless disputes with our allies. It will improve our diplomatic standing, which has been damaged by the Government’s previous threats to break international law. I am encouraged that the Democratic Unionist party has said it will look carefully at the measures it contains. However, we must be honest: this comes with trade-offs. The right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) told the people of Northern Ireland that his protocol meant no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind on goods crossing the Irish sea after Brexit. That was absolute nonsense. It was a point-blank refusal to engage with Unionists in Northern Ireland in good faith, let alone take their concerns seriously, and it inevitably contributed to the collapse of power sharing in Northern Ireland. I have to say that as the Prime Minister listed all the problems with the protocol, I did rather wonder whether he had forgotten who had negotiated it.
I urge the Prime Minister, when presenting what this agreement will mean in practice—and it will take time for everyone to read it and carefully consider it—to be utterly unlike his predecessor. I say to him, “Do not pretend that the deal is something it is not. Where there are trade-offs to be made, argue the case for them. Treat Unionists with the respect of frank honesty, not the contempt of bluster.”
In this year of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement, we must once again embrace compromise and put division behind us. This deal is not perfect, but because we recognise that the UK agreed to the protocol and has an obligation to make it work, because we recognise that for the protocol to work there will inevitably be trade-offs, and because we always recognise that peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland are hard won, Labour will support the Windsor framework. I hope that in the coming days others will come to support the agreement in the same spirit, and will join Labour in voting to make the protocol work, in voting to face the future, and in voting for country before party.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his comments and his support. I agree with the substance of what he has said. I would just say to him that at this moment in time, the right thing for all of us to do is not to look back, but to look forward to the brighter future that we can see for Northern Ireland.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked of trade-offs, but I would talk of balance, and the delicate balance inherent in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. It is important that we respect the aspirations and identities of all communities. That is what the protocol had unbalanced, and that is what the Windsor framework restores. I do believe, hand on heart, that the changes we have achieved and the framework we now have in place will enable balance to be restored to the people of Northern Ireland. This framework puts them in control of their destiny, it secures their place in the Union and it safeguards their sovereignty, and on that basis I hope we can look forward to a brighter future for everyone in Northern Ireland.
Let me first associate myself with the remarks made by both my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition about Baroness Boothroyd—an outstanding Speaker—and about DCI John Caldwell.
The Northern Ireland protocol, negotiated and signed by the Government in December 2019, adopted the European Union’s preferred proposal of a border down the Irish sea. I congratulate my right hon. Friend, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Foreign Secretary and all their teams, on all the work they have done to achieve this negotiated settlement, which will make a huge difference. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best move now is for everyone, across the House, to support the settlement, because that is in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland?
I thank my right hon. Friend, and join her in paying tribute to the Northern Ireland and Foreign Secretaries. They deserve enormous credit for the framework that we have achieved today. I also pay tribute to her for all her work on this topic over the years. She has kept safeguarding the Union at the top of her mind throughout, and I agree with her: what should be at the top of all our minds at this moment are the people of Northern Ireland and what is in their interests. I hope that when people have the time and space to consider the Windsor framework, they will see that this is the best way in which to move forward and build that better future in Northern Ireland.
I call the Scottish National party spokesperson—sorry, leader.
I think I am the group leader, but I will take “spokesperson” as well.
Glass ceilings are there to be broken. Betty Boothroyd did not just break a glass ceiling; she shattered that glass ceiling. In that regard, she has my utmost respect, and my thoughts and condolences are with her family members. My thoughts are also with the police officer in Northern Ireland who was so tragically and appallingly shot in recent days, and I join Members on both sides of the House in saying that I sincerely hope he is able to make a recovery.
Let me turn to the agreement reached today. One would be forgiven for thinking, on the basis of what the Prime Minister has said—in the Chamber and, indeed, earlier today—that this had absolutely nothing to do with him: that all those problems were nothing to do with the Conservative party or with him as a Government Minister. So what happened a couple of years ago? Were they simply being opportunistic when they put this in place? Were they incompetent when they put this in place? Or were they simply duped into believing that something was oven-ready when it clearly was not? I have no doubt that the public will draw their own conclusions.
Broadly speaking, however, I am fully supportive of the agreement, for three simple reasons—three simple and interwoven reasons. It seeks to safeguard peace in Northern Ireland, something that we all know is incredibly important; it seeks to protect the Good Friday agreement, which I think everyone in the Chamber would agree is incredibly important; and, of course, it seeks to provide a pathway back to the ability of the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland to sit. It is not for me to pontificate about democracy in Northern Ireland, but I sincerely hope that those parties involved will be able to come to an agreeable conclusion, and I know that the Prime Minister shares my view in that regard.
But while all of that is good, we cannot and should not forget the damage that has been done by leaving the European Union. Brexit has been an unmitigated disaster —[Interruption.] Conservative Members do not have to believe me; what they should do is read the reports of the Office for Budget Responsibility, which outlined that there would be a 4% hit to GDP as a result of Brexit. Or perhaps they should reflect on the fact that the trade deficit between the UK and the EU is at its highest level on record. Perhaps they could listen to the private sector and to those businesses that are unable to trade, unable to get the workforce they require and unable to get the goods they need. Or perhaps they could listen to the public sector, which is facing severe problems as well, many of which are driven by workforce shortages. Indeed, many of problems that face all our NHSs across these isles come from the fact that we have significant staff shortages in social care. Each and every one of those points is a result of the disaster that has been leaving the European Union, and I find it astonishing that we have a situation where the leader of the Labour party and the leader of the Conservative party are hand in glove when it comes to their position on Brexit.
Finally, we have heard the Prime Minister speak at length about the integrity of the United Kingdom. Indeed, it was reflected upon by the Leader of the Opposition as well. There might be a scintilla of truth in that argument, but what this deal does not do is create parity for the nations of these isles. I see the Northern Ireland Minister sitting there; he was very positive about this in an interview earlier on. This deal means that businesses in Northern Ireland have access to the single market, whereas businesses in Scotland do not. I do not begrudge that to the people and businesses of Northern Ireland, but I regret that Scotland does not have those same opportunities. On that point, can the Prime Minister clarify why Scotland is at a significant disadvantage in that regard on his watch? Does he not agree that the only way for Scotland to have access to the single market and the customs union, and the only way for Scotland to rejoin the European Union, is to rid itself of Westminster?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support for the new agreement that we struck today, the Windsor framework, and in particular for his acknowledgement of the sovereignty that it provides for the people of Northern Ireland to have a say in their own destiny. That is something that was asked for and something that has been delivered. He is also right to say that it is not for any of us to opine, and we will give the parties and communities in Northern Ireland the space and time they need to consider the detail of the Windsor framework. More broadly, without engaging in the broader debate that he raises, I am a passionate Unionist. I will always believe that our Union is stronger when we are together, and that Scotland, alongside Northern Ireland and Wales, will always be part of what makes this country great. We will fight, day in and day out, to protect that Union.
I call the Father of the House.
The Leader of the Opposition helpfully said that people in Northern Ireland might regard themselves as Irish, as British or as British and Irish. A large number would also describe themselves as Northern Irish. The beginning of the framework document states:
“The Northern Ireland Protocol has been the source of acute political, economic and societal difficulties”,
and the last sentence talks about the
“shared desire for a positive…relationship”.
Constituents will say that this agreement resolves some of the known problems about the protocol and some of the ones that have become obvious since then. It is about 50 years since a Unionist MP was a Minister in the UK Government. I hope that this agreement makes it possible for that to happen again.
I thank the Father of the House for his support and his observations. He is right about the agreement that we have struck. It resolves the problems that we know about, but it also puts in place structures and mechanisms to resolve anything else that might come down the line, because it is important that there is close dialogue not just with the European Union but with communities and businesses in Northern Ireland. That is something that they have asked for, and as a result of this agreement, they will have new engagement and new ways to make their voices heard, so that we can continue to make sure that we do the best for them and their communities in Northern Ireland.
On behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, I should like to add our voice in tribute to the late Betty Boothroyd, who was my first Speaker and a wonderful woman who brought so much to this House. I also want to add our sympathy to the family of DCI Caldwell. He continues to be in our prayers. I was pleased to stand with the other leaders and with the Chief Constable in Belfast on Friday and to be clear that the people who perpetrated this evil have no place in the future of Northern Ireland.
I believe that our judgment and principled position in opposing the protocol in Parliament and at Stormont have been vindicated. Undoubtedly, it is now recognised that the protocol does not work. When others said that there could be no renegotiation and no change, it was our determination that proved what could be achieved. I would like to thank the Prime Minister and his predecessors for their work and engagement to date on this issue. In broad terms, it is clear that significant progress has been secured across a number of areas, but we also recognise that there remain key issues of concern. For example, there can be no disguising the fact that in some sectors of our economy in Northern Ireland, EU law remains applicable in our part of the United Kingdom.
My party will want to study the detail of what has been published today as well as examining the legal text, the political declaration and the Government’s Command Paper. Where necessary, we stand ready to engage with the Government in order to seek further clarification, reworking or change as required. My party will now assess all the proposed outcomes and arrangements against our seven tests, outlined in our 2022 Assembly election manifesto, to determine whether what has been published meets those tests and whether it respects and restores Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.
In this regard, I agree with the Prime Minister that the issue of sovereignty is crucial. Article 6 of the Act of Union—the very basis of the Union itself, the economic union of the United Kingdom—was seriously undermined by the Northern Ireland protocol and its implementation, and that needs to be resolved. Some £65 billion of the £77 billion of goods manufactured in Northern Ireland are sold within the United Kingdom: we sell the overwhelming majority of what we produce within our own internal market. I want an assurance from the Prime Minister that not just now but in the future the Government of the United Kingdom will protect Northern Ireland’s place within that internal market and not allow the application of EU law to put barriers in the way of our ability to trade with the rest of our own country.
