Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Lord Lilley:

    My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dodds. I endorse his celebration of the union from this side of the Irish Sea; it is as important to us that Northern Ireland be part of the United Kingdom as it is to people in Northern Ireland to share that common membership of the union with the other component parts.

    I also echo the noble Lord’s tribute to Lord Cormack. Unlikely though it may seem, I owe a great debt to Lord Cormack, who chaired my leadership campaign when I stood for the leadership of the Conservative Party in 1997. Although we differed on some issues, as is often the case we shared far more in common than meets the eye. He was a great parliamentarian, a great unionist, a great Conservative and a great Christian, and may he rest in peace.

    I welcome the terms of this humble Address, and I hope that the reductions in border checks are as substantial as is claimed in the government document Safeguarding the Union. If they are, I congratulate the DUP on having secured those improvements. However, it raises a few questions. We were told that the Windsor Framework would make trading between Birmingham and Belfast just like trading between Edmonton and Edinburgh. Paragraph 108 of Safeguarding the Union says that 4 million more movements will now be covered by UK food safety laws, not EU laws, resulting in the

    “scrapping of costly veterinary certificates and checks”.

    Therefore, either the Windsor settlement was oversold or these new arrangements are being oversold. If the former, the DUP’s decision to withdraw from Stormont achieved more than the UK Government were able to achieve at the time of the Windsor settlement. Clearly, these changes are of benefit to the whole of Northern Ireland—to all communities in Northern Ireland. I would have thought they would have been welcomed by all parties, admittedly somewhat shamefacedly as far as the other parties are concerned, because they neither sought nor even believed it possible or desirable to achieve modifications of the protocol, which they wanted enforced, it would seem, in all its rigour.

    In a week when we have seen the other House bow to threats of violence, we should pay tribute to the DUP and the unionists in that they secured these improvements by constitutional means. That is all the more so because the whole reason we are in this position —the whole reason why the Government agreed to try to have a border in the Irish Sea rather than in the natural place, between Northern Ireland and southern Ireland—was republican threats to blow up or shoot anyone who enforced checks at that border. Shamefully, the Irish Government waved around pictures of a blown- up customs post, dating from decades ago, to try to persuade their European colleagues to insist that there be no border within Northern Ireland and that we had to have one in the Irish Sea. In fact, the EU’s insistence that it would need border checks to maintain the security of the single market was entirely bogus.

    For entirely other reasons, I was reading the European Commission White Paper, Completing the Internal Market, which it published in 1985, ahead of the measures to create the single market. At that time, member states had different SPS rules—different veterinary rules, and so on—and they used to enforce them at the border with border checks between Germany, France and other countries within the European Union. Naturally, the European Commission did not like that, and it proposed to abolish these border posts within the European Union, despite the fact that these different standards would persist on different sides of the border. It wrote:

    “As a further … step towards the objective of abolishing internal frontier controls by 1992, all veterinary controls (live animals and animal products) and plant health controls will have to be limited to the places of departure, and controls of veterinary and plant health certificates made at the places of destination”.

    Indeed, the Commission recognises that it is possible to maintain the security of its member states without controls at the border by doing so at the point of dispatch or the point of arrival. That is what it proposed then, and it could equally have been applied in Northern Ireland, should have been applied, and could be applied in future if the present arrangements do not work out satisfactorily.

    I would like the Minister to confirm the following. It is not clear from the language in Safeguarding the Union that the arrangements we are now talking about are all under the protocol. The protocol has not been abolished, rescinded or removed from our law; it is part of our law. It allowed changes to be made by agreement within “the committee”, consisting of two people, one from Britain and one from the European Union, and that, essentially, is what is being done. All these changes are being done under the protocol.

    At the risk of boring the House, I will repeat what I think we ought all to remember: that the protocol is intrinsically temporary and transitional. That is not my view, but the view of the European Union at the time of the negotiations. Noble Lords may recall that Theresa May said in her Lancaster House speech that she wanted to negotiate a future trade arrangement between Britain and Europe at the same time as our withdrawal arrangements under Article 50. The European Union said that that was not possible. It could not do it even if it wanted to, because Article 50 does not provide a legal base for negotiating trade agreements. Trade agreements with non-member states can be negotiated by the European Union only under Article 234. Therefore, we had to leave first before it could negotiate trade arrangements with us. How come, then, that we reached agreement on trade arrangements as far as Northern Ireland and the European Union was concerned in the Article 50 withdrawal agreement? The EU said, “Well, that allows temporary and transitional measures, and only temporary and transitional measures, arising from the departure of a member state”. Therefore, the arrangements we entered into—the protocol—are temporary and transitional.

    It would be wonderful if what the Government have agreed, and what the DUP has said is at least enough for it to go back into Stormont, works out smoothly and resolves all friction, both economic and political, arising from differences in EU and UK law and the attempt to resolve these via the Irish Sea. If so, we can all carry on and live happily ever after. However, if not—and I fear it may well not work out satisfactorily in the long term—we should remember that we have the right, under the agreement we negotiated with the European Union and its interpretation of it, to say that the protocol was temporary and must be replaced; and obviously, we want to replace it with something satisfactory to the EU, as our neighbour, and which would ensure the integrity of the single market. Therefore, we should adopt the method it proposed and used initially, and which subsequently Sir Jonathan Faull, himself a former director-general of the Commission, proposed as a way of resolving the problems we currently face.

    I am glad that some progress has been made, I hope more progress has been made than meets the eye, and if not, alternative possibilities exist for the future.


    Baroness Suttie:

    Follow that, my Lords. It is always a privilege to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, who always speaks with such authority, common sense and passion, and this evening he surpassed himself.

    I, too, will begin by paying tribute to Lord Cormack. He was incredibly kind to me when I was a new Member of this House. He always looked on in a benign, almost school-teachery way. I found myself agreeing with him rather more often than I would have expected, as we would nod to one another during some of the debates on Northern Ireland and Brexit. His contributions were based on experience and common sense and were always extremely well judged. He will be sorely missed. I, too, from these Benches pass on our condolences to his family.

    This has been a wide-ranging debate about identity, with some anger and passion. There have been some very good historical speeches; it is always dangerous to highlight some in particular, but I particularly enjoyed the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Bew. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, also brought an element of common sense and pragmatism. I even found myself agreeing with elements of the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, which was a refreshing change.

    Lord Lilley:

    Never again.