Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol: Scrutiny of EU Legislative Proposals (European Affairs Committee Sub-Committee Report) Debate

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Department: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol: Scrutiny of EU Legislative Proposals (European Affairs Committee Sub-Committee Report)

Lord Weir of Ballyholme Excerpts
Friday 20th January 2023

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Weir of Ballyholme Portrait Lord Weir of Ballyholme (DUP)
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My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and the committee on this report; I welcome it and am happy to support all the recommendations. However, I do so in a context in which I have deep concern for the present and grave fears for the future.

The report rightly details that we need maximum scrutiny of EU legislation. I welcome in particular those parts of the report that deal with the detail and contents of Explanatory Memoranda, because, too often, Governments of whatever political hue tend to treat a requirement as a tick-box exercise. We must ensure that we have the maximum scrutiny.

However, the very thoroughness of the report highlights the fundamental problem that we have. The most detailed scrutiny that can be provided—if I can use an analogy—will present this Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the people of Northern Ireland with effectively a front-row seat as a spectator not of the match itself but of the match highlights, because the match has already taken place. Given that the JCWG meets with a level of confidentiality, we will not even get to see part of the match. It does not permit us to participate in the match in front of us. That is the fundamental democratic deficit.

British democracy, and indeed the foundations of world democracy, are based, on the one side, on the relationship between legislation and taxation and, on the other, on direct parliamentary representation and decision-making powers. The protocol renders that asunder. No matter what level of consultation, discussion or seats at tables that we have, unless there is throughout the United Kingdom the opportunity to reject or accept something democratically, we are simply in a position where laws are imposed on us.

Recommendation 7 of the Government’s response, which refers to paragraph 78 of the report, highlights the concern about divergence, in respect both of goods coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and of goods coming from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. Much has been said about the Irish sea border and the problems of movement between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It will mean, for example, that companies in Great Britain either will be at a disadvantage when trading with Northern Ireland or may in some cases be completely prevented from trading. For Northern Ireland, it will lead to increased costs for customers and consumers; it will lead to reduced choice. Even on that flow, it will massively disrupt the UK internal single market, to the disadvantage of Northern Ireland.

The disadvantages for Northern Ireland goods moving to the United Kingdom have perhaps been less understood. If we are in a regime in which there is increasing regulatory divergence, as highlighted by the report, it will mean that Northern Ireland access to the rest of the UK market will again be deeply disrupted, as my noble friend and colleague Lord Dodds indicated—roughly 70% of Northern Ireland’s trade is with the rest of the United Kingdom. As we move towards arrangements with other countries, it will mean that Northern Ireland goods will not be able to be produced to the same standards and regulations. That will mean a reluctance, indeed opposition at times, within the rest of the United Kingdom to take goods from Northern Ireland; it will directly disrupt trade that is there.

These are the fundamental problems. Unless the Government tackle them, and do not see them as just a few checks on trade, we are in danger of disregarding the major problem; we will simply reheat it. If the emperor has no clothes, simply giving the emperor a bit of a makeover and leaving them naked in the future is not to our advantage. Unless we tackle the fundamental problem of ensuring that we get an agreement which has cross-community support in Northern Ireland and genuinely listens to the concerns that are there, we are, at best, taking part in Groundhog Day and, at worst, heading towards a deteriorating situation both for trade and politics in Northern Ireland.