First, may I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the constructive engagement that I have had with him and members of his team over recent time? As I said earlier, I have tried hard to listen, in particular to the concerns of the elected representatives of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland, because I know that it is they who have had the most concerns over the protocol. At the forefront of my mind throughout all the negotiations has been resolving the issues that those communities are grappling with, which they have raised with me and the Government. I believe very strongly that the Windsor framework does resolve those issues, but I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman and his party, and other Unionist communities, will want to take the time to consider the detail. I respect that, and we will give them the time and space to consider that and stand ready to answer any questions and provide any clarifications.
I also can tell the right hon. Gentleman, with regard to the objectives that he and others have set out, that I believe the Windsor framework will ensure the free flow of trade within our United Kingdom internal market, including unfettered access for Northern Ireland producers to the rest of the United Kingdom. I believe it secures Northern Ireland’s place in the Union and makes sure that citizens and businesses can benefit in the same way everywhere across the United Kingdom.
Lastly, as the right hon. Gentleman has rightly highlighted to me on previous occasions, it ensures and safeguards sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland so that they are in control of their destiny. I believe what we have achieved today provides a basis for the parties in Northern Ireland to consider the detail and hopefully move forward so that together we can build a better future for Northern Ireland. I look forward to doing that with him.
I call the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues have strained every sinew these last weeks and months to arrive at today’s position. They are to be congratulated. The agreement demonstrates that, when committed minds do politics seriously, serious and beneficial outcomes can be delivered for the benefit of all in our country.
While agreeing entirely with my right hon. Friend that the parties, particularly those in Northern Ireland, need the time and space to study the detail and to work out all the implications for those in Northern Ireland, Northern Irish business wants and the good people of Northern Ireland most certainly deserve quick certainty. If there are to be votes in this place on any element of the Windsor framework, as announced today, will he commit to ensuring they take place speedily in order to ensure certainty and peace of mind for all who either live in Northern Ireland or who wish Northern Ireland well?
My hon. Friend knows this subject well, and he is rightly passionate about it. I thank him for all the valuable work that he and his colleagues have done over the years as we considered and concluded these negotiations.
As I said earlier, Parliament will of course have its say and there will be a vote, but we need to do that at the appropriate time in order to give people the time and space to consider the detail. My hon. Friend makes an important point that the benefit of this framework and agreement is that it can start to provide that certainty and those benefits to the people and communities of Northern Ireland very soon. That is why we have concluded these negotiations and want to start delivering the benefits for people on the ground as quickly as we can.
I join others in paying tribute to our late, great Speaker, Betty Boothroyd. Like me, Mr Speaker, I am sure you remember with fondness when you caught Speaker Boothroyd’s eye and when she brought you to order.
I also send my party’s thoughts and prayers to DCI John Caldwell and his family and thank him for his courage and bravery.
Like others, the Liberal Democrats will now closely study this deal, but I welcome the spirit of partnership and compromise between the UK Government and the European Union in the formation of the Windsor agreement. What consultation will the Prime Minister now undertake with all of Northern Ireland’s political parties, including the Alliance party, on the Stormont brake? Can he reassure us that the operation of the Stormont brake will not undermine the economic stability and certainty or the political stability so desperately needed in Northern Ireland?
I am happy to give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that we will continue to engage with all parties and communities in Northern Ireland—that is the right way to proceed—particularly with regard to the operation of the brake. That is set out in the Command Paper, and we look forward to discussing it, and how to codify it, with the Executive, the Assembly and the political parties as we move forward. That is something we are very happy to do.
Just so the right hon. Gentleman is clear, the Stormont brake is based on an existing Good Friday agreement mechanism. The petition of concern mechanism is well established in Northern Ireland as a cross-community safeguard, which is why we have chosen it as the appropriate mechanism for this particular purpose. As I say, we will continue to engage with all parties to make sure we get it absolutely right.
I join the tributes to John Caldwell, who was shot in front of his son while loading footballs into his car after training kids at a football match in Omagh last week.
I welcome the Windsor agreement and the Windsor framework, and I believe today marks a critical moment in ending three years of instability that has affected communities throughout this most fragile part of our country. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and his team for all they have done to secure this. Does he agree that we now need to give the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) and all the other Northern Ireland parties the time, space and encouragement to restore power sharing and to ensure that political decision-making in Northern Ireland can start as soon as possible?
I pay tribute to my constituency neighbour not just for the job he did as Northern Ireland Secretary but for his continued passion and devotion to the people of Northern Ireland. I also thank him personally for the support and advice he has given to me in helping us reach the framework today. I wholeheartedly agree with him, and I hope we can move forward with time and space to build a better future for the people of Northern Ireland. I know that is what he wants to see, and I join him in wanting to see it. We stand ready to work with everyone to bring about that outcome.
I congratulate the negotiators on this very significant achievement. I also congratulate the Prime Minister on his statement, in which he was so frank about the manifest failings of the original Northern Ireland protocol negotiated and signed by his predecessor, which made today’s deal so necessary. Does he agree that the European Union has moved a long way in these negotiations? And does he agree that everyone in this House looks forward, as soon as possible, to the restoration of power sharing in Northern Ireland, because that is in the best interests of the people of that part of our United Kingdom?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that we have had constructive and good negotiations with the European Union, and I pay tribute to President Ursula von der Leyen for the leadership and vision she has demonstrated in trying to find a way through to help us resolve these issues. She and her team deserve enormous credit for displaying that vision, leadership and creativity. I wholeheartedly agree that the people of Northern Ireland need and deserve their institutions to be up and running. I think that is something on which all of us in this House agree, and we all want to see it happen as soon as practically possible.
I start by unreservedly congratulating my right hon. Friend on what seems to be a spectacular negotiating success. With the Windsor framework, he has succeeded in delivering a deal that eliminates the issues of the Irish sea border and addresses the practical issues in Northern Ireland on food, pets, plants, parcels, medicine regulations and tax rules. Above all, it introduces the extraordinary mechanism of the Stormont brake. I am unaware of any such mechanism in any international agreement, and it seems to me to be a brilliant piece of negotiating insight and imagination. As we do not all know the detail, can he explain to the House exactly how this mechanism will work and what its limitations will be?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his warm words, which mean a lot coming from a Brexiteer with such long-standing credentials. As someone who has done the job, he knows how difficult these things are, so it means a lot to me and the Government to have his support, for which I thank him.
The brake will work on the basis of the petition of concern mechanism. That mechanism is part of the Good Friday agreement institutional framework, which is why we believe it is the right cross-community safeguard to use. It will be applied to the goods rules in annex 2 of the protocol that were the main cause of concern. It is there for those rules that cause significant and lasting damage and change to the everyday lives of ordinary people in Northern Ireland. Once the emergency brake is pulled, it will give the UK Government a veto. It is a very powerful cross-community safeguard that ensures sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland, and it is part of why this agreement is the right one for the people of Northern Ireland.
I associate myself with the remarks about Betty Boothroyd, and I join colleagues, particularly my colleagues from Northern Ireland, in sending our love and support to the Caldwell family and every single PSNI officer in uniform today standing up for our peace and democracy.
Although we have some concerns, particularly on the Stormont brake—we will study the detail of this as we go—we are happy that things seem to have moved today. There has been an awful lot of talk, particularly today and in recent months, about the concerns of the DUP and the Unionist community. It is important to remember that the majority of people in Northern Ireland opposed Brexit and want to see the benefits of dual market access properly utilised. Does the Prime Minister agree it is important that his Government now support that dual market access and promote it to international investors?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his engagement with the Secretary of State and myself in recent weeks. He is right: there is a balance to be struck, and the Good Friday agreement is about respecting that balance—it is about the aspirations and identities of all communities in Northern Ireland. That is what we have sought to achieve with the Windsor framework. As I outlined, something we have heard loud and clear from businesses in Northern Ireland is that they value their access to the single market and they value, as all of us do, not having a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. That is something we have had to bear in mind as we considered these negotiations, but I believe we have struck the right balance and the framework means that this agreement can command the support and consent of communities right across the spectrum in Northern Ireland. I look forward to working with him and his party to deliver it.
May I, too, send my best wishes to, and align myself with the comments of others about, detective chief inspector John Caldwell? What happened is a stark reminder of the courageous and special work that all PSNI officers do every day that they are working, to keep all people in Northern Ireland safe. We owe them all a great debt for that work.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and my Front-Bench colleagues on the phenomenal focus they are putting on ensuring that we can secure a deal that, as I know we all hope, can restore power sharing in Stormont. Getting back to having good governance in Northern Ireland by elected representatives in Northern Ireland is key for people there.
Another key area for the citizens of Northern Ireland is access to goods, as my right hon. Friend has rightly outlined. Will he confirm for the House that in this deal we will be able to secure the free flow of trade not only for Northern Ireland businesses into Great Britain, but for Great British businesses into Northern Ireland? Regulations were preventing some goods from moving, and it is great to know that the Great Yarmouth banger will be able to get back on the supermarket shelves, where required, in Northern Ireland. However, for many businesses it was the administrative burden of moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, not just the regulatory one, that needed to be removed in order to allow them to see this as an economic benefit and therefore protect the structural integrity of the UK internal market.
I thank my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to him for the work he did on this topic in his role as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. It was invaluable in paving the way for my colleagues and I to take forward that work and bring it to a successful conclusion today. He is right to highlight the administrative burden of moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. I am confident that with the new green lane, based on using existing ordinary commercial data and data sharing, in place of the bureaucratic customs arrangements that were there hitherto, we have taken an enormous step forward. It delivers what businesses have asked for. We have worked closely with the business community in Northern Ireland to deliver it, and I am confident that as they study the detail, they will see that it provides that smooth flow of their goods around the United Kingdom, as it should be, and ensures Northern Ireland’s place in our UK internal market.
