The speech made by Sammy Wilson, the DUP MP for East Antrim, in the House of Commons on 7 November 2023.
I appreciate the fact that you have called me so early in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. Despite the fact that Mr Speaker has reset the clock so that it appears that my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has never spoken in the House—[Laughter.] I have been called before him, so thank you very much for that.
May I first, on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, congratulate the King on his first King’s Speech and the way in which he delivered it? Our gratitude also goes to his mother, who for so long served our nation. I also congratulate the proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address. However, when the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) was being praised by some Members on the Opposition Front Bench, I must say that I wondered how they married up their commitment to net zero with the right hon. Gentleman’s pride in having three coal-guzzling steam engines and what that does to the carbon footprint in Yorkshire. Nevertheless, I am glad that some of the mad ideas—that we should change our lifestyles because of the threat from carbon dioxide being put into the atmosphere—have not put him off.
I want to note three things about the Gracious Speech. First, there are the things that I am glad about. I am glad that the Government have once again restated their commitment to stand by those who are under attack from tyrants and from terrorism, with their commitment to Ukraine and their commitment to Israel, both of which are under huge pressure at present. Indeed, across the world there appears to have been a tiring in support for the war in Ukraine and for the Ukrainian Government as well as, almost immediately, condemnation of the nation of Israel for standing up and doing its duty by its citizens who were brutally murdered by terrorists. Many people—some of them may be well-meaning, and some may be simply reacting to the cruelty of war—are calling for an immediate ceasefire. While the Government of Israel have their citizens held captive and while Israel’s very existence is under threat because of a huge terrorist army on its doorstep, regardless of how strong the siren calls are from the UN, nations across the world and all the non-governmental organisations, it would be foolish to go for a ceasefire.
It is a typical terrorist tactic: when terrorists are under pressure or the state comes after them, they call for a ceasefire. What for—because they want to stop the violence? No. It is because they want to regroup. We have seen it in Northern Ireland. When the terrorists in Northern Ireland were under pressure, they declared ceasefires. It gave them time to regroup, and I do not think the situation in the middle east is any different. There will be difficult days ahead—I am sure there will be pictures on our TV screens that will make us all sorrowful—but I hope our Government stand by the resolution in the King’s Speech and stand by the state of Israel in defence of its citizens.
The second thing that I am glad about is the Government’s willingness to grant licences to exploit the resources that we have in the earth and in the sea around our country. Whether we like it or not, we are going to use oil and gas for many decades in the future, so I cannot for the life of me understand why such a policy is even controversial. What is controversial about replacing imports with our own oil production? What is controversial about defending 200,000 jobs in that industry? What is controversial about ensuring energy security? We have already heard speeches today about the difficulties in financing our public services. What is controversial about promoting an industry that will pay billions in taxation, which can then be used to finance Government services?
I am pleased that the Government have made a commitment to grant licences; the only thing I will say, given that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) is in her place, is this. The one threat that I see to the ability to deliver on that pledge is that those who oppose it have been handed a sledgehammer, which they will be able to use in judicial reviews and court cases, and so on, because we still have a commitment in legislation to reach net zero by 2050. We have seen it already. Every time an infrastructure project is proposed that requires the use of oil and gas, it is challenged in the courts on the basis that to allow it will detract from the ability to meet our target of net zero by 2050.
The Government can issue licences and invite applications for licences, but I have absolutely no doubt that every one of them will be challenged in court on the basis that we still have legally binding targets for 2050, and I suspect that it will be the same for some of the other measures that the Government have introduced. In fact, although there was a song and dance about how the Government were no longer banning the sale of diesel and petrol cars by 2030, I note that legislation has been announced—I suspect this is to create a defence in court—to ensure that, whether or not there is a ban on buying cars, there will be a ban on making them. The manufacturers will be obliged to increase the percentage of electric vehicles they sell every year, despite the fact that the demand side of the market will not be controlled in that way—unless, of course, we find that quotas have to be set for sales, as well as for manufacturing.
The third thing that I am glad about is that the Government will introduce a trade and investment Bill that will enable us to benefit from leaving the EU. I know that there are those who will tell us that leaving the EU is the most disastrous decision we ever made—we get it every week in this House. The truth of the matter is that all the doomster forecasters have been wrong. I can remember debates in this place when we were told that people would be queuing up in the supermarkets, unable to get food. The Office for Budget Responsibility told us that our GDP would fall by 4% because our trade would fall, yet statistics this week show not only that our trade with the EU has increased by 13%, but that our trade with the rest of the world has increased by 14%. One reason is that we no longer have to rely on trade deals that require 27 countries to agree policy and arrangements, and we can do what is best for Britain.
I am glad the Government intend to build on that. People think that we do not make anything any longer as a result of Brexit, but only this week we find that we are the seventh biggest manufacturing nation in the world, having overtaken France, so there are good things. I am glad the Government intend to build on that and I hope they do so. When I see how they back off when there is a little opposition to moving away from EU law, I sometimes wonder whether we are prepared to use the best of our freedoms.
I am sad about one thing: the fact that in the King’s Speech the Government had to make a promise to promote the integrity of the Union and strengthen the social fabric of the United Kingdom. I am sad that such a promise even had to be made. It is only necessary because successive Prime Ministers have played fast and loose with the Union in negotiations with the European Union. Relations with the European Union were regarded as more important than relations within the United Kingdom. We even had Ministers defending their decision about the withdrawal Bill in court, admitting that when the Bill went through this House we impliedly removed article 6 of the Act of Union, the very economic basis of the Union that there should be freedom of trade and freedom of movement.
During recess, the Government introduced yet another statutory instrument, on plant health regulations. As a result of the negotiations with the EU, Northern Ireland is now regarded by the EU as a third country in relation to the rest of the United Kingdom. In the plant health regulations introduced during recess, the Government of our own country are now, for the very first time, regarding Northern Ireland as a third country. So, there is much that needs to be done to promote the Union. The hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) is a yoga specialist. I hope we will not see the same kind of yoga contortions from the Government when it comes to their position on the Union and Northern Ireland’s position within it.
My last point is about one of those things that I think is mad, but others have praised: introducing legislation—albeit well meaning and everything else—to ban smoking. In 20 years’ time, some poor shopkeeper is going to have to decide, “Is that person who came in here asking for 20 fags 48 or 47? Is he going to have to send his 48-year-old mate in to buy the cigarettes for him?” Introducing legislation of that nature is just mad.
I hope we will see delivery on some of the good things. I hope we will see the Government deliver on strengthening the Union, undoing the damage of the Windsor framework and the protocol, and restoring Northern Ireland’s position within the Union.