Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

Published date : 20 July, 2022
I rise to confirm on Third Reading that the SNP will also oppose this Bill, and to take the opportunity to thank Maria-Clorinda Luck from our research team and all the House staff for the support they have given us throughout this process. It has been very much appreciated.

Despite our opposition to this Bill throughout, and despite the fact that the protocol was of the Government’s own doing, we have always accepted that seeking a renegotiation of its terms was a legitimate aim. So we have tried to stay focused throughout on the content and intent of the Bill, and through doing that I have learned a number of things. Perhaps first and foremost, I have learned that the words “urgent” and “necessity”, at least in the eyes of the Paymaster General, do not mean quite what I previously thought. That was an education.

More importantly, the people of Scotland will have learned something about their own place and standing in the Union. The Paymaster General has more than once in Committee dismissed amendments that would have given the Northern Irish Assembly oversight and democratic control over whether aspects of the Bill would ever be switched on; they have been dismissed on the grounds that there is, clearly, no Assembly sitting. He has, however, also been happy to go past the fact breezily that a Parliament within these islands that is sitting, in Edinburgh, at Holyrood, has declined to give its legislative consent—but still the legislation continues without that consent.

I have tried throughout to empathise with and understand how Unionists in Northern Ireland would feel, and I have said on more than one occasion in this House that I cannot for the life of me understand how any Unionist Government who seek to have that label attached to them could ever have left Northern Ireland in a situation where there was, in effect, a trade border down the Irish sea; it is inconceivable that any competent Government could have done that. However, if this Bill brings some satisfaction to some in Northern Ireland, it throws a few issues for voters in Scotland into very sharp relief. We have found out that the precious Brexit has at all stages throughout this pantomime been much more important than the previous Union. We have found out that we do not exist in anything remotely approaching a partnership of equals. We have also found that we are no longer part of a state that can claim with any shred of credibility to stand up for international law and the rule of law and that can be respected for the stance it takes as part of that rules-based international order.

Sadly, this is not going to be the end of the process, because if the measures in the Bill are used, owing to the Government’s inability to negotiate and push at, what is, an open door, we are going to find ourselves, at the height of a cost of living crisis, experiencing even more frictions than we are currently for our manufacturers and our consumers. We will also find this legislation being prayed in aid by despots around the world as they seek to escape their own obligations under international law. What is clearest of all is that the Union in which Scots were invited to vote to remain in 2014—to “lead not leave”, as the slogan had it—has been changed utterly and is now unrecognisable. That, above all, is why we can, we must and we will have a referendum on Scotland’s future.

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