I welcome the fact that the document contains a number of references to the need for “cross-community support”, and the Prime Minister has repeated that phrase a number of times in his statement and in responses. He will be aware that over the past 25 years one significant development has been the number of people who identify themselves as Northern Irish, as distinct from either British or Irish. Will he give the House some indication of how he is going to gauge the opinion of that 20% of the population who identify themselves in that way but might not necessarily be represented by a political party?
My approach, and indeed that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, is to engage with all communities, all parties and all business groups in Northern Ireland, because Northern Ireland is about balance. It is about respecting the delicate balance that exists in Northern Ireland—that was at the heart of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. As I think the right hon. Gentleman has seen, we have gone out of our way to talk to and listen to everybody, respecting, of course, the particular concerns of the Unionist community. But this framework, this agreement, I believe gets that balance right. It respects the aspirations and identities of all communities in Northern Ireland, which is why I believe it is the right way forward.
My right hon. Friend will know that, as ever, the devil lies in the detail of the papers that have been published this afternoon. May I seek his assurance that the Government will respond to the democratically correct questions that naturally arise on the substance and procedures involved? In particular, I am thinking about the making of EU laws and the European Court; the Joint Committee and its procedures; and the Stormont brake, not to mention the whole context of sovereignty in this entire process under section 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020? Would he also be good enough to indicate how long a timeline he is proposing for the questions and answers that will be required, and how long that might take?
I thank my hon. Friend for the engagement he has had, with me in particular, and the advice he has provided. Section 38 of that Act was a testament to him, and it reasserts the sovereignty of this Parliament in matters of international law and he was right to do that. I hope we can strengthen that provision as we consider how best to make sure we protect the Act of Union and Northern Ireland’s place in it. As for questions, I am happy to move as quickly as he is able to provide the questions for me and I look forward to engaging in that dialogue with him.
My party can give a broad welcome to this agreement. There are some positives in it that address a range of challenges that have been clear for some time. However, for us, the key test is the preservation of Northern Ireland’s dual market access. In that regard, my party has massive concerns about this potential Stormont brake. Does the Prime Minister understand that there are real dangers that this process could add more instability into the Assembly, and may I stress to him that the petition of concern is controversial, given its abuse in the past? This also creates uncertainty for businesses regarding ongoing single market rules, particularly with a view to investment into Northern Ireland. So will he meet our party to discuss this in more detail in order to clarify what is potentially being proposed?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the engagement that he and his colleagues have had with me and the Secretary of State in recent weeks, which has been helpful. Of course, I can assure him that I look forward to talking to him again very soon to explain the Windsor framework in detail. He makes a good point: many people, communities and business in Northern Ireland value their access to the European Union single market and rightly value not having a hard border on the island of Ireland. We have strived to protect that in this agreement while ensuring Northern Ireland’s place in our Union and protecting and safeguarding its sovereignty. I believe that the Windsor framework does get that balance right and I look forward to having that conversation with him.
Let me say at the outset that our thoughts and prayers are with the police officer who was attacked by people calling themselves the “New IRA”. There is nothing new about people who are callous murderers or attempted murderers; these people are still the IRA and they always will be, as they were in the days when I served in the Province.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on negotiating this excellent agreement. Part of the reason why the EU has moved was perhaps the threat of the Bill coming through this House. Clearly, the EU has woken up and smelt the coffee, realising how bad this was going to be for it and for the Republic of Ireland. Does he think that was part of the reason why he got such an excellent deal with the EU?
I am sure that the Bill did create the conditions for us to have the negotiation that we did, but, as the Government were clear about and said at the time, our preference was always a negotiated outcome if one was available. Today, we have achieved a negotiated outcome that provides the certainty and stability that we need, and resolves the issues we set out to resolve. It safeguards Northern Ireland’s sovereignty, protects its place in the Union, and guarantees and provides for the free flow of trade around the UK internal market. It is because we now have the Windsor framework, this new agreement, that we no longer need the Bill and we will no longer proceed with it. This agreement can start bringing benefit to the people of Northern Ireland as quickly as possible.
As chair of the all-party group on Ireland and the Irish in Britain, I believe that, over the past few years, the state of the relationship between London and Dublin has been of great concern to many of us and to the hundreds of workers in this place who are Irish or of Irish origin. We need to look to the future and to learn from what we see. The Prime Minister talks about the Good Friday agreement in all its dimensions. That includes strands 2 and 3, which, if fully implemented, offer us great potential to embed some of this agreement and to look to the future. Will he now commit his party—other Members here can join in—to making sure that the operations of strands 2 and 3 and our co-operation with the Irish Government go forward in a much better way?
The Government are committed to all strands of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. I have talked a lot about balance and about making sure that we get that balance right. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), for the incredible job that they have done not just with the agreement, but, in particular, in addressing the issue that the hon. Lady has just raised. I also wish to put on record my thanks to the Irish Government for the role they have played and the support they have provided us throughout this process. We look forward to continued, positive and constructive dialogue with them. That is what my colleagues and I will do as we make sure that we capitalise on all strands of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.
Northern Ireland has a precious and integral place in the United Kingdom. It certainly seems to me, reflecting back over the past five years, that if this deal had been on the table at any point in that time, those of us who are Brexiteers, those of us who are remainers and those of us who are Unionists would have jumped on it. I heartily congratulate the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State and the Minister of State on their excellent work and negotiation. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that, in his view, this Windsor agreement now fully restores the Act of Union and the Belfast/Good Friday agreement?
I thank my right hon. Friend particularly for her support given her long-standing credentials in this area and the passion with which she believes in our Union. I am grateful to have her support. I can give her that assurance: this absolutely does meet the requirements and is consistent with the Act of Union and the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. We have worked very hard to get to an outcome that does, and I am really pleased that the Windsor framework delivers for her and for everyone else in Northern Ireland.
I welcome the 18-minute confession that the Prime Minister undertook about the damage that the protocol, which his Government signed, has done to Northern Ireland. May I remind him that, although he talks about 1,700 pages of EU law being removed from Northern Ireland, hundreds of thousands of pages will still remain? Border posts are still being planned, and the Prime Minister has admitted that future EU laws will apply to Northern Ireland unless, under paragraph 52, his Government decide not to proceed with law changes for the United Kingdom as a whole, or he vetoes EU proposals in a Joint Committee. Can he understand why we do not have confidence in that and why we still fear that our position within the United Kingdom will not be restored by this agreement?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows well, 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.
To his broader point about EU law, less than 3% of EU law applies in Northern Ireland. It applies with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. As he knows, the consent vote next year allows them to remove all of those laws and to have a new approach, but it is there because, as we have heard, there is a balance to be struck, and Northern Ireland’s communities and businesses value not having a border on the island of Ireland. They value their access to the single market. We are in a position where we have the minimum amount of law required to fulfil that purpose. I believe sovereignty is important. I believe that those laws and the new ones that come through should come through only with the consent and oversight of the people of Northern Ireland. That is why the Stormont brake is so powerful: it puts power in the hands of the Assembly, of him and his colleagues, to decide what is best for Northern Ireland. That is what sovereignty means to me. It means giving Stormont the ability to say no, and I hope that he will give this framework the time and consideration that it deserves.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for publishing both the White Paper and the legal text on the same day, which will materially assist the whole House. As a former Chancellor, he knows well that, on Budget day, the Government put a good gloss on whatever they are putting to the public. We then have to read through the Red Book to check on the fine detail. He has worked very hard on this agreement, so can he assure me and the whole House that when we go through the Red Book—or, in this instance, the detailed legal text—we will not find any nasty surprises that will materially undermine the position of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. I am pleased that we were able to publish all the documentation. I know that that was important not just to him and to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), but to other colleagues as well. It is the right thing to do and, as I have said, I wish to give everybody the time and the space to consider the detail of the Windsor framework. I believe that it meets the objectives that we set out to achieve: it provides for the free flow of goods within the United Kingdom; it ensures Northern Ireland’s place in our Union; and it safeguards sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland. I look forward to engaging with him and his colleagues over the coming days to answer his questions and provide any clarifications. I am confident that, when he goes through the detail, he will see that this is a good agreement. It is the right agreement for Northern Ireland and for the people of Northern Ireland, and it is a way for our United Kingdom to move forward together.
May I associate myself with the comments and sentiments that have been expressed to the families of Betty Boothroyd and DCI Caldwell?
The people of Northern Ireland have been through so much. This is a welcome opportunity to make progress, but, as the Prime Minister no doubt knows, clearing up the mess that other people make can be a never-ending job. The House of Lords is currently debating a Bill that will delete more than 60 areas of regulation that are not covered by the protocol. That is a process that the EU has already said will start a trade war if it goes through and that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission says undermines the Good Friday agreement. It covers issues such as electrical safety, food standards and farming standards. In order to support what he has presented to the House today, will the Prime Minister confirm that all remaining retained EU legislation will be retained in Northern Ireland itself, using the powers that he has and that Stormont currently cannot exercise? If he does not, how can anybody have confidence that we will avoid the regulatory divergence and that trade war which could undermine everything he has presented today?
The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is passing separately to these arrangements, but these arrangements provide for the appropriate sovereignty in Northern Ireland for the Stormont Assembly to have that say. It is more than a say; it is an ability for the Assembly to block new EU goods laws as they come down the pipe if Assembly Members are not happy with them. As the hon. Lady will see in the Command Paper, we have also committed to a range of other things to ensure that we protect against trade and regulatory divergence, including dialogue with businesses in Northern Ireland and also with the European Union. As she studies the detail, hopefully she will be reassured that we have protected properly against that.
