United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Sammy Wilson Excerpts
Report stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons
Tuesday 29th September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 View all United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 29 September 2020 - (29 Sep 2020)
Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson
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My hon. Friend makes the good point that businesses in Northern Ireland might have to adhere to two sets of regulations. Does he accept that there will be occasions when EU regulations could be totally contrary to the regulations developed for the rest of the UK, and that at that stage, Northern Ireland businesses would have to choose? In fact, they would not have to choose, because they would be obliged to follow the EU regulations and would be unable to comply with UK regulations affecting trade.

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson
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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is a conundrum that we keep having to address, and the reason we have to keep raising it in these debates is that it is not filtering through. Despite the “lines to take” that have been distributed to colleagues and friends across the Chamber, those conundrums have yet to be answered, and businesses in Northern Ireland still require clarity, whether on selling into the GB market or buying from the GB market. The Bill attempts to address part of that journey, but only part of it, and it does not give us the clarity that we need.

On the REACH regulations and amendment 17, I want to refer to an email I got yesterday from a constituent called Audrey, who outlines something that had not been part of my thought process. She says, “All new and existing substances made and imported into the EU under the REACH regulations at levels of more than one tonne per year must be registered with the European Chemicals Agency. Registration also involves tests on live animals. Cruelty Free International estimates that already 2.6 million animals have been poisoned and killed in this process and that a full minimum data set for the high production chemicals would be approximately 5,000 animals per year, including rats, mice, rabbits, fish and even birds. Based on the information from the Health and Safety Executive, in two years of the UK’s exit from the European Union, UK-based companies must provide the full data package that supported their original registration with the ECHA, including full test reports for each applicable toxicity concern. Because of access to those data issues, many UK registrants could be left with no choice but to repeat the tests on animals that have already been complied with for EU purposes.” Even if Members do not accept my arguments around the implications for businesses, do they think—if those datasets are not agreed and if a common framework is not reached between the EU and the UK—that all those subsets of tests and all that cruelty is genuinely necessary? I think it is avoidable, and I ask the Government to consider amendment 17 more thoughtfully.

On new clause 7, I thank hon. and right hon. Members from across the Committee who support the endeavour and the aspirations that it brings. I wish to put on record my appreciation for the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh)—and the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) for their engagement with and understanding of the implications that there are for Northern Ireland. They signed the amendment and I am grateful to them for doing so. I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry), who similarly joined us in this endeavour, and, I have to say, to the hon. Members for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) and for Belfast South (Claire Hanna), who have indicated their positive approach to the new clause and signed it when we tabled it to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill back in January.

Nothing that the Minister said—I cannot re-emphasise this point enough—undermined the benefits of accepting new clause 7. He indicated that the Government will rightly carry out an analysis of the implications for business in Northern Ireland, so there is nothing wrong with agreeing to it as part of the Bill. We know that there are distinct differences associated with the operation of the Northern Ireland protocol. The new clause seeks not to undermine the protocol but to ensure that Government carry out these impact assessments. In doing so, it seeks to indemnify businesses in Northern Ireland who are unduly, unfairly and uncompetitively put at a disadvantage to their colleagues and counterparts in GB. That is the very essence of the commitments that have been advanced as part of the Bill; indeed, the “lines to take” that Conservative Members have been given tell them that the Bill is about ensuring the integrity of the UK internal market. If they believe that to be the case, then there is nothing in new clause 7 that undermines their position. I say that very earnestly.

Looking across the Chamber, I see Members—friends—who have an interest in Northern Ireland and, more than that, an unbridled belief in the benefits of the Union, and who believe that we should not only hold but build and enhance what we have. If they are of that view and respect our integral place within the United Kingdom—I know that many have gone through the angst of having to accept compromises as part of the withdrawal agreement to get Brexit for themselves in England, knowing that it will have distinct differences for us in Northern Ireland—I earnestly hope that they will consider new clause 7 in a positive vein. It does not undermine the Government’s position—they have offered no fundamental objection to it—and it does not undermine the process that Members are seeking to achieve on Brexit. It would, however, make an enormous practical difference for businesses in Northern Ireland who are faced with uncertainty and a lack of confidence in the arrangements that will come forward, and, should there be a negative impact or consequence, they would know that Government will stand with them.

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It is clear from debates on the Bill that only the Conservative and Unionist party truly wants Britain to succeed as an independent sovereign state that can stand on its own two feet. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the oldest and one of the most successful political unions. Our internal market has been vital to our shared prosperity, having facilitated seamless trade for centuries. Trade has been, and is, the key to prosperity for millions around the world, and will continue to be so for the British people, with a free, unencumbered internal market and global free ports around the country, one of which I dearly hope will be sited on the banks of the River Tees.
Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson
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First of all, I make it quite clear that, so far as Democratic Unionist Members are concerned, despite what has been said by the hon. Members for North Down (Stephen Farry) and for Foyle (Colum Eastwood), the Bill is essential to protect businesses in Northern Ireland. Our worry is that it does not go far enough, because its only reference to keeping Northern Ireland as part of the internal market regards preventing the withdrawal agreement’s requirement that businesses in Northern Ireland make export declarations when exporting to our biggest market, GB. That is the only reference in the Bill. In fact, the Bill also specifically excludes Northern Ireland from protections against EU interference in state aid and support for UK businesses. We are the only part left out of that.

