My interventions in the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): In the light of these Lords amendments for a crisis, does the hon. Gentleman not think the crisis has been brought on by the EU interfering in the internal market of GB and Northern Ireland and diverting trade, and would he urge the EU to step back so that we can get back on track?

Peter Kyle (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland): What is holding us back is people continually re-fighting the battles of the past. We need to build a better future, and we can do that only if we are facing the future, unlike the right hon. Gentleman. Instead of a break from the past, the Government have dragged us back into the Brexit quagmire, as he and others seem hell-bent on doing, which has directly led to the Bill being needed with immediate effect.

Northern Ireland has often been a secondary issue for this Government. When the consequences of decisions taken by Ministers have played out in Northern Ireland, the Government have behaved as though they found themselves at the scene of an accident over which they had no control. This bystander effect peaked last week. The Northern Ireland Secretary and the Foreign Secretary both pretended that the Northern Ireland protocol was purely a matter for the Executive, but in reality it was part of a deal drafted, negotiated and signed by the Prime Minister, and the legal duty to uphold that deal rests with the EU and UK Governments. Ministers cannot wash their hands of it as easily as they pretend.

Now the First Minister has resigned, with the protocol and broken ministerial promises playing a central role. The manner and impact of the resignation raise serious questions that must be addressed. I have sympathy for the position in which the Democratic Unionist party has been placed. Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson, in frustration, revealed that the Prime Minister told him that the current protocol negotiations have only a 30% chance of success. If that is the case, do the Government have a plan B? Have Departments worked up impact assessments and action plans for the eventuality or possibility of article 16 being triggered?

The people of Northern Ireland and the political parties have been given promise after promise by the Prime Minister and his Ministers, some of them fundamental and existential, such as the promise of no border in the Irish sea. It is no wonder that frustrations have boiled over, that trust in this Government is at rock bottom and that we find ourselves in this moment where hope seems so distant.

We have just discovered that the Northern Ireland Secretary is flying to Washington tomorrow. That is right: the Secretary of State will get in a plane and fly right over Northern Ireland on his way to Washington. That says everything we need to know. There is no one with the stature required in this Government, so he has to go to America to find a grown-up to be the honest broker they need.

While the Labour party welcomes this legislation and has supported its progress at every stage, we cannot pretend that it has an answer for how the Executive will be reformed if more progress is not made in protocol negotiations. It is hard to know whether the ongoing negotiations with the EU are a priority, because after three rounds of negotiations there have been no statements on progress made to the House. Considering the vital importance of those negotiations to the immediate circumstances in Northern Ireland, I hope the Foreign Secretary can come here and make a statement without any more delay. The political parties in Northern Ireland deserve such an update on the record—we have had enough nods, enough winks and enough back-handed promises that are never met and do nothing more than destabilise the fragile political settlement.

The Bill was supposed to deliver greater resilience in the institutions established under the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday agreement, but once again their fragility has been highlighted. Too often, Northern Ireland has been overlooked and the work to deliver on the promise of peace allowed to stall. While the Labour party supports the Bill and hopes it receives Royal Assent in time to be effective, it is worrying how much of it may already be obsolete. The provisions of the Bill alone cannot enable stability. To do that, Ministers must take responsibility for their words and actions, which have shaken faith within Northern Ireland. It is time that this Government, from the Prime Minister down, are seen to care about their words, promises and actions in a vitally important part of our United Kingdom, and to directly work on a way back for the Executive.

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): But is it not the case that the EU is breaking the protocol? The protocol clearly protects the UK internal market and says that communities’ consent is needed and that trade must not be diverted.

Jeffrey M Donaldson (DUP Chief Whip, Shadow DUP Spokesperson): Article 16 of the protocol—this is relevant to the debate this evening—makes provision for the UK Government to act unilaterally, and the Minister has said that the Government are prepared to do that. However, they said that in their Command Paper over six months ago, and in those six months the cost to Northern Ireland businesses has exceeded well over half a billion pounds. In those six months, businesses in Northern Ireland have faced costs and disruption to their trade with the rest of the United Kingdom. This is simply unacceptable.

The European Union said that the main purpose of the protocol, apart from setting out practical arrangements for the movement of goods, was to protect the political institutions in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday agreement. Does anyone now seriously believe that the protocol has achieved that purpose? It has not. Why? Because there is no Unionist consent for the protocol. It has changed our constitutional status with the rest of the United Kingdom. It has superseded article 6 of the Act of Union itself, which makes provision for free trade within our own country.