May I associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s comments on Betty Boothroyd, who was my first Speaker when I arrived here—she will be greatly missed—and also his comments on the brutal attack on DCI Caldwell?
I commend my right hon. Friend and his team for their diligence and hard work in pursuing this matter regardless of the obstacles that lie in their way, including the reluctance of the EU to admit anything about the problems that have been taking place. For me, having served in Northern Ireland and lost friends who never came back from Northern Ireland, the restoration of the Good Friday agreement is, at the end of the day, the No.1 item. However, when I was looking through the details, I noticed that the Stormont brake is not quite as defined as it might be. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could clear this up. One phrase says that it can be used only if there is
“significant impact specific to everyday life”.
Who makes that decision as to what is significant? Secondly, can the EU demand countermeasures if the brake is deployed?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments and pay tribute to his service. I know that this is a topic that he rightly cares about.
I am happy to clarify. It is for us to make the determination whether the threshold has been met. It is right that there is a threshold. The ability to block new law is a serious mechanism and it should not be used for trivial reasons. It should be used for those new laws that have a significant and lasting impact on the everyday lives of people in Northern Ireland. That is the right trigger, and it is one that we are in control of deciding. It is equally appropriate that if we do that, the EU will have the right to take appropriate countermeasures. That is there in black and white. Obviously, those have to be proportionate. I do not think that anyone could disagree with that. This is a very powerful mechanism, and I am pleased that we were able to reach resolution on it, because, as I have said, it ensures that we have restored sovereignty to the people of Northern Ireland.
There is, of course, much to welcome in today’s statement, but I must press the Prime Minister on a specific point. In his statement, he casually mentioned the burdens on shipments between Holyhead and Dublin. He failed to mention that, pre-Brexit, about 30% of all trade through the port went on to Northern Ireland from Dublin. That trade is reorientating as we speak, in real time, aggravating the already devastating impact of Brexit on the port of Holyhead. Can the Prime Minister clarify whether this new agreement will guarantee seamless trade between Northern Ireland and Wales via Dublin? If not, will he recognise that green lanes will disadvantage Welsh ports?
This is about ensuring the free flow of goods within our United Kingdom; that is what the green lane is there to do. It was always going to be the case after we left the European Union that sending things to the European Union from the UK would be different. What this agreement is about is prioritising trade within the United Kingdom’s internal market, and the green lane that we have delivered through this framework does exactly that.
Who will decide which EU laws will apply in Northern Ireland, and on what basis will they make that decision?
Going forward, when the Executive are up and running, as I hope very much they will be, it will be for the Assembly in Northern Ireland to decide. For those goods rules in annex 2, which are the ones of most concern, the Stormont brake will apply. There will be a process of scrutiny and if 30 MLAs from two parties use the petition of concern mechanism to trigger the Stormont brake, that will allow the UK Government to veto the goods rules. That is why this is important: it will be the institutions of Northern Ireland that will get to make that decision.
May I, too, add my sincere comments to those of others on the attempted murder of DCI Caldwell? He and his family are known personally to me. I thank the Prime Minister for his comments. I hope, in fact, that the Sovereign will make a statement about the attempted murder of a police officer in Northern Ireland. I think that would be appropriate and fitting.
The Prime Minister has quite rightly indicated that trade is important to all of our United Kingdom. Paragraph 47 of the framework focuses on veterinary medicine for all our animals. Our agrifood sector is huge. It feeds multiples of millions of people here in GB, but half of the product lines are at risk. Paragraph 47 states:
“As part of the agreement, we have put in place a grace period”,
but it will expire in less than a year and a half. Prime Minister, that is utterly useless for our agricultural sector. That will actually make it more difficult for our farm businesses. Also, if we move any livestock from County Antrim to Ayrshire and fail to sell them at the marts, we will have to leave them there for at least six months. That has not been addressed. If the Prime Minister were to move cattle from Yorkshire to Lancashire and was told that they would have to stay in Lancashire for six months, he would not be amused. Our farmers in Northern Ireland are not amused. It is our single largest trade. Will these issues be fixed, or is this a failed process already?
I join the hon. Gentleman in supporting our farmers, whether in Northern Ireland or, indeed, in Yorkshire. Actually, the agreement we have reached on veterinary medicines lasts three years, until the end of 2025, which provides us with the time and space to agree a more permanent solution with the European Union. As today’s framework demonstrates, we are more than capable of doing that, as we have resolved all the other issues that were in front of us.
I also point the hon. Gentleman to the solution that we have reached on human medicines, which I think everyone will agree are vital, where we have achieved a form of dual regulation, which ensures the full availability of medicines across the entire United Kingdom, with the UK regulatory authorities being the ones in charge. I think that that is what he should look to, alongside all the other things we have solved today, to have confidence that between now and three years’ time, in 2025, we will put a permanent footing for vet medicines on the table.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and commend him and his entire team on what they have achieved. He seems to have won some jaw-dropping concessions from the EU without giving anything in return.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that alongside the benefits that this agreement will bring for the people of Northern Ireland, it can form the basis of further co-operation with our EU friends on issues that will matter to the entire United Kingdom, including trade and investment, science and illegal migration?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his support and also for his invaluable advice over the past few weeks. I agree with him. He is right to highlight illegal migration in particular, as well as economic co-operation. That is a priority for this Government, as we have demonstrated. The Home Secretary is working with the French and that co-operation is yielding benefits. We continue to want to do more of that, and I know that he will support those efforts.
I echo the words of solidarity from many across the House for the Caldwell family and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and the rejection of extremist throwbacks; the people of our region are sick and tired of them.
We all want simpler post-Brexit trading arrangements, so we sincerely welcome this progress and commend the Prime Minister on taking a much more constructive approach than his predecessors. I reiterate that there are many political outlooks in Northern Ireland and it is a fact that most people, most parties and most business representatives value our single market access, our high food standards and our 1998 agreement. So that we can maintain the huge opportunity of the protocol, will the Prime Minister commit his Government to championing loudly our unique dual market access, working to prevent vexatious use of the Stormont brake, and keeping a focus on restoration of the Stormont Executive, to allow those who genuinely believe in democracy and consensus to get back to serving the people they were elected to serve?
I thank the hon. Lady for her support and for the way in which she and her colleague the Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) have engaged with me and the Secretary of State over recent weeks. We appreciate it and will continue to do it. She makes a really important point. Northern Ireland is in the unique position, not just in the United Kingdom but in the entire continent of Europe, of having privileged access to two markets. As we look forward, we all want to see greater prosperity and opportunity and more growth in Northern Ireland. We can build on this framework to deliver more investment and jobs. That is the prize available to us. I know that my colleagues are determined to work with all businesses and parties in Northern Ireland to deliver that, but the hon. Lady is right that the precondition for that is a functioning Executive, and we continue to work very hard to see that come about.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his whole negotiating team, whose quiet confidence and competence have led us to an agreement that, frankly, many people would not have thought possible? Will he say something specific about the role of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister on the Joint Committee, which will be key to boosting transparency and accountability? In general terms, I hope that this new tendency to under-promise and over-deliver becomes the hallmark of the whole Government.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his support, which means a lot to me because the topic of Brexit is something that he has thought and done a lot about over the years. He is absolutely right. There was a fair feeling among communities, parties and businesses in Northern Ireland that there simply was not enough engagement and representation on how arrangements were being implemented on the ground. We have fixed that with today’s framework. There are a range of new structures and mechanisms for that engagement to take place, including for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to attend sessions of the Joint Committee that concern the Windsor framework and anything else in Northern Ireland. That is a positive step forward and ensures that we will be able to make this work on the ground. He is absolutely right to highlight it.
Whatever disagreements we all have, it is good to hear the Prime Minister today paying respect to the principles and the detail of the Good Friday agreement. On our membership of the European convention on human rights, which plays such a central role in that agreement, can he confirm that under his Government, we will not leave the ECHR?
The UK is and will remain a member of the ECHR. Today’s agreement is about the Belfast/Good Friday agreement—the hon. Lady was right to highlight it—and restoring the balance in that agreement. I am pleased that the Windsor framework restores that balance, and I thank her for her support.
I associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s comments concerning Betty Boothroyd and DCI Caldwell—we all wish him a speedy recovery.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend, along with his entire negotiating team, on the massive strides that he has been able to make on this complex and difficult issue. I, for one, wish him well with this agreement. The Stormont brake is critical to the agreement. I am particularly pleased that it represents cross-party consensus. Leaving aside the current reasons why Stormont is not sitting, the Prime Minister will be aware that in the past, Stormont has not sat for other reasons used by one or other party. If that were to be the case in the future, is there a default mechanism if the Stormont brake cannot be exercised?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his support and for the advice that he has provided to me and the team. This is obviously an area that he knows well from his own experience, and we very much valued his input. The Stormont brake is there to be exercised by the Stormont institution. A precondition for its use is that the institution is up and running, and that is what everyone in this House wants to see. That is another good reason to get the institutions up and running: so that sovereignty can be restored to Northern Ireland. I look forward to discussing with the parties how the brake should work, but it is important that we get the institution up and running so that people in Northern Ireland have the representation that they need. The Windsor framework delivers that ability, but it is ultimately for the people and parties in Northern Ireland to take it forward.
