Trading freely and seamlessly across the four home nations
I was elected on a clear mandate to deliver Brexit and to support the Government in its ambition to get the best possible future trading arrangement for the UK. I was therefore pleased to vote to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Act in January, which allowed the UK to leave the EU with a deal on the 31st January.
However, the Withdrawal Agreement contains a number of provisions that require further negotiation to clarify how arrangements will work in practice. These negotiations are being undertaken by Michael Gove for the UK and EU Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič as part of an EU-UK Joint Committee, and are running in parallel to the main negotiations on the future relationship.
Part of the task of this Joint Committee is to interpret the provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol. It remains our hope and our negotiating objective that this will be resolved in a way that protects the economic and political integrity of the United Kingdom, whilst allowing for the special status of Northern Ireland that was envisaged in the Withdrawal Agreement. It has, however, become clear that the EU is threatening to refuse to allow the export of agricultural and food products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland by not adding the UK to its list of approved exporters.
Not only is this unreasonable given the fact that the UK will be maintaining all existing EU agricultural and food standards after the end of the Withdrawal Agreement, but it also goes against UK law in relation to our own internal single market.
The EU is attempting to apply leverage in the future relationship negotiations by suggesting they will use the Northern Ireland Protocol to break up the United Kingdom. This is not something that we should ever accept, and I expect the Government to take steps to ensure is not allowed to happen.
It is for that reason that the Government has put forward the UK Internal Market Bill, which seeks to ensure businesses across the whole of the United Kingdom will continue to enjoy seamless internal trade after the transition period ends. Further the Bill provides a legal insurance policy that would allow us, should the EU renege on its commitments to negotiate in good faith, to protect the UK’s economic and political integrity and ensure that there is no border on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The suggestion that the Bill itself breaks both international law and the Good Friday Agreement, is not something that I can agree with. I believe that passing the Bill will not directly breach our obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement. Clause 38 of the Withdrawal Agreement Act includes a ‘national sovereignty’ provision which allows the UK to disapply parts of the Agreement that would breach domestic law. This was agreed with the EU as part of the negotiations. This insurance policy, or ‘backstop’, is designed to protect our national interest and will only be used by ministers if it is necessary following a failure to reach an agreement by the EU-UK Joint Committee.
With regard to the Good Friday Agreement, there is an obligation to ensure close co-operation between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, but it is clear that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom. A border in the Irish Sea preventing goods from Great Britain entering Northern Ireland would be in direct contravention of this and would jeopardise the peace settlement and the rights of British citizens living in Northern Ireland.
Whilst I appreciate that some people would prefer us to have a closer relationship with the EU, even if that means accepting a greater level of EU control, I am convinced that it is in our national interest to ensure that we have the legal means to protect our internal market and maintain the economic and political unity of our family of nations.
I therefore support the Internal Market Bill because businesses across the country rely on being able to trade freely and seamlessly across the four home nations, in turn providing the UK with a last resort insurance policy that will prevent the EU from using the negotiations to break up the United Kingdom.