Northern Ireland

Published date : 22 March, 2023
Perhaps I should begin by addressing the remarks made just now by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), who said that he thought the SNP was almost ready to support this. I can say to him that he is almost right. We support the agreement—we welcome it and will vote in favour of it.

The mechanism set out in the draft statutory instrument provides what looks at first glance like a reasonably effective means of scrutiny in Stormont, although I have to say that, in terms of its function as a brake, it is questionable whether the brake lever is connected to anything. Only time will tell.

On the good aspects, we welcome the fact that at long last the UK Government have engaged constructively over a prolonged period with EU partners to come to an agreement that improves the protocol. We welcome that the protocol Bill has been abandoned, as it always should have been, averting the prospect of a catastrophic series of tit-for-tat trade reactions over the protocol, which would have been disastrous for all parts of the UK. The task now is for Ministers to start repairing some of the damage that has been caused in the intervening period.

From our perspective in Scotland, although this certainly restores access for Scottish producers to the Northern Irish market, it still leaves us deprived of equivalent access to the European single market. It is not my natural disposition to be a party pooper in any way, as I am sure the House will agree, but this only serves to make an already poor situation slightly less bad. A number of questions still need to be asked about how the UK Government will continue to try to improve trade conditions for other devolved nations in the UK; whether the Government can provide clarity over how the port at Cairnryan will operate and what infrastructure is needed; whether cows and sheep being transported between Northern Ireland and Scotland can qualify for the green lane; and how the UK Government are, in more broad terms, going to tackle the food security crisis that affects us all.

Occasionally in politics we are blessed with a rare flash of candour. We had one in the Budget speech last week when the Chancellor said, to great acclaim from our Benches:

“Independence is always better than dependence.”—[Official Report, 15 March 2023; Vol. 729, c. 844.]

But we also had it from the Prime Minister when he went across to Northern Ireland to sell the benefits of this deal. I do not know whether the Prime Minister thought that, just because he was saying it in Northern Ireland, nobody in Great Britain, particularly in Scotland, would be able to hear what he had to say. He said that the framework would make Northern Ireland

“the world’s most exciting economic zone”

because of access to both GB and EU markets. He went on to say that that very special position made Northern Ireland

“an incredibly attractive place to invest”—

no less than the world’s most exciting economic zone. Just to make sure he does not feel left out, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), also said:

“What an extraordinary opportunity for Northern Ireland: dual access to both markets.”

Of course, that very special position is precisely what the entirety of the UK had prior to Brexit. I certainly do not grudge Northern Ireland one iota of those benefits; I just wonder why Government Members, whatever views they take on this legislation, have been so utterly determined to deprive the rest of us of them.

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