The right hon. Gentleman is my Prime Minister, so I say this with great respect: this is about more than just solar panels and sausages. It is crucial that the Windsor framework that he has referred to does not become the Windsor knot for us Unionists in Northern Ireland. Does he understand that any deal must include the cessation of European Court of Justice interference in UK sovereignty—in other words, the real power must lie with Westminster, not Brussels—the cessation of the state aid prohibition, and the cessation of customs protocols within the UK that are determined by Europe, and must respect the seven tests set by the DUP and supported by the majority of Unionists in Northern Ireland? The Prime Minister can strike no deal, ever, without bringing the majority of Unionists on board. Pushing another deal through this House without Unionist buy-in will offer no result other than another failed deal.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman takes the time to study the deal in detail, and that he will see, after he has done that, that it delivers against the objectives that I set out, because it means that we can have smoothly flowing trade within our UK internal market; it means that we have protected Northern Ireland’s place in the Union; and it means that we have restored and safeguarded sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland. I know that he shares those objectives; this agreement delivers them. I look forward to engaging with him and his colleagues as they study the detail, so that we can hopefully move forward together. I am confident that this is a good basis and a good agreement for the people of Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend and the Government are to be warmly commended for their statecraft in achieving a significant deal with significant movement from the EU, which I think now understands the primacy of strand 1 of the Good Friday agreement—north-south—as well as strand 3, east-west. Does he agree that this framework now gives a clear basis in international law for the Government to press ahead in bringing forward some of the measures in the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 that were clearly in conflict with the international law obligations under the old protocol?
My right hon. and learned Friend makes an excellent point. He will remember that the Government had to drop from the UKIM Bill certain provisions guaranteeing unfettered access for Northern Ireland producers into GB because they were in conflict with our international obligations under the protocol. I am pleased that today we can announce, as it states in the Command Paper, that we will legislate to put in statute unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s producers into Great Britain. That is something that the Windsor framework makes possible, and he is absolutely right to highlight it.
The Prime Minister is to be commended for tackling one aspect of the mess left behind by his predecessor but one, but of course, we should not forget that the Prime Minister himself, and most of his colleagues, voted for that mess.
It is important to be clear about the role of the European Court of Justice in this framework. EU President Ursula von der Leyen said this afternoon that the European Court of Justice will still have the “final say” on EU law and single market issues. That is correct, isn’t it?
Yes, as a simple matter of fact, the European Court of Justice is the final arbiter on matters of EU law. That is what the President said; she is right. That is simply the legal fact of the case.
May I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend’s personal achievement—ably supported by the Foreign Secretary and the Northern Ireland Secretary—in securing this deal?
It is wholly wrong that the European Commission damaged scientific research by blocking the UK’s association with the Horizon and Copernicus programmes, and nuclear co-operation through Euratom, which have nothing whatever to do with the Northern Ireland protocol. Mrs Von der Leyen indicated earlier today that the EU had changed its mind and its position on this. Is that my right hon. Friend’s understanding? If so, scientists and engineers will welcome that. Will he implement a viable UK alternative should delays persist?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his support. He is right to highlight the many areas of co-operation that we can and should have with the European Union. Science and research is one, but illegal migration, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) brought up, is another, and there is a whole range of possibilities around energy security, climate change and others.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) is also right that we should always reserve the ability to have a UK alternative to Horizon. That is something that the Government said we would do, and I know that he has fed in about how best to do that. I look forward to having that dialogue with him.
I associate myself with the remarks about the death of Baroness Boothroyd, as well as about DCI John Caldwell, and his young son, who witnessed that horrific attack. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with them.
Much has already been said in this House about the Stormont brake and the power that it has. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Stormont brake not only has the ability to end dynamic alignment with EU law, but gives Unionists or anyone else the opportunity to meaningfully impact whether the legislation applies in Northern Ireland?
That is exactly the point of the Stormont brake. It is based on the petition of concern mechanism—a Good Friday agreement institution—and requires 30 MLAs from two parties. If it is triggered, that provides the UK Government with a veto over that particular law. Obviously, as I have committed to, we will consult with parties in Northern Ireland and with the Assembly about how best to codify how the UK Government use that veto, but the hon. Lady can absolutely have that assurance.
May I join others in paying tribute to Betty Boothroyd, who was a wonderful Speaker and was very popular in my area, which she lived nearby?
Does the Prime Minister agree that the UK-EU Partnership Parliamentary Assembly has been supportive of the negotiations? I know that our membership in this place, in the other place and in the European Parliament will be delighted with this outcome. On the legal side, does he agree that to have put the underpinning for the protocol in international law rather than in EU law is a big step forward, as are the dispute resolution changes with arbitration and that Northern Ireland courts will decide cases rather than anyone else?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his chairmanship of the partnership from our side. He and they do valuable work, and I have been grateful—as have the Secretaries of States—for their support during this process. He makes an excellent point: it is a significant development that the Vienna convention on the law of treaties is in the political declaration. It reaffirms the international basis for the treaty. I thank him for his support of that. He is absolutely right about the importance that we should attach to it.
At the risk of adding to the sense of repetition this evening, let me say that this is all really good news—hurrah! I congratulate not only the Prime Minister but the Foreign Secretary and the Northern Ireland Secretary. I particularly single out the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), who has shown that compromise may be costly but it pays enormous dividends. I am grateful to him and the whole team.
May I urge the Prime Minister to take up a suggestion made a few years ago by one of his predecessors, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who is not in her seat? At the beginning of triggering article 50, she said she wanted to have an EU-UK security treaty. Given many of the issues facing the whole continent at the moment, is this not precisely the time when we should look forward to such a treaty?
I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister of State. He is absolutely right to shower praise on him. Not only has my hon. Friend been instrumental in providing the intellectual underpinning for many of the arrangements that we have adopted in the green lane, but his diplomacy—particularly with the Irish, but also with the parties in Northern Ireland—has proved invaluable in getting us to the point that we are at today, and I thank him for it.
More broadly, as we have heard previously, there are many areas of co-operation that we can have with our European friends and partners. Particularly over the last year, the co-operation with regards to Ukraine in terms of our security—whether it is sanctions policy or providing support—has been positive and invaluable. Hopefully that is something that we can build on.
As a Member of this House who was born and raised in Omagh, may I send my love and prayers to DCI John Caldwell?
In my hand I have my Omagh school notebook from when I was six. The entry for Thursday 13 December that year says:
“Last night a bomb went off in the police barracks. Gillian’s house has no glass in her windows.”
I thank my right hon. Friend for the words he said about not looking back. We must move forward and put those things behind us. May I congratulate him on an extraordinarily bespoke deal that sorts out the practicalities but also preserves the Belfast/Good Friday agreement?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her work but also for her comments just now, which were powerful and moving. She is right that we must look forward, and we will not let those who want to take us back be successful. Stability in Northern Ireland is important, and it is about the balance of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, as she knows better than many. We have strived very hard to restore that balance with the Windsor framework. I believe that it does that, and I look forward to working with her and colleagues from across the House so that we can look forward to a brighter future for everyone in Northern Ireland.
I thank the Prime Minister and colleagues right across the House for their care and concern for DCI John Caldwell and his family.
The Prime Minister knows that it is good to talk. He will recall that when we met in November last year, I acknowledged that he had good ideas around the friction in trade, but that I highlighted my concern around the democratic deficit and constitutional harm. Anyone who reads tittle-tattle on a Sunday—yesterday—may recall that I had similar concerns just 10 days ago. However, I genuinely acknowledge that on both constitutional harm and the democratic deficit, progress has been made.
Over the coming weeks and months, as we look to engage with our community and with communities and businesses throughout Northern Ireland to test, probe and tease out the tense aspects of the implementation of this framework agreement, I hope the Prime Minister will recognise that, for us, ratification is important. Does he recognise that, having had so many false dawns and failed starts over the last four or five years of political commitments from the Government side of the House, ratification will need to occur before we can take any final decisions?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and also for the engagement that he has had with me and the Secretary of State. It is good to talk. There has been plenty of that, and it has been extremely valuable in reaching today’s framework and agreement. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I will give him and his colleagues and community the time and space to consider the detail, and that I will work with him to answer any questions that they have and to provide any clarifications that I can, so that we can, hopefully, move forward together. I believe that that is what he and the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want to do, but he is right, and I acknowledge the frustrations that they feel about what has gone before. I hope that today means that we can start a new chapter as we look forward and build a brighter future for Northern Ireland together, and I welcome doing that with the hon. Gentleman.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on an exceptional achievement, because we have resolved something that was difficult and we have done it in accordance with law. I am glad to see the Attorney General here, because the fact that we have acted in accordance with international law is immensely important.
Will the Prime Minister turn his mind to one other, small matter—Gibraltar? I am glad to see the Foreign Secretary here. If we can resolve the issues over Northern Ireland, we can now swiftly move, with his support, to resolve the few remaining issues over Gibraltar. A few adjustments and good sense are required so that it can get itself into a better position in terms of our relationships going forward.
I thank my hon. Friend for his warm words of support and assure him that the Foreign Secretary, in particular, is intensely engaged with his counterparts in Spain to try to find a resolution on the issues that are outstanding. I also join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Attorney General for the support and advice that she has provided to us throughout this process. It has been invaluable. She and the previous Attorney General have done exceptional work on this tricky issue, and I am glad that my hon. Friend is pleased with today’s outcome.
Although I welcome the progress that has been made today, the years wasted by recent Governments in arguing with the Unionist parties instead of negotiating with them to bring about a deal mean that many communities in Northern Ireland have been ravaged by poverty, debt and the rise of paramilitary gangs preying on ordinary people who just want to live their lives. Will the Prime Minister commit to ensuring that the new protocol will begin to repair the damage that has been done and restore peace and prosperity for all communities in Northern Ireland?
I do believe that the new arrangement we have made—the Windsor framework—provides the basis for peace, prosperity and stability in Northern Ireland. That is why I have brought it forward and why we have worked so hard on it. As we have done so, we have strived very hard to respect the identity and aspirations of all communities in Northern Ireland. Balance is at the heart of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. The Windsor framework restores that balance and ensures that we can move forward positively together.