I am therefore disappointed that, although we are debating this Bill and the issues it addresses, they are relatively minor in comparison with the key commitments made by the Government in the New Decade, New Decade agreement, which have not been honoured two years later. Why should my constituents be treated as second-class citizens in their own country? Why should my constituents be subjected to laws that are imposed by a European Union over which we have no say whatever? We have regulations that my Ministers are required to implement and over which we have no say whatever.

We have been patient. We have waited and we have waited for the Government to act or for the EU to recognise the reality that this protocol is harming political and economic stability in Northern Ireland. But I am afraid that I have to say to the Minister: enough is enough. We need action—not words, not more promises, as the hon. Member for Hove said, and not more empty commitments. We need action by the Government, because this is about the Union, about the future of the Union and about protecting Northern Ireland’s place within the internal market of our own country. Why are we leaving it to the European Union to come up with a solution? This Government are the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Their primary responsibility is the integrity of this country. It is time the integrity of this country, and Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom, was properly protected in line with the promises made in this agreement.


  1. Peter
    February 9, 2022

    ‘We need action—not words, not more promises…’ says Donaldson.

    Elsewhere Donaldson has also stated that the Prime Minister refused to agree to unilateral action if there was no resolution to the issue.

    We will just get more spin and delay. Everybody knows the government will do nothing and the government knows that everybody knows.

    However, the government is of the opinion that this issue can be left to fester indefinitely without causing to much damage to the government itself.

  2. Nottingham Lad Himself
    February 9, 2022

    Sir John’s intervention was pretty comprehensively shown for what it was by Peter Kyle.

    The DUP continue to discuss sovereignty as Victorian old maids did virginity.

  3. X-Tory
    February 9, 2022

    Most of what Peter Kyle says is predictable nonsense which is of no practical value, but I am very peturbed by his revelation that “the Northern Ireland Secretary is flying to Washington tomorrow”. WHY??? This just shows how stupid, weak and treacherous our government is, that we are actively ENCOURAGING foreign intervention in a part of our own country.

    We should be doing the very OPPOSITE. We should be telling the US to KEEP OUT of our affairs. We do not tell them how to run Alaska, and they have no business whatsoever intefering in Northern Ireland. If they do not act as our friends we should tell them to remove their military bases from Britain. We do not want enemy troops on our soil.

  4. Len Peel
    February 9, 2022

    The Protocol does NOT say trade must not be diverted it. Please, read it

    1. Denis Cooper
      February 9, 2022

      Why don’t you read it, and tell us what it says, supported by the link so we can check your account?

  5. Denis Cooper
    February 9, 2022

    People talk about triggering Article 16, but the UK government has already acted unilaterally to extend certain grace periods and the EU has stayed its hand on legal action.

    In fact according to Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots for that and other reasons only about 10% of the checks required by the protocol are actually being performed now:

    Article 16 now seems to have acquired a totemic status but I would keep it in reserve in case the EU decides to go ahead and start legal action, before its own court of course.

    Meanwhile I come back to something which is blindingly obvious as far as I am concerned, namely that this spat is all about checks and controls on the wrong flow of goods.

    If you seek to be a good neighbour, and stop unacceptable stuff getting across the land border into the Irish part of the EU Single Market, then obviously you should focus your attention on the flow of goods out of Northern Ireland into the Irish Republic, exports, not on goods coming into the province, imports.

    As far as I understand at present it would not even be an offence under UK law to take non-compliant goods across the border into the Republic, which is why the July Command Paper mooted that it could be made an offence, so why not go ahead and pass the necessary UK law, and thus show that you want to help?

    There is nothing in the protocol to stop the UK taking that helpful step, and why should the EU or the Irish government, or their treacherous allies in the UK, object? Edwin Poots yesterday:

    “I will say this clearly, because the European Union needs to know it: we have no intention of being used as a back door to import materials to the European Union’s single market that undermines the integrity of that single market. I am happy to be helpful on that front, but it cannot expect us to impose such punitive checks on all the people of Northern Ireland, in spite of the fact that some of their public representatives would slavishly comply with the Holy Grail of Brussels.”

    1. Len Peel
      February 10, 2022

      Denis. Read Article 16. It does not do what you think. (Nor does Brexit! What a farce it is)

      1. Denis Cooper
        February 10, 2022

        You have no idea what I think it means – I’ve suggested that you tell us what you think it means, please don’t keep us in this agonising suspense for much longer – and in any case your reply is basically irrelevant to the comment that I have made which centres upon other action that could and should be taken, namely to put in place the new UK laws that were mooted in the Command Paper seven months ago:

        “43. We also stand ready to bring in new legislation to deter anyone in Northern Ireland looking to export to Ireland goods which do not meet EU standards or to evade these enforcement processes.”

