Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Opinion DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Sir Desmond SwayneMain Page: Sir Desmond Swayne (Conservative) - New Forest West)
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We have made a solemn pledge to the people of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that the border will be guaranteed never to be a hard border. That required the United Kingdom to say that in all normal circumstances we will not depart from that pledge. I repeat the point that I made to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg): in the case of a fundamental change of circumstance, which is ultimately the sovereign right of this House and the Government to determine, the United Kingdom could withdraw, pursuant to customary international law. So it is not true to say that there is not ultimately the right of this House and the Government of the country at the time to exercise their discretion to do so in those circumstances. But in every other circumstance, we have said to the people of Northern Ireland, “We will ensure that your lives will be able to continue as they do now at the border.” I say that that act was worthy of this House, worthy of the Government and worthy of the British people, and it is one that is worthy of support.
No, no, no. What I said to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) was that we would not do it in breach of the law. We are permitted, in a case of fundamental change of circumstances, to withdraw by the law. If such a change of circumstance came about—either because of some fundamental political change in Northern Ireland or some fundamental change of circumstance going to the essential basis of the agreement—then we would have the right to withdraw. But in all normal, envisageable and predictable circumstances, particularly while we are negotiating a subsequent agreement to the pace and accelerated timetable that this instrument now requires, we would not do so and it would be wrong to do so—wrong because it would be a breach of our obligations and wrong because this is a law-abiding country.