Northern Ireland

Gregory Campbell Excerpts
Thursday 1st February 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)
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I am holding up the piece of paper.

Chris Heaton-Harris Portrait Chris Heaton-Harris
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I am afraid that the back of a postage stamp is too big to write what they have achieved. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) has achieved so much in this deal in safe- guarding the Union and his detractors have not come up with anything.

The changes the right hon. Gentleman has secured in these regulations and the other instrument before this House, which we will consider shortly, will further enhance those protections. The regulations end any presumption that there is any form of automatic and unchecked dynamic alignment with European goods rules. Section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the so-called pipeline of EU law, is now expressly subject to the operation of vital democratic safeguards that the Northern Ireland Assembly, when sitting, will be able to exercise, including the Stormont brake. Indeed when— I emphasise when—Stormont begins to sit again and first assembles, I will be able to sign that Stormont brake legislation into law and it will be available to be used by the Assembly as we move forward. When Parliament passed the 2018 Act, it was exercising its sovereignty so that the UK-EU withdrawal agreement could be implemented in domestic law.

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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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My party and I have never made any secret of our disagreement with Brexit and the manner in which it was delivered. That has certainly caused issues for us in Scotland. However, we broadly welcome the point that matters have reached today. It has been a long road. Having clarity about Northern Ireland’s constitutional status is, I believe, helpful, as indeed is the reaffirmation of the principle of consent, which is the basis on which many of us in Scotland, not just in Northern Ireland, understand the Union of which we are, willingly or otherwise, a part.

The manner in which Brexit has come about has, as I say, caused issues in Scotland. It has placed our own constitutional question back at the forefront and under renewed scrutiny, but despite the tensions that that has released, or brought about, politically, I hope that my party and I have been able to understand and empathise with some of the concerns of people in Northern Ireland, and not just over the way in which Brexit, as originally constituted, threatened to undermine the basis on which peace and progress had been secured over the previous quarter century.

I hope that my party and I have also been able to understand and reflect on the fact that aspects of the protocol have left Unionists in Northern Ireland in particular feeling that they have been in some way separated, or set on a course of being separated, from the UK. In that regard, as I have said on a number of occasions, we never considered it unreasonable in and of itself, in the light of experience, that the UK Government should seek to renegotiate, or to rework, aspects of the deal that had been put in place.

Although there were certainly opportunities to recast a deal which, I would argue, could have worked better in the interests of all parts of the UK—I would highlight sanitary and phytosanitary alignments as being essential to that—and while I regret that those options have not been pursued today, I do not begrudge Northern Ireland a single aspect of what has been agreed in recent days or what appears in the statutory instruments.

Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Gregory Campbell
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The hon. Gentleman says that he does not begrudge us the achievement of some of the objectives that we set out to achieve. Does he agree that one of the advantages that we have and Scotland does not have is a 300-mile unclosable land border that makes virtual accommodation with access to the Irish Republic and onwards into the wider EU market almost impossible to prevent?

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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The border is certainly a complex one to try to police, and that has been at the forefront of many of the discussions. By contrast, we have what would be a very straightforward border between Scotland and England were it ever to take on international significance.

There appears to be something of a contradiction, in that Northern Ireland cannot conform to the requirements of the single market to maintain access there, and also the UK internal market, in the event of a future divergence. That brings to mind paragraph 146 of the Command Paper, which provides that

“the Government will legislate to require that a Minister in charge…must assess whether or not”


“has an impact on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland”

and make statements.

That contrasts with new section 38A (1) of the SI, which states:

“His Majesty’s Government must not ratify a Northern Ireland-related agreement with the European Union that would create a new regulatory border”.

A Minister might lay a statement before Parliament to that effect, but that does not mean that the Minister’s opinion will necessarily be shared, or make the statement any less subjective. Ministers might be capable of thinking six impossible things before breakfast, and indeed at times during the Brexit debate it seemed that that was a necessary qualification for office. Nevertheless, I would be grateful if the Secretary of State, in summing up the debate, could clarify how any such dispute might ultimately be determined and resolved.

With these publications, we appear to have reached something of a conclusion. It has been a thoroughly exhausting process, which has occupied talents and energies—not just in the Government and Parliament here, but across swathes of public life in Northern Ireland and beyond—that could, I believe, have been directed more productively. Much work has built up in the absence of an Assembly, but hopefully these provisions will allow for all the political mechanisms to bring the Assembly back. It is important for that to happen because a peaceful, prosperous Northern Ireland, at ease with itself, in control of its future and able to be respectful of all shades of opinion, is manifestly in the interests of all people in all these islands. To the extent that the statutory instruments pave a way towards restoring that state of affairs, we support them.