In difficult negotiations, the late, great Ronald Reagan used to say, “Trust but verify,” which I took to mean, “Be optimistic but have a reserve plan.” It sounds as if the reserve plan here is the Stormont brake, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Shailesh Vara) said, that might not apply if, for any reason, Stormont was not sitting. Is the Prime Minister satisfied that there is a plan B that would work under all circumstances?
This is incredibly important. What we should be focused on is Stormont being up and running. The people of Northern Ireland need and deserve their institutions to be functioning for them. I think it is entirely right that we have vested this power—this sovereignty—in the institution that represents them and do not exercise it on their behalf. Instead our priorities should be getting the institutions back up and running so that sovereignty is restored and the people of Northern Ireland are in control of their destiny.
We welcome this, and I commend the achievement that helping mitigate the disaster has represented, but can I dig into the Stormont backstop? I am concerned that in fixing one problem, there is a recipe for further instability going forward. If the petition of concern is the model for what the Stormont backstop is going to be and, as we all admit, there are concerns about the petition of concern, what scope is there going to be for the Secretary of State, going forward, to rule on the—let us be blunt—reasonableness of any such petition? Then, when it gets to the joint committee, in what scenario can that joint committee overrule the petition? If the petition is, at either stage, seen to be politically or legally automatic, surely that cements more problems into this than we are solving tonight.
I just assure the hon. Gentleman that there is a well-defined process for the exercise of the Stormont brake. He is right: there should be, because it is a very serious step. It is a serious and powerful mechanism; it should not be exercised for trivial reasons. It is there to deal with new or amended laws that provide significant and lasting change and impact on the people and communities of Northern Ireland. That is a test that rightly should be met, and there is a defined process for how that has to happen, with consultation that rightly should take place. But ultimately, if that petition of concern mechanism is used—and again, I believe that is the right mechanism to use; it is a Good Friday agreement framework that provides for cross-community safeguards —then the UK Government will have a veto. I believe that as the hon. Gentleman engages with the detail of how that mechanism works, he will see that we have struck the right balance between having something very powerful, but making sure that there is a well-defined and appropriate process leading up to that point.
I am not sure that our opinion on mainland Britain is vital in all this. It is a pretty obvious point, but it all depends on our colleagues in the DUP, because unless this exercise gets Stormont up and running, it is pretty futile—indeed, it might be downright dangerous. When the Prime Minister provides space for the DUP in the next few weeks, will he undertake that he will not just listen to their concerns, but if there is something that can get this over the line—a further clarification or a change—he will take that back to the Commission? I can assure him that many of his colleagues on the Government Benches are watching the DUP very carefully, and we will go where they go.
With the greatest respect, I would say to my right hon. Friend that this is also about the people of Northern Ireland. It is about the communities in Northern Ireland and the businesses in Northern Ireland. Whatever happens with the politics, those people will benefit from this agreement, because they are being impacted by the implementation of the protocol, and this framework ensures that we have resolved their concerns and the challenges that they face. They must be uppermost in our mind, and I hope very much that this framework does provide the basis for parties in Northern Ireland to move forward together positively to consider power sharing, as I hope they will look forward to doing. But this agreement, first and foremost, is about the people in Northern Ireland and the benefits that it will bring to them, and I hope that it will have my right hon. Friend’s support.
This agreement is clearly welcome, but the Prime Minister must recognise that the Government’s approach prior to this point caused damaging uncertainty, put Britain’s reputation at risk, and undermined business confidence. He must want to do everything possible to make amends for that. The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill continues to generate massive uncertainty with its regulatory cliff edge, so in this new spirit of renegotiating decisions and taking a more mature approach, will the Prime Minister also commit to reconsidering the Government’s approach on that issue?
No. It is that approach—talking about it in the hon. Lady’s terms—that creates the uncertainty. It is a perfectly reasonable thing for the United Kingdom to re-examine all the retained EU law that we inherited and decide which bits are for us to keep, which bits are worth scrapping, and which bits are worth amending. That is entirely the appropriate course of action for a sovereign nation, and in doing that, we can provide benefits to families, businesses and communities across the United Kingdom. That is what this Government will deliver.
Having spent two years at the Home Office working on the plans to implement the Northern Ireland protocol in full if it had been needed, there are some welcome aspects to this agreement, although there are of course other areas that will need to be studied in further detail. The green and red lanes are welcome. One thought that comes to mind is that there is an EU team based at Belfast port—in fact, that team is hosted in a Home Office facility, because it did not have anywhere of its own. What role does he see that team playing, because, as we are aware, there will inevitably be some attempts to abuse the green lane? Who would take the lead on the law enforcement approach to that, and decide whether that sort of action is taken, to ensure that this is about responding to genuine concerns and that it does not become a way, as we have seen at other borders with the EU, to put checks in place that we would feel were an undue burden?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point from his experience as a Home Office Minister. He is absolutely right that we need to enforce these lanes; that is the assurance that we have rightly provided, and that is why we have those facilities there. What I can say to him is that there are not any routine checks as goods move from GB to NI. Any checks that there are will be because we have reason to suspect smuggling or other criminality, based on intelligence or other risk analysis. That is why we will be intervening, but those checks will not be routine: they will be risk and intelligence based, to deal with exactly the problem that my hon. Friend has highlighted. If we are going to have a functioning green lane, it is right that we enforce that properly.
I join the tributes to the late Betty Boothroyd, and also to the outstanding bravery of DCI John Caldwell in Omagh last week.
When the Prime Minister was at the press conference with Madame von der Leyen this afternoon, he indicated that
“We all collectively share an ambition to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and that’s why there’s a role for EU law in Northern Ireland”.
This is the umpteenth time that this mistake has been made by successive Prime Ministers. There will not be any possibility of a so-called hard border, not because of mark 1 of the protocol or mark 2 of the protocol, but because of the 300-mile land border that has over 280 crossing points, making a hard border an impossibility. Does the Prime Minister agree with what I told him last week: just as years ago, the representatives of nationalism in Northern Ireland needed to be content with governance arrangements in Northern Ireland, equally now, the representatives of Unionism have to be content with governance arrangements going forward?
I would say to the hon. Gentleman that I have spent a lot of time, care and attention listening to, and engaging with, the concerns of Unionism in Northern Ireland—their concerns with the protocol—and they have been uppermost in my mind as we have gone through these deliberations. I have strived and tried my utmost to deliver against those objectives, and I believe that this framework does that.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the role of EU law. I would say to him, his colleagues, and everyone else that that is the reason why it is there, but ultimately, it is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide. He knows, as I do, that a consent vote will happen next year that provides approval for that set of arrangements, but I recognise that that is a blunt mechanism, an all-or-nothing mechanism, and it is right that we have greater sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland. The Stormont brake delivers that. It allows the Assembly—it allows 30 colleagues from two parties—to decide on the new EU laws, annex 2, that were put in the tests of his party. If those are laws that the hon. Gentleman feels are unacceptable, there will be an ability to block them, working with the UK Government. I think that is a powerful safeguard for Northern Ireland sovereignty. It is something that I hope he gives time and consideration to, and I look forward to engaging with him and his colleagues on it over the coming days and weeks.
First, I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister about Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell and his family.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the personal commitment he has made to this process, and in particular on being the first British Prime Minister in over a decade to attend the British-Irish Council, unlocking precious good will through that process. The diplomatic efforts that he and his team have made have been phenomenal. Will the Prime Minister ensure that, as we hopefully reap the fruits of this process through the restoration of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, he maintains that personal engagement in Northern Ireland affairs that is so crucial and continues to listen to the concerns of Northern Irish Unionists, to no detriment to the nationalist community?
Can I thank my hon. Friend for his support? It is an area that I know he knows well, and I can give him that assurance. We will continue to engage, as we have done, with all communities and parties in Northern Ireland. I have paid particular attention to the concerns of the Unionist community and their elected representatives from all parties in this process, because I believe that is the right thing to do. Ultimately, I can give him the assurance that I will continue to be personally involved, committed and engaged with this topic because I am Prime Minister for Great Britain and Northern Ireland—I am Prime Minister for the United Kingdom—and it is a responsibility I take incredibly seriously.
If I understand the so-called Stormont brake correctly, is it not the case that the Northern Ireland Assembly will have more power over how EU single market rules apply in its territory than the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments have over how UK internal market rules apply in Wales and Scotland?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has recognised how powerful the Stormont brake is. It is absolutely right given the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland that it does have that sovereignty. It was missing. There was a democratic deficit, given the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland, and I am glad that the Windsor framework and the Stormont brake eliminate that democratic deficit and restore the appropriate and right sovereignty to the people of Northern Ireland.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the progress he has made on what is a very difficult issue. For clarification, can I ask him this? If there is a manufacturer in Northern Ireland whose products have no intention of being exported—they will remain in the internal market—does it obey UK standards, or does it have to obey EU standards?
It will depend on what the manufacturer is producing. For a large chunk of manufacturing goods, there are no international or EU standards; they are all produced to UK standards, whether that is clothing, furniture, bicycles, homewares and the like. The other 3,500 manufacturing goods standards are all international standards. Even though the standards may be named as EU, they are all the same as the ones we have in the UK, because that is what the EU and the UK committed to in the trade and co-operation agreement. If my hon. Friend looks at those 3,500 manufacturing standards, I think he will find that there are only 11 that are different between the EU and the UK. That is 0.3%. In most of those cases, the UK standards are higher, as it turns out, than the EU ones. This is a good framework and a good deal for manufacturing in Northern Ireland. I have spent time engaging with those businesses. They value their dual market access and they value unfettered access to the rest of the United Kingdom. They want the free flow of goods within the UK internal market. This framework delivers for them and it delivers for the businesses of Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister gave a devastating critique of the Northern Ireland protocol, negotiated by his predecessor but one, who is conspicuously absent today. Clearly the Prime Minister was right, so this agreement is good news, but can I press him a little further on an earlier answer that he gave? Specifically, will he confirm that the agreement opens up the door to association with Horizon Europe, and will he actively seek it, recognising its importance to our universities and our research ambition as a country?