        “62. Once again we are also ready to put in place legislation to provide for penalties for UK traders seeking to place non-compliant goods on the EU market.”

        It would be a good thing if an MP asked why there has still been no action on this.

        1. Len Peel
          February 11, 2022

          Always happy to help my friend!
          Here is Article 16 of the Protocol:
          ” If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures. Such safeguard measures shall be restricted with regard to their scope and duration to what is strictly necessary in order to remedy the situation. Priority shall be given to such measures as will least disturb the functioning of this Protocol”.
          Two main points to note. One, any action taken because of diversion of trade must be “strictly necessary” to address the problem, and limited in time. So Article 16 does NOT suspend, still less terminate, the Protocol. Two, the Protocol does not prohibit diversion of trade. It accepts diversion of trade may happen, and states what may then follow – see point one, above, what does follow is limited

          Reply As always you spin it in the Eu direction ignoring the parts of the Protocol that support tge U.K. and our internal market. The Protocol text is contradictory

          1. Len Peel
            February 11, 2022

            I am sure Denis and I would be grateful if you could point to which bits of the Protocol contradict the very clear words and limits of Article 16. As Denis put it please don’t keep us in this agonising suspense for much longer

            Reply I set it all out in a recent blog. Pity you never want to admit there is a U.K. case.

          2. Denis Cooper
            February 11, 2022

            That is what I read last time I looked, and I would point out:

            “If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist … ”

            It already has, and will continue to do so, even with minimal application of the protocol on the matter of checks carried out on the goods entering the province, an estimated 10% of those which would be carried out with full and rigorous implementation.

            “… or to diversion of trade … ”

            It already has, and the Irish government, and the nationalist media, revel in it.

            “… the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures.”

            Such as suspension or termination of the EU mandated checks on imports, as Edwin Poots has attempted, or – as I have repeatedly argued – the creation of a system of export controls for goods entering the Irish Republic over the land border, and then cessation of the EU checks on imported goods and also the EU checks on locally produced goods as no longer necessary to protect the EU Single Market.

  6. Denis Cooper
    February 10, 2022

    Today’s editorial in the Belfast News Letter:

    “The UK government’s contrasting approach to the Irish language and the Northern Ireland Protocol”

    “Conor Burns, the NIO junior minister, this week told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster that an Irish language act will be introduced in the House of Commons before the Stormont election, due in May.

    If that is what happens it will be the latest milestone in a long cross-party Westminster approach to Northern Ireland, in which Irish republicanism is always ultimately appeased.

    Compare and contrast the attitudes of a Conservative and Unionist government to both the Irish language act and the Northern Ireland Protocol.

    The former is a significant cultural matter, by which republicans set great store in their unceasing sectarian agenda to change the character of Northern Ireland, to undermine the country and to behave in a triumphalist way to make unionists feel uncomfortable. But it is not a front rank issue.

    The other matter, the protocol, however is an issue of the highest political significance. As the Lord Dodds article on state aid opposite is the latest example to show, the Irish Sea border has major and potentially irreparable constitutional import. This is why every shade of nationalist Ireland is so pleased with it, and tries to play it down, to try to conceal and retain an advance that they can hardly believe.

    Yet the government aided Sinn Fein blackmail over Irish, never so much as criticising the shameful three-year collapse of devolution to get their cherished goal (which of course they did). Ultimately Julian Smith led the London push to put pressure on unionists to concede a Gaelic act (and, disgracefully, to concede legacy too). Then Brandon Lewis, facilitated by Edwin Poots, supported special Westminster legislation to bring forward gaelic laws.

    Meanwhile, the UK was arguing in court in favour of the implied and partial repeal of the Act of Union. And while a Belfast judge has blocked the belated Poots attempt to thwart the Irish Sea checks, London is in no apparent hurry to act on its command paper, which sought to overhaul the protocol.”

  7. Denis Cooper
    February 11, 2022

    “Ireland’s Europe Minister Thomas Byrne tells FRANCE 24 the departure of Paul Givan “has caused deep difficulties within the government system in Northern Ireland”, and that the situation is “very very worrying”. Byrne asserts that the Northern Ireland Protocol is “potentially the best of both worlds” for businesses there, and that despite calls from Unionist politicians, “the Protocol is staying”.”

    And Michael Gove, Brandon Lewis and Boris Johnson would all agree with both of those assertions, while in the north the unionists are determined that the protocol will not stay and are getting organised:

    “Northern Ireland Protocol rally: TUV leader Jim Allister says ‘Protocol must go in all its parts’”

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