Sammy Wilson – 2022 Speech on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

The speech made by Sammy Wilson, the DUP MP for East Antrim, in the House of Commons on 27 June 2022.

I welcome this Bill, which is long overdue. It delivers on some of the promises that were made to get devolution restored in Northern Ireland but on which no action has been taken for the last 18 months. It is important for people to understand that it is essential for the restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland that the protocol issue is dealt with. That is because the very basis of devolution in the Belfast agreement is destroyed by the protocol. Unionist parties believe that the protocol is designed for the destruction of our place within the United Kingdom, that it is damaging our economy and hurting individuals, and that if the Assembly is up and running and the protocol is not dealt with, Unionist participation in the Assembly would mean that we had to facilitate the implementation of the agreement and acquiesce in other parties facilitating and implementing the protocol, which we believe is designed for our destruction. No other party in this House would enter a coalition arrangement—don’t forget, this is a mandatory coalition; we have to be there—where it was obliged to support, facilitate and undertake policies to which it was totally opposed. That is why devolution will not be restored until the protocol issue is dealt with.

Much has been said today about having flexibilities in the checks on goods, but it is not just about that. The whole issue of the protocol is that it undermines democracy in Northern Ireland. It imposes foreign law on Northern Ireland and on companies that do not even trade with the EU. It is not necessary for them to comply with that law, yet the protocol requires them to do so.

Paul Girvan (South Antrim) (DUP)

It is worth noting that not one Unionist party has approved the protocol. We are all united against it. The protocol has virtually created an economically united Ireland, and the EU is party to driving that forward with the Republic of Ireland in the negotiations, which has created a major problem. Not one constituency in this Parliament does not have people who are finding it difficult to supply goods to businesses in Northern Ireland.

Sammy Wilson

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Only the Social Democratic and Labour party has suggested tonight that there are no problems with the protocol. Every other party now accepts that, to one degree or another, there are problems caused by the protocol, which is one of the issues we have faced in these negotiations. The Irish Government, through their Foreign Minister, have patronisingly come to Northern Ireland to tell us, “You don’t really know what you’re talking about. There isn’t a problem.” Of course that has fed through to the EU negotiators, which is one reason why it is important that we have this Bill.

I have listened to Labour Members ask, “What about article 16?” The first people to squeal if the Government had invoked article 16 would have been the Labour party. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) talked about consulting the people of Northern Ireland, but she did not care too much about consulting on abortion. Now she is, as a Labour Member, appealing to the toffs down the other end of the building to defeat this Bill.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)

Order. I think the right hon. Gentleman is talking about Members of the other place.

Sammy Wilson

I am.

Stella Creasy

Would the right hon. Gentleman be opposed to bringing more representatives of the Northern Irish political parties into the joint working groups to solve this problem? Is he actually saying that he does not want a voice in this and that he just wants to shout?

Sammy Wilson

The people of Northern Ireland recently spoke in an election, and the Unionist population made it quite clear that they will not accept the protocol.

Angus Brendan MacNeil

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) for setting the parliamentary precedent that we are now allowed to refer to the House downbye as the “House of toffs.” I think that is a rather good suggestion.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)

The hon. Gentleman will find it was corrected to “Members of the other place” or even “noble Members of the other place.” Toffs? No.

Sammy Wilson

I do not know whether “noble toffs” is acceptable, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Members have argued that surely we can do this by negotiation, so let us look at the record. The EU has said not once or twice but every time that it will not renegotiate the text of the protocol. The EU has said it every time it has visited Northern Ireland and every time it has met Government representatives. In fact, the EU has now gone further and is taking us to court to impose more checks.

The result of removing the grace periods would be to increase the number of checks per week for goods coming into Northern Ireland from 6,000 to 25,000. This is hardly flexibility from the EU. Indeed, the EU recently wrote to the Government to demand checks on not only goods but people on ferries or airplanes from GB into Northern Ireland. The EU is demanding that people’s personal baggage is searched to make sure they are not bringing in sandwiches or whatever else. Constituents told me this week that such searches have already started in Cairnryan. This is not flexibility but a hardening of attitude by the EU.

Whether by triggering article 16 or through negotiation, we all know what the outcome will be, and that is why the Government have had to take this unilateral action. The Government are not abandoning their obligations. In fact, they are honouring their obligations in two ways. First, they are honouring their obligation to the EU in so far as the single market will be protected by the goods going through the red lane, by the imposition of fines on firms that try to avoid the checks and by the requirement on firms in Northern Ireland that want to trade with the EU to comply voluntarily with all EU regulations. That safeguards the EU market, so we are living up to our obligations to the European Union.

At the same time, the Government are living up to their obligation to the people of Northern Ireland, because the green lane or free lane—or whatever they want to call it—enables goods to come into Northern Ireland without any checks. It does not require the imposition of EU law on the 95% of firms in Northern Ireland that do not trade with the Irish Republic, and it ensures that judgments on whether the law has been broken are made by courts in the United Kingdom, albeit with reference to decisions made by the European Court of Justice.

If one looks at this Bill objectively, rather than through the eyes of those in this House who think we should have remained and still want to act almost as agents of the EU, it will help to restore devolution, it will ensure the integrity of the United Kingdom and it will protect the European single market.