As I have said, research co-operation is one of the many areas where we continue to co-operate with the EU. Our focus today is on the Windsor framework to ensure that we can resolve the issues of the protocol and move forward for Northern Ireland. That will be our continued focus in the coming days to make sure that we can talk, explain and clarify this particular agreement, but of course, over time, there will be a range of other areas on which we can work with the EU, including energy security and research, but also illegal migration, and I look forward to all those conversations.
South Leicestershire is home to one of the largest logistics parks in the whole of Europe. Will the Prime Minister reassure those businesses in South Leicestershire that trade across the UK, and specifically Northern Ireland, that his Windsor framework will allow for smoother trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The smooth flow of trade around our UK internal market is central to what this framework delivers. It builds on the proposals that my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) put forward some years ago. I am pleased that we have been able to put those into practice in the delivery of our green lane, and I know that the cause of the Union is one that my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) cares passionately and rightly about, and I am pleased that this framework strengthens our Union.
Before I start, I would like to pass on my thoughts and prayers to DCI Caldwell’s family at this time, as well as to the wider PSNI family, who I know are fearful of what might happen. I do not put this as being any accident; I think the timing of such incidents is crucial to what we are discussing here today.
I just want to ask the Prime Minister about the green and red lanes. I enter a country and I always see a border. At a border, there are green and red lanes, and I still have the perception that I am at a border, because of what I can see, irrespective of being told that there are green and red lanes, and that does cause concern.
There is another aspect that I have real concern about. I am glad that this is called a framework and that it is not an agreement as such. A framework is something that has to be built and added to whereas an agreement is something that is written in stone and cannot be changed, which is what we were told about the so-called protocol deal—those who wanted to change it were told that they could not. I am also glad that several people have been converted to taking a slightly different stance about what we had to endure and what we voted against.
I have many agricultural businesses in my constituency that took cattle backwards and forwards to mainland GB for shows or for sale. I hear today that they might be better to call a cow one of their pets, so that they can bring it back. I want to ensure that that does not happen and that we are allowed to bring back our cattle and everything else. Any involvement in the ECJ is also a major concern for me, because it means that I am still operating under laws that I have had no control about bringing forward.
On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, the whole point of the Stormont brake is that he does have control over those laws. I hope that when he engages with the detail of it, he will see that we have fixed that problem and have put him and his colleagues in the Assembly in charge of their destiny and of ensuring that they are in control of their laws.
The hon. Gentleman talks about agriculture. In fact, from all the engagement and knowledge that I have of the agricultural sector, it is one where dual market access is incredibly important. He talked about cattle: he will know that the dairy industry on the island of Ireland is deeply integrated and the meat processing industry is deeply integrated. All those businesses said to me and to the Secretary of State that they wanted to ensure that there was no disruption to those supply chains back and forth between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and that anything that put them in jeopardy would be a mistake for them and their jobs.
That is what this framework delivers: it ensures that we have protected Northern Ireland’s place in the Union, ensured the free flow of goods around our UK internal market, safeguarded the sovereignty of the Northern Irish people and, crucially, protected exactly those agricultural businesses and the things that were important to them. I hope that, when he studies the detail—I look forward to discussing it with him and his colleagues—he will see that we have struck the right balance and that it is the right thing for Northern Ireland, its businesses and its agricultural industry. I hope that it is something on which he will engage with me.
The Command Paper tells us that the framework,
“narrows the range of EU rules applicable in Northern Ireland—to less than 3% overall by the EU’s own calculations”,
which is, of course, highly welcome. Would my right hon. Friend agree to publish a definitive list of the EU rules that will remain, so that hon. Members may consider them when assessing the impact of the agreement?
I am happy to look at that—I think that list already exists—but the key thing is exactly that: it is less than 3%. It is there in black and white—I am not pretending it is not there—and it is there for the reasons that we discussed earlier today. It is about ensuring that there is no border between Northern Ireland and the Republic and that those Northern Ireland producers and businesses that value it have access to the EU single market. Crucially, even though it is less than 3%, it is there with the consent of the Northern Irish people. That is the most important thing—it is less about whether it is 3%, 5% or 2% than whatever is there being there with consent. It was there with the consent vote next year, but that vote was too blunt.
With the Stormont brake mechanism we have ensured that it is the institutions and people of Northern Ireland who decide the laws that they want to adopt, which is the right way to approach this problem. It respects the balance necessary in Northern Ireland and it respects the needs of all communities and what businesses want. I look forward to discussing it with my right hon. Friend in the coming days.
The issues with the Northern Ireland protocol have damaged our communities, our economy and our democracy, so of course I welcome the agreement and look forward to a better working relationship with the European Union, including on science. When the Northern Ireland protocol delays meant that we could not associate with the Horizon programme, the Government committed that every penny meant for science would be spent on science. Some £2.5 billion was set aside for association with Horizon and £900 million was spent on guarantees, but, last week, £1.5 billion was quietly taken out of the budget and back to the Treasury. Now that the Prime Minister has the deal, will he commit to deliver his promises on science?
Just diverting slightly from the Northern Ireland protocol and the new Windsor framework, the Government have committed to spend £20 billion on research and development. It is a record amount. This Government have created a brand new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology because we care about it so much. I know that that is something the hon. Member will support, and that is how we are going to drive growth and prosperity in every part of our United Kingdom in the coming years.
May I also pay my tribute to DCI John Caldwell and to his family? I hope he makes a good recovery.
I congratulate the Prime Minister and his team on doing something that many people said was impossible, with a negotiation that contains the red and green lanes, which eases the flow of goods and is in a legal framework that is fundamentally different from the protocol. Does he agree with me that this negotiation—this Windsor agreement—provides the prospect of investors investing with confidence in Northern Ireland to create new jobs, and that it is the people of Northern Ireland who will benefit from this?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is something that I know the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe is specifically focused on. It is about using this framework—this agreement—as the basis to provide certainty and stability in Northern Ireland, and thereby attracting considerable private investment. That is what we are focused on delivering. That is the prize that is available for us if we can use the Windsor framework as a way to move forward and restore power sharing in Northern Ireland, because Northern Ireland will have a very special place not just in the UK, but on the European continent. That is incredibly attractive to international investors and businesses. They are keen to see this resolved so that they can start investing, creating jobs and opportunities. That is what my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe is keen to deliver.
Can the Prime Minister be clear with the House that this agreement does not get us any closer to being readmitted to the Horizon Europe programme—to our universities or to Northern Irish universities being readmitted to the programme?
They are two completely separate things. The Windsor framework is about resolving the issues with the Northern Ireland protocol. It is about safeguarding Northern Ireland’s place in the Union, the free flow of goods around our internal market and sovereignty being restored for the Northern Irish people. The hon. Member will have heard the comments from President von der Leyen earlier today, and the Government’s position on that remains the same.
As a Northern Ireland Unionist family member, I wholeheartedly congratulate the Prime Minister and all those involved with the Windsor framework on resolving issues that have been so damaging to the integrity of the UK and our own UK internal market, and on providing the best opportunity for Northern Ireland to thrive. So will my right hon. Friend and all the political parties in Northern Ireland now work to resume Government from Stormont as soon as possible, and before the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, so that the people of Northern Ireland get the quality and scrutiny of public services that they deserve?
I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of restoring power sharing and the institutions there for the people of Northern Ireland—that is what they need and deserve—but I know he will agree with me that the right thing is to give all communities in Northern Ireland the time and the space to reflect on the detail of this substantive agreement and come to a considered judgment. I look forward to engaging with those communities and parties over the coming days to have that conversation, but I hope that this can provide a basis for us to move forward positively together.
May I welcome the change in approach, the co-operative spirit with which we have got to this point, and the positive and, I hope, pragmatic relationship moving forward? However, there is one area that has not been mentioned as a potential area on which to work with the EU, and that is agrifoods. We just need to look at the furore this week over turnips versus tomatoes to see what a difference it would make to our constituents in this cost of living crisis. Will the Prime Minister commit to looking again at a UK-EU veterinary agreement that would ease some of the supply chain issues and build on the positive relationship that I note he wants to have with the European Union?
I think that the issues we have seen over recent times have little to do with our institutional and political frameworks, and everything to do with the weather, but we are committed to agrifood innovation. In particular, our gene editing Bill is something that farmers across the UK welcome and we will deliver. It will be good for our food security going forward, and we continue to support our farmers to do that.
This agreement is a remarkable negotiating success, with the EU agreeing to hitherto unique terms in an international treaty. While all associated with this negotiation deserve congratulation, its tone, its courtesy, and its calm and conscientious command of detail were set by the Prime Minister, and he gave our negotiating partners every reason to agree. This deal is a huge tribute to the finest qualities of his leadership.
I thank my hon. Friend for those warm and, I fear, over-generous words. I thank him none the less. It would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to colleagues sitting behind me, who have worked in private, in confidence, behind the scenes for some months to bring us to this place, supported by the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe. They deserve enormous credit. It is a collective achievement of minds; many Members of the House in their various ways have contributed to getting to this point. I hope that everyone around the House can now support the agreement as a basis for providing a better future for the people of Northern Ireland.
