3 Lord Trimble debates involving the Department for Exiting the European Union

Mon 9th Oct 2017
Mon 27th Feb 2017
European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Brexit: Irish Border

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Tuesday 5th December 2017

(6 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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As the noble Lord is aware, we are leaving the customs union and the single market. Northern Ireland will be leaving them with us.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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Will the Minister agree that a lot of the problems yesterday stemmed from the fact that people were leaking inaccurate accounts of what was in the Government’s paper, and were not making it clear that the proposal for some form of regulatory alignment was heavily conditioned and of very limited application? If that information had been put into the public domain earlier in the day, would not things have gone much more smoothly?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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My noble friend speaks with great authority on this subject, having been one of the architects of the Good Friday agreement. We all know the political sacrifices he made to bring that about. I pay tribute to him for that. I do not think it would be helpful for me to go into a blow-by-blow account of whataboutery on the negotiations. We are only half way through the negotiations. We will come back and make a Statement when we have agreement, but at the moment this is an ongoing, delicate situation.

Brexit

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Monday 9th October 2017

(6 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Anelay of St Johns Portrait Baroness Anelay of St Johns
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My Lords, we have made great progress—we would say sufficient progress—to be able to proceed with the next stage of our negotiations. Of course, as the noble Baroness will certainly recall, Article 50 specifically says that discussions on the withdrawal agreement should be against a background of discussions about the future partnership. We are ready, willing and able, and it is time now for the European Commission to be more flexible to be ready for the next stage.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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My Lords, to return to the question of the two parts of Ireland, does my noble friend recall that Monsieur Barnier, after publication of Her Majesty’s Government’s proposals, said that the European Union was opposed to an invisible border? Surely there will be no progress on this issue until Europe changes its mind.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Portrait Baroness Anelay of St Johns
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My Lords, my noble friend, who has some of the best experience of the issues of importance to Northern Ireland, raises a crucial point. Flexibility is important from the Commission and also from other members of the European 27. A political decision will ultimately make the difference. It is worth noting that the Motion in the European Parliament to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, referred a moment ago proposed that one part of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland—could remain in the single market and the customs union, thereby breaking up the United Kingdom. That cannot be a way forward.

European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. His description of the difficulties that he saw arising within the European Union and the way in which the European Union has not been governed very intelligently by the people in Brussels was seriously meant and I hope that everyone will reflect on it. But I hope he will forgive me if I go back to the amendment in front of us. It is unnecessary. The amendment asks the Prime Minister,

“to support the maintenance of the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland”.

The Prime Minister does that now. It is in the White Paper, so the amendment is unnecessary for that reason. That is a technical answer to the amendment, but I will move on to a general discussion of the common travel area.

As was mentioned in the debate, the common travel area has existed since 1923. From the mid-1920s onwards, tariff differences existed because tariffs were charged on the Irish border—and those continued right up until our entry into the European Union. So going back to having tariffs is not a new thing for us. Having to have regard to the movement of persons is not, again, a new thing. Noble Lords may not be fully aware that the impact of the common travel area on the free movement of people is not general. It applies only to citizens of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. It does not apply to other citizens.

I remember hearing in a news bulletin several months ago that the Irish police had intercepted a car that had just crossed over the unmarked border. Police stopped the vehicle in order to remove from it half a dozen persons who were travelling to work within the Republic of Ireland but had no right to do so. So that is an example of the movement of persons being monitored. How effective that monitoring is is another matter—and whether that monitoring can be done in a more effective way, again, is open. So there should not be any insuperable difference on the question of the free movement of persons, provided that there is serious co-operation between the British and Irish Governments. Without knowing the detail, my understanding is that very active discussion is going on at the moment between the British and Irish Governments about how that could be handled.

If there is a serious problem, it comes with the issue of tariffs. The tariffs that were charged from the mid-1920s to the 1970s were enough to stimulate smuggling. It was a local cottage industry, particularly in South Armagh. If significant tariffs come back, it will create, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, mentioned, another line of activity for the boys down there who will profit from it. They might complain about it but they will certainly enjoy the profit and might not be too keen if someone took the profit away. So one has to be aware that there is more than one side to this.

There will be difficulties if there are serious tariffs, but the difficulties will exist mainly for the Irish Government rather than for ourselves. In the paper mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, Mr Lux talked about installations on the Irish side of the border. That is where they will be, because under EU law there is an obligation on countries that have part of the EU’s external border to have installations on that border. So if installations exist they will certainly exist south of the border. Whether they exist north of the border I am not sure; that is a matter for our Government to consider. However, the difficulties are going to be there.

The difficulty for the Irish Government is not just to do with the installations but with trade. Although the Irish have tried to develop their trade in other ways, their largest market is the United Kingdom. A tariff between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom would have very serious implications for them. Incidentally, their second largest market is the United States. Almost all their trade is done with Anglophone countries; they have very little trade with the rest of the European Union.

That actually points to a solution. When we joined the European Union in 1972 the Republic of Ireland joined on the same day; and it did so because of the economic factors I have mentioned. Those factors are still there. The Republic of Ireland is going to have to think very seriously, in a couple of years, about where their future prosperity will lie. At the moment the Irish Government are probably trying to do what they can to educate people in Brussels about the problems that they will face and about the desirability of having tariff-free access. That is also the objective of our Government. They, too, want tariff-free access, and if they achieve that there is no problem—although we should bear in mind what my noble friend Lord Lawson said in last week’s debate: that as things stand, it does not look as though there is much chance of getting agreement on the absence of tariffs. If we do not get that, the Irish Government will have a problem. We would of course want to be sympathetic and do what we can to mitigate matters; but at the same time that is not something that we need as a major element in this debate.

The amendment talks about,

“the open border … as set out under the provisions of the Belfast Agreement”.

Look at the agreement: what provisions? I do not see any. The common travel area was part of the background at the time that we were discussing this, but to say that this is something mandated by or based on the agreement is not correct. It is just a way of hyping up the argument, in the same way that some people suggest that the current peace might be threatened by what is happening here. That is the equivalent of shroud-waving and is not something that we should be too concerned about.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill Portrait Lord Lester of Herne Hill (LD)
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My Lords, when the Minister replies to this debate he has a choice. He can focus on the amendment and explain why it is unnecessary—which he can probably do fairly easily. If he does that, but does no more than that, the Government will be losing a very important opportunity, which is to reply to the remarkable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and seek to reassure the inhabitants of Ireland, north and south, about the very real concerns that have been expressed by my noble friend Lord Alderdice and the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Trimble, among others.

I am not Irish, although there are times when I wish that I were; but I have lived in Ireland as a privileged guest of the nation for 44 years. I am a member of the Bar of Northern Ireland and of the Republic. I have been frequently to the north, as well as living in the Republic. I say to the Minister—if he does not know it already—that the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, are not debating points; they are very real. As the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said, Ireland joined the European Community when we did. I think that the Irish were always more European than we were; they saw John Bull’s island as between them and Europe and saw their destiny in Europe—and Ireland has benefited enormously from its membership of the European Union, as have we.

The troubles mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, are acute and I am concerned that, whatever happens with the amendment, which I regard as trivial compared with these issues, both in the debate on Second Reading and in the White Paper the Government have shown a disregard for the seriousness of the issues affecting Ireland as a whole. I urge the Minister, if not today then as soon as he possibly can, to make sure that full reassurance is given to the people of Ireland, north and south, about the concerns that have been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. That is far more important than the fate of this amendment.