New clause 7 seeks to address some of those things. First of all, it refers to the Government using their “best endeavours” to ensure that trade from GB to Northern Ireland, and from Northern Ireland to GB, is protected within the internal market. Secondly, it would require the Government to monitor the impact of the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, because we cannot defend businesses in Northern Ireland if we do not know what impact those are having. It stands to reason that, whether defending Northern Ireland through giving support to businesses and helping them to reduce their costs if unfair impositions are placed on them, whether protecting Northern Ireland through mitigation measures or whether supporting Northern Ireland through taking up these issues at the Joint Committee, we must know the impact of the withdrawal agreement. New clause 7 would require the Government to monitor those impacts so that they have the information to make a defence, as Ministers have said from the Dispatch Box that they want to do for businesses in Northern Ireland.

Thirdly, the new clause would require the Government to look at not only the impact of regulations that will be imposed on Northern Ireland by the European Union as part of the protocol, but the impact of any likely regulations, so that they can be anticipated and, again, so that businesses in Northern Ireland do not find that they are affected in a way that I have outlined in this place so many times. In my constituency, at this very moment, a planning application has gone in for a 45,000 square feet, £15 million border post. If we go by what Mr Barnier said yesterday, every lorryload of goods that comes through may have to be stopped, searched and investigated, with the resultant delays, costs and everything else.

It is important that the Government monitor the impact of such impositions. We are trying to ensure that this situation never happens in the first place, but unfortunately the Government already conceded that in the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol. I hope that the negotiations are successful in pushing the EU away from that draconian interpretation of the protocol. If not, there are some provisions in the Bill that will help to ameliorate the situation, and new clause 7 would push that even further. If Ministers mean what they say about protecting business in Northern Ireland and keeping it as part of the internal market, I hope that they will accept our new clause.

Gary Sambrook Portrait Gary Sambrook
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This is one of the most important Bills that we will vote on in this Parliament, because it will create the foundation and fabric for our United Kingdom to prosper for many years to come—hopefully for at least another 300 years, to pick a random number. It is so important for all four of our nations to benefit from the Bill and prosper together.

The provisions in the Bill, especially on subsidy controls, are exactly what the spirit of Brexit was all about. It was about people knowing that they were sending billions of pounds to the EU, and feeling left behind here in the UK. I was shocked and appalled earlier to hear the shadow Minister talk about the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster saying that money should be taken to the places it needs to be. The seats she was talking about used to be held by the Labour party, but are now held by Conservatives across the country, and it is because Labour forgot about those seats that so many of us Conservative Members are here today.

One such example, in my own seat, is the demise of MG Rover, which many people will remember. The factory closed down 15 years ago, but there is still 150 acres of land going completely unused. It is a daily reminder to the people who drive past it of that feeling of being left behind—of the billions of pounds going to the European Union, and the lost opportunities for jobs and skills across the constituency of Birmingham, Northfield. Through the subsidy controls provided in the Bill, we will be able to use Brexit to deliver on those jobs and opportunities. I very much look forward to this legislation being used for a bright, positive future across Northfield and Longbridge, when the empty space at MG Rover is used once again.

The clauses and compromises on parliamentary sovereignty are absolutely right and sound. A couple of Members on the Opposition Benches spoke about the nature of negotiations. Most Opposition Members are a second-hand car salesman’s dream. Half of them would leave the showroom without any windows, doors or tyres left on their car because every time someone said no to them, they would just roll over and accept it. If the European Union says, “No, sorry, we can’t do that”, Opposition Members think we should just say, “That’s alright; we’ll do whatever you like.”

We have heard about devolution, especially from Scottish National party Members. I am not too sure what definition of devolution they are working to. We talk about taking powers from Brussels to the UK and giving them to the devolved Administrations—but, no, their definition of devolution is to send them right back over to Brussels and have no control over them whatever. That is because the European Union is supposedly some kind of beacon and fount of progressive politics against a domineering United Kingdom. Well, they should tell that to the political independence campaigners in Catalonia, many of whom are political prisoners now, and one of whom was barred from public office yesterday, at the will of the European Union.

I have 10 seconds left, so I will finish by saying that I wholeheartedly support the Bill and its provisions to deliver our levelling-up agenda for constituencies across the country.

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Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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The right hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that I am talking nonsense. He just needs to re-read his Second Reading speech and he will see that it is full of inaccuracies. We have engaged in good faith with the devolved Administrations throughout the passage of the Bill. It was very unfortunate that the Scottish Government decided to walk away from the discussions on the internal market last year and, as I said, we want to continue to work constructively.



Let me turn briefly to the Northern Ireland element of this business Bill, which has attracted a disproportionate amount of interest and commentary. I and every Member on the Government Benches stood on a manifesto commitment to ensure that Northern Ireland businesses and producers enjoy unfettered access to the rest of United Kingdom, and that in the implementation of our Brexit deal we would maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market. The Bill delivers on those commitments. We have also been clear that we must protect the gains of the peace process and maintain the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson
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The Secretary of State is absolutely right that the Bill has no impact at all on the Good Friday agreement, and, indeed, is only helpful to the economy in Northern Ireland—but only helpful in a limited way. He talked about access to the UK internal market for Northern Ireland goods going into GB, but will he say something about the opposite direction? Northern Ireland depends so highly on imports from GB, and yet there is no mention of safeguards to stop trade being blocked in that direction.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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The right hon. Gentleman knows that discussions continue. He and I have had those discussions as well. But he makes the point that this is a business Bill, and I hope that every Member, like him, will support it on Third Reading.

We have taken these powers to ensure that, in the event that we do not reach an agreement with our EU friends on how to implement the protocol, we are able to deliver on promises in our manifesto and in the Command Paper. This is a legal safety net that clarifies our position on the Northern Ireland protocol, protecting our Union, businesses and jobs.