Richard Thomson – 2022 Speech on the Northern Ireland Protocol

The speech made by Richard Thomson, the SNP MP for Gordon, in the House of Commons on 17 May 2022.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of her statement. We have heard plenty about the alleged shortcomings of the protocol, but there should be acknowledgement of the Government’s role in negotiating it; that does not even seem to have reached the level of being limited and specific, from what we have heard today. Ultimately the problem this legislation purports to deal with is not to do with the protocol, which was made necessary by the kind of Brexit that the Government eventually negotiated; the seed of the problem was in the very nature of the settlement.

Neither my colleagues nor I deny for one moment the hurt and upset caused to many in Northern Ireland by the protocol, but we must not forget that Scotland and Northern Ireland as a whole both voted against Brexit, and that there was not cross-Union consent for where we are now. If the consequences of that deal are judged to be not in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland, we need to be honest and recognise that the consequences of the entire withdrawal agreement are not in the interests of any place in the UK, because “getting Brexit done” has meant border checks for goods going from Great Britain to the EU or to Northern Ireland, but an absolute free-for-all for anything coming into Great Britain.

We on the SNP Benches have said all along that a stable agreement needs to be reached with the EU that works for all parts of the UK, and I genuinely wish the UK Government well in that, but with the crisis in Ukraine, the last thing we need to be doing is thrashing around here pointlessly in a snare of our own making. Domestic legislation will, even if passed, not wash away the need to comply with international commitments; nor will it change the fact that if the UK is neither in nor aligned with the single market and customs union, that still creates a trade border that needs to go somewhere.

Restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland and resolving the self-inflicted wounds of Brexit will require good will, trust and a negotiated settlement. I am sorry to say that the threats of unilateral legislative action by this Government to override their own deal are unlikely to be taken seriously in Belfast, and will not be taken seriously in Brussels; there is absolutely no reason why they should be taken seriously in this place either.