Last night in the House of Commons I spoke in the Second Reading Debate of the Internal Market Bill.
I made it clear that I support the general aims of the Bill and much of its content are necessary to ensure that the competences that return to the UK from the EU are put into UK law.
However, I have very serious concerns about Part 5 of this Bill and the effect of these provisions on our international reputation, the Rule of Law and Northern Ireland.
The unique issues relating to and resulting from Northern Ireland’s regulatory status have bedevilled the process of negotiating an exit from the European Union from the very start.
These issues are why the previous Government rejected the first draft Withdrawal Agreement and it is partly why Parliament rejected the revised iterations of this Withdrawal Agreement.
Similarly, Part 5 of this Bill is being justified to avoid an impact on GB to NI trade. However, it is one thing to reject a draft treaty on these grounds, but it an entirely different premise to consider breaching existing treaty obligations, made by this Government.
Some level of bureaucracy for trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain was and is the foreseeable and normal result of the Withdrawal Agreement. This point was highlighted at the time but was justified as a compromise to move onto the next phase and preserve peace in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, at the time we were assured that technology would ensure that any checks would be as quick and simple as possible.
The Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland Protocol, and the consequent effects on trade to Northern Ireland, were negotiated by this Government, part of our election manifesto, approved by this Parliament and subsequently signed by this Government, all in the last 12 months.
If the Government believe that the EU are acting in bad faith, making threats to food supplies or critically affecting the integrity of the UK, then there are agreed mechanisms in the Withdrawal Agreement to deal with this. For example, if the Government believe that we will not be able to import food into Northern Ireland, Article 16 of the protocol specifically allows the UK to act at the point where such an issue factually materialises.
The United Kingdom has a proud record of upholding the rule of law and being a trusted international partner. This country cannot, and does not, break international law just because it does not like the compromise it has signed up to. Our international standing and future ability to negotiate treaties and trade deals will be severely damaged if we undermine our commitment to the Rule of Law.
I was very interested in what the Prime Minister had to say about a vote on any regulations made under the powers in Part 5 of the Bill. During the debate I asked if this means the Government intends to bring forward an amendment so that statutory instruments made under these powers do not come into force until approved by the House of Commons.
Nevertheless, Clause 45 (2)(b), if passed and at the moment of Royal Assent, would lead to a breach of International Law and the Withdrawal Agreement, even if the Ministerial powers in Part 5 are not used. Some say this is justified is to preserve the Good Friday Peace Agreement, yet when the two architects of that Agreement state that these provisions imperil rather than protect that peace, we must take that view seriously.
For that reason, I was not able to vote for the Bill last night. However, I did not vote against the Bill as the majority of the Bill is sensible and necessary and the only realistic way to solve the issues regarding International Law is for the Bill to go onto the next stage in Parliament and for it to be amended.
As ever, the best way to avoid No Deal is to agree a Deal. The priority must remain to agree a good deal with the European Union.