UK Internal Markets Bill ‘insurance’ clauses no longer necessary
Following last year’s General Election, the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the Prime Minister was ratified by our UK parliament. In fact, my first vote in Parliament was to pass the Withdrawal Agreement, fulfilling our manifesto commitment to ‘Get Brexit Done.’
The Withdrawal Agreement set out some basic principles for the following negotiation process, and formed the bases for our current trade talks. The Withdrawal Agreement also included the ‘Northern Ireland Protocol’, a series of measures that recognised the unique history and situation of Northern Ireland, and set out some key areas of potential conflict that needed to be resolved.
Northern Ireland has a complex history and culture, and the success of the Good Friday Agreement rests on Northern Ireland being a full and equal part of the UK whilst at the same time having a seamless relationship with the Republic of Ireland. In leaving the Customs Union of the EU, this is a difficult balance to achieve given that the UK’s only land border with the EU lies between Northern Ireland and the Republic. This is why the Northern Ireland Protocol was so significant, and why the Protocol required a dedicated negotiating team – the Joint Committee – to work through the challenges in parallel to the trade negotiations.
A few weeks ago, it seemed that the EU may not be willing to meet their commitment to negotiate the Protocol in good faith in the event of not reaching an agreement. This would have meant that the ‘default position’ on 1st January would be that trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain would be interrupted, that tariffs could be imposed on Scottish, Welsh and English businesses trying to export to NI and ultimately that agricultural products would not be allowed to be moved from GB to NI.
This would clearly be an unacceptable position for the UK, and would breach the principles of the Good Friday Agreement and the laws that govern our Union. The UK Government therefore introduced clauses into the United Kingdom Internal Markets Bill to make sure that, in the event that the Joint Committee talks broke down, we could ensure the integrity of our UK internal market and Northern Ireland business would retain unfettered access to the rest of the UK.
This afternoon, The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, made a Statement in the House of Commons to announce that the Joint Committee has now reached agreement on the Northern Ireland protocol. Mr Gove set out the details of how the new arrangements will work and made clear that the previously introduced ‘insurance’ clauses within the UK Internal Markets Bill were no longer necessary. I asked The Chancellor more about this:
I warmly welcome the news of this significant progress, but can he reassure the House that while the Government have said they will withdraw clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, the rest of the Bill will remain in place, so we can ensure that goods can move seamlessly across the UK, benefiting businesses and consumers across all four nations?
In response, the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove advised:
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is a critical piece of legislation which safeguards the rights of producers and consumers across the UK. The clauses she mentions excited controversy, but I think they were necessary. In any case, that controversy can now pass because they are being withdrawn. I hope the Bill will pass as well.
Taxation (Post Transition Period) Bill
Whilst it is encouraging news that there's been a breakthrough with the Joint Committee, trade negotiations are ongoing and we need to prepare for the end of the transition period, regardless of the trading terms agreed. The Government is therefore introducing a Taxation (Post Transition Period) Bill, to establish a legal framework for the changes to VAT and customs that are necessary from 1st January and I spoke in the Second Reading debate of this Bill.
The existence and contents of this Taxation Bill encapsulate both the opportunities and the challenges that we face as we reach the end the Transition Period. The Bill reflects the complexities that have inevitably arisen as we, an historic union of four distinct nations, seek to disentangle ourselves from 40 years of economic and increasingly political union with our European neighbours.