Stephen Kinnock – 2022 Speech on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

The speech made by Stephen Kinnock, the Labour MP for Aberavon, in the House of Commons on 27 June 2022.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley).

As a patriot, I find that many things make me proud to be British, but perhaps what makes me proudest of all is that so many people and so many Governments across the world see Britain as a law-abiding country that plays by the rules; as a country that is a consistent, reliable and trustworthy international partner; as a country that treats its allies with respect and always defends the rules-based international order; as a country that acts in good faith and has a sense of fair play hardwired into its DNA; and as a country that is capable of tremendous feats of statecraft such as the Good Friday agreement—one of the proudest achievements of any Labour Government. Yet here we are this evening, debating a Bill that takes a unilateral wrecking ball to an international treaty that the Prime Minister himself signed and described as “an excellent deal” just 30 months ago.

Let us be clear: this Bill fundamentally undermines our reputation as a nation that upholds the rule of law. This really matters, because geography is destiny. Whether the Conservative party likes it or not, what happens on the European continent is of pivotal importance to Britain’s security and prosperity. When Europe thrives, we thrive; when Europe slumps, we slump; and when Europe fights, we fight.

Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and, obviously, speaks on the basis of great experience internationally. I presume that he is about to refer to the events in Ukraine. Does he agree that not only is the Ukraine war a very pressing issue on which we need to co-operate fully, but there are many other international crises with which we are currently dealing as a country—including the climate emergency—and that it is therefore vital for us to work in partnership with our colleagues?

Stephen Kinnock

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He understands that foreign policy begins at home, and that if you do not have your own house in order, your ability to project influence, to build alliances and to speak with moral authority is fundamentally undermined.

From trade to diplomacy, from defeating Putin’s barbarism to tackling the climate emergency, and from scientific co-operation to responding to the rise of an increasingly authoritarian China, our democratic partners and allies across the channel should always be at the heart of our foreign policy. However, instead of recognising that basic reality, Ministers are stuck in what my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), the shadow Foreign Secretary, has called

“a fever dream of 2016”.

Rather than seeking constructive solutions, they pick fights with our closest neighbours and introduce this deeply destructive Bill, which is a clear breach of international law, and which is designed solely to inflame tensions and chase Daily Mail headlines.

With inflation soaring, with the country facing a cost of living crisis, with war on the European continent, this is the worst possible time for the Bill to arrive; so why are the Government doing it? Who in their right mind would seek to sow division when, now more than ever, we need to be standing shoulder to shoulder with our European friends and partners? The explanation is clear. The Prime Minister has made a calculation, and, as usual, his calculation has nothing to do with the national interest and everything to do with saving his own skin. The Prime Minister knows that it is the European Research Group and its fellow travellers who are calling the shots, and he knows that he must have their support if he is to continue to squat in Downing Street. Just like his two predecessors, he has found that his fate now lies in the hands of the ERG, and just like his two predecessors, he seems foolishly to believe that he can appease the members of the ERG by throwing them some red meat from time to time.

It really is extraordinary that Conservative Prime Minister after Conservative Prime Minister has failed to learn a simple lesson of 21st-century British politics, which is that you can never satisfy the members of the ERG. No matter how much red meat you throw to them, their hunger will never be sated: they will always come back for more. Right now they are once again at the height of their powers, because the outcome of the no confidence vote has maximised their leverage and given them a Prime Minister who, when they order him to jump, responds by asking, “How high?” Not only that; it has given them a Foreign Secretary whose leadership ambitions depend on their support.

So the planets have aligned for the ERG—but for our country, not so much. Out there in the real world, the impacts of the Prime Minister’s botched Brexit deal are being felt by working families and businesses across the country. Our exporters are suffocating under mountains of red tape, import frictions are driving inflation up, and next year we are forecast to have the lowest growth of any country in the G20, apart from Russia. The fact is that the Conservatives are unable to point to a single net economic benefit of the disastrously bad deal that they negotiated—not one.

Indeed, when the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency was asked to name a single benefit of the Prime Minister’s botched deal, the only thing he could come up with was the fact that the road signs in the Dartford tunnel could be changed from metres to yards. You could not make it up, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is almost as absurd as the apparent legal basis for this Bill, which we are told is the doctrine of necessity, which requires “grave and imminent peril”. But if the peril is so imminent, why have the Government chosen a route that will involve months of passage through Parliament? We know the answer to that question too, because the only thing that is in grave and imminent peril is the Prime Minister’s job.

The fact that the Prime Minister’s botched Brexit deal is so clearly failing to deliver any of the economic benefits that were promised is bad news not only for the jobs and livelihoods of the British people but for our relations with the European Union and our international reputation more broadly. The more obvious it becomes that the deal is fundamentally flawed and failing, the more the Prime Minister and others who heralded it as a triumph when they signed it will start looking for scapegoats, pointing fingers and lashing out. They will blame the EU. They will blame those who voted remain. They will blame the civil service and they will blame the judges. In short, they will create a smokescreen of sob stories and grievances, which they hope will obscure their own profound incompetence. They will use the passage of this Bill and other ruses such as the Bill of Rights and the Rwanda plan to whinge and rant about the saboteurs and the conspirators, because they will always try to play the victim card. They will never stand up and take responsibility, and there is nothing patriotic about that.

To sum up, the purpose of this Bill is not constructive; it is deliberately destructive. It is not seeking to solve a problem; it is seeking to fuel grievance and shirk responsibility. It is not diplomacy or statecraft; it is a piece of reputation-trashing vandalism, and this House should treat it with the contempt that it deserves.