The speech made by David Jones, the Conservative MP for Clwyd West, in the House of Commons on 27 June 2022.
The status of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom derives initially from the Act of Union 1800, the sixth article of which provides that, in matters of trade and in treaties with foreign powers, the
“subjects of Ireland shall have same the privileges…as…subjects of Great Britain.”
The 1800 Act was augmented, as we know, by the Belfast/Good Friday agreement of 1998, which declares that
“it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people”.
As hon. Members have said today, the Belfast agreement is fundamental to the maintenance of peace in Northern Ireland, and preserves its constitutional status. The fact that the agreement is crucial is acknowledged in the Northern Ireland protocol, which says that the protocol
“is without prejudice to the provisions of the 1998 Agreement in respect of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent”.
The essential point is that the protocol, which is part of an international treaty, explicitly acknowledges the primacy of the Belfast agreement—another international treaty.
The agreement, however, has been undermined by the protocol. It is absolutely clear that the arrangements set up by the protocol are having a detrimental impact on life in Northern Ireland and on the privileges of its people. As we have heard, there are burdensome checks on goods passing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, and that has created a border in the Irish Sea between constituent parts of the United Kingdom, which cannot be acceptable.
As we heard from the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson), people in Northern Ireland find it difficult to secure many goods that they have traditionally been able to purchase, and there has been a diversion of trade away from mainland Great Britain and towards the European Union. The disruption has also impacted the democratic institutions of Northern Ireland. The Assembly has not been reconstituted since the elections earlier this year, and the Executive remains suspended. This is a worrying and potentially dangerous state of affairs, especially given the sensitive political history of Northern Ireland.
Angus Brendan MacNeil
Given the right hon. Gentleman’s concern for the Assembly and for democracy in Northern Ireland, does he think that the protocol should be decided on by that very Assembly?
The Assembly will, in due course, have the right to decide on it, but that will be after the passage of four years.
Both the UK and the EU recognise the practical problems of the protocol and its impact on Northern Ireland. Both recognise that those problems should, if possible, be resolved by negotiation, and hon. Members in all parts of the House have repeated that today. Everybody would like the issues to be resolved through negotiation, but for that to happen, it would be necessary for the EU to change the negotiating mandate given to Vice-President Šefčovič—and that it refuses to do. As we heard from the Secretary of State, there have been extensive negotiations over 18 months, and they have been fruitless.
The Government have a clear duty to take action to restore the privileges of the people of Northern Ireland, so that they are equal to those of people in the rest of the UK, and to respect the primacy of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. The action that the Government have taken is to introduce this Bill, which does not, as has been suggested, tear up the protocol; on the contrary, it respects and protects the integrity of the EU’s single market and the openness of the land border, both of which are matters in which the EU and the Irish Republic are concerned. There will still be checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland but destined for the European Union, through a red lane arrangement.
The Bill explicitly protects the EU single market against the movement across the Irish land border of goods on which the correct EU tariffs have not been paid, or which do not comply with EU regulatory standards. It also provides explicitly that no land border infrastructure or checks or controls on the borders may be created. In every respect, that satisfies the European Union’s concerns.
The Bill also complies with the United Kingdom’s obligations under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. It preserves the status of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom by restoring the equality of the privileges of its people with those enjoyed by the people of the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Bill is wholly necessary. Without it, the peace process established by the Belfast agreement will be dangerously compromised. It is a crucial but proportionate Bill, and it deserves the support of the House.