The scrapping of tariffs on steel will be welcomed by steelworkers in the Port Talbot steelworks in my constituency, but may I press the Prime Minister on non-tariff barriers? Will he confirm that quotas will also be scrapped? He will be aware that the European Union is introducing a carbon border adjustment mechanism. Will he confirm that the Windsor framework will eliminate the risk of a carbon border in the Irish sea?
The UK Government are also exploring mechanisms for a carbon border adjustment mechanism—it is something the Treasury started consulting on last year. That is one of the dialogues that we have with the European Union, and other countries are considering such mechanisms to ensure that they can work in a complementary fashion. The work for all these things is at a relatively early stage, so there is lots of development work to be done to make sure we implement them.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this historic deal, ensuring that our ongoing relationship with the EU works for all parts of our United Kingdom. Does he agree that Brexit is the beginning of our new relationship, not the end, and that with so many challenges facing us, we will continue to work with all our international partners so that all our agreements, current and yet to be finalised, work to benefit us all?
I thank my hon. Friend and wholeheartedly agree with him. This framework provides a positive basis to move forward. It ensures that we respect the balance of all communities, and I look forward to working with him and other colleagues to ensure that we realise the full potential of what we have achieved today.
This is certainly an entirely different definition of an “oven-ready” deal. Instead of being good to go, it has taken years, has to be eaten in instalments, and with an interim serving of, by the Prime Minister’s own admissions, a dog’s dinner. This deal is welcome, but Government actions have done serious damage to Britain’s reputation for upholding the rule of law. Looking forward, will the Prime Minister commit today to the Government never again asking Members of this House to vote on legislation that breaks international law?
The Windsor framework provides a legally sound sustainable basis on which to move forward. It brings enormous improvement to the situation in Northern Ireland. It safeguards Northern Ireland’s position in the Union, but it also ensures that it is in a framework of international law. The points made about the Vienna convention are important and are there in the political declaration. That allows businesses, families and communities in Northern Ireland to plan with certainty for the future, and for the brighter future that it can be.
I thank the Prime Minister for his commitment and hard work and for the constructive engagement with our European counterparts. As a former sanctions Minister, I know it is crucial to work with our European counterparts to achieve what we need to achieve regarding what happens in Russia. As someone who resigned from the Government in all aspects over Brexit and the delivery of the backstop, with real concerns over sovereignty, I ask the Prime Minister this. Of course what he has tried to do must be welcomed, and he has moved the dial in a constructive way, but on the Stormont brake, the previous emergency brake under David Cameron unfolded with concerns. When the Prime Minister says that time and space will be given to consider that, and that there are details to consider, how long does he think that will be? Will he consider bringing the issue back to Parliament so that we can consider it and look at it in detail?
It is important that people have the time and space to consider that, but I hope we can move through the process with speed, not least because what we all want is a restored Executive in Northern Ireland. That is what people in Northern Ireland need and deserve, and we would all like that to happen as quickly as possible, while respecting the need for communities to discuss the detail. I look forward to doing that, and I will make myself available as quickly as possible.
I thank the Prime Minister for spending more than two hours on this statement. I think we all know the importance of it. On page 26 of the Prime Minister’s statement—and on various occasions—he talks about:
“The Windsor framework goes further still, by safeguarding sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland”.
Of course, 56% of the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain within the single market and are getting a Norway-style deal, with Stormont getting a direct say on EU law. Does he therefore not think there is some irony for Scotland, where 62% voted to remain within the single market, but we get absolutely zero?
I do not think the hon. Gentleman recognises the unique and specific circumstances of Northern Ireland: the fact that it shares a land border with the EU; the fact that we want to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic; and the democratic deficit that existed with regard to the application of EU law. The Stormont brake eliminates that democratic deficit and restores sovereignty to Northern Ireland. No matter what other political differences he and I might have, I hope he can recognise that that is an enormous step forward.
I join colleagues in expressing my thoughts for DCI Caldwell and his family.
This is a complex deal, with a lot detail. I feel hopeful and confident that time is being given to review the deal and that it is not being rushed. May I therefore pay tribute to the Prime Minister and his colleagues for ensuring that there is space to do that for all in this House?
I thank my hon. Friend. He is right: there is a lot in the agreement. That is because it is a comprehensive agreement that addresses a wide range of issues that were raised with me and my colleagues on the implementation of the protocol. That is why we have something as substantive. It is because of the hard work of my colleagues and the engagement of the European Union. It is why I can say with conviction that it does address the issues that were raised, and that it does secure Northern Ireland’s place in the Union and safeguard sovereignty. As people engage with the detail, I hope they come to the same conclusion.
I very much welcome the statement, in particular the sentence:
“we will take further steps to avoid regulatory divergence in future.”
Can we take that to mean that in the EU law revocation Bill we will maximise the reassimilation of EU law and minimise divergence to take full advantage of the economic opportunities for growth in Northern Ireland and in the UK moving forward?
Actually, there are opportunities to do things differently across the UK to drive growth and prosperity, whether in life sciences, financial services, fintech or other areas. We will fully take advantage of those opportunities across the UK. What that refers to very specifically is the work of the Office for the Internal Market, which we have strengthened as a result of the agreement and provided some extra detail about what we do in the Command Paper. That is the right thing to do and I think it will be warmly welcomed in Northern Ireland, particularly in the business community.
I commend the Prime Minister for what he has achieved today. In 2016, if someone had said while we were campaigning to leave the EU that this is what we would have, we would have jumped at it. Am I right in understanding that what makes this truly a landmark agreement is that it is based in international law, under the Vienna convention on the law of treaties—something that many would have said would not have been achievable?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is right to take us all back some years and to ask what would we have said if this agreement had been available at that moment in time. That is a sensible way to look at what we have achieved and puts it in context. He is also right about the Vienna convention. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), who is no longer in his place. He advised and spoke to me about it. I am pleased that we could secure it and it does have significance of the like that he describes.
I very much welcome the Windsor framework, and I congratulate the Prime Minister and his team on securing this historic agreement. Can he confirm that the very sensible and pragmatic veterinary and sanitary and phytosanitary arrangements within the framework will protect both the UK’s and the island of Ireland’s biosecurity? Can he reaffirm that the long-term availability of medicines in Northern Ireland will very much ultimately include veterinary medicines?
There was a lot in there. My hon. Friend is right that long-standing arrangements have been in place to protect biosecurity on the island of Ireland, and indeed on the respect that the UK has had for the single epidemiological zone on that island. We will continue to respect all of those things. Nothing in the framework changes that. It is something that everyone has agreed with in the past. No one has objected to it and it is right that we continue to move forward with those procedures.
The headlines of the Windsor framework make it clear that a great deal of progress has been made, and I commend my right hon. Friend for that. I look forward to getting stuck into scrutinising the detail. As I get on with the exercise of seeking to answer the question of whether this framework fully restores Northern Ireland as a full and equal part of the United Kingdom, can the Prime Minister help me to understand how it is that under the Stormont brake—unprecedented as that mechanism is—EU law is still presumed to take primacy with an option to opt out of it, as opposed to UK law being the primary law with an option to opt in to EU law, should that be right for Northern Ireland?
My hon. Friend should recognise that we are talking about less than 3% of EU law. That law applies with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, and it is there because it avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland—something that I think everyone agrees with. It also preserves access to the EU single market for Northern Ireland businesses—something that we have heard from colleagues and businesses that they also value. The important point is consent. That is why the Stormont brake is so important; it ensures that it is the institution and the people of Northern Ireland who get to decide whether they think that those laws are appropriate for them. It is a powerful safeguard that ensures that the UK has, if needed, a veto over laws that cause concern. That is why the Windsor framework represents such a decisive breakthrough.
Last June I was pleased to speak in favour of and vote for the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, because I believed that it was a necessary piece of legislation that served as a fall-back to address the legitimate concerns of the Unionist community, and to strengthen our hand in negotiations. Given the result that the Prime Minister has achieved, on which I congratulate him heartily, we have things that we did not think were possible. Does he agree that the Bill is not only no longer necessary but has no basis in law?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he will have seen the note that we published from the Attorney General. While the Bill did have a sound legal basis when it was introduced—and he is right about the impact that it had and the necessity of having it—we have achieved what we needed with the Windsor framework. It is a legally sound, durable agreement that means everyone can plan with certainty, which brings benefits far quicker—indeed, almost immediately—and removes the EU legal cases against us. As he said, we have no legal basis for proceeding with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill now that we have this new agreement. That is why it is the right way forward.
I call the ever-patient Anthony Mangnall.
After all that has been said, I am not sure what I can ask that will be new, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will start by congratulating the quartet of negotiators sitting on the Front Bench. In the past two and a bit hours, we have seen the Prime Minister’s detail and knowledge on this subject and the care that he has taken. I hope that this will be the opportunity to unlock the opportunities, through our specialised trade committees, to do better for fishing and aquaculture, and on Horizon and Euratom. Specifically on trade deals and free trade agreements, can he assure me and all members of the International Trade Committee that nothing will impact our ability to sign future free trade agreements, and that Northern Ireland will benefit to the same extent?
That is an excellent note to end on. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. An enormous part of the Windsor framework is ensuring that, in every aspect, Northern Ireland is part of our precious United Kingdom. That is what this framework achieves. It ensures free flow of goods across the United Kingdom internal market. It protects Northern Ireland’s place in our Union, ensuring that people and businesses can enjoy the same benefits in Northern Ireland as they do elsewhere, including in trade deals. Crucially and critically, it restores and safeguards sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland. It eliminates the democratic deficit. That is why I passionately believe that it is the right thing for the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that, as people engage with the detail, they will see that and that it provides a basis on which we can all collectively move forward and build a brighter future for Northern Ireland.
I thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their presence for over two and a half hours of this statement. Whatever our views, I think we can probably feel that this has been an historic occasion.