Jenny Chapman response to Lord Frost’s ministerial statement on the Northern Ireland Protocol
My Lords, I would like to thank the Noble Lord the Minister for advance sight of his statement. I was surprised, however, to hear so much of the contents of the Minister’s statement on the radio this morning.
We are both new to this House, but I have learned quickly there is a value of treating this chamber with respect. Briefing of statements to the media before the House is discourteous and I hope that the Noble Lord the Minister can reassure us that whatever did or didn’t happen today, this will not become his habit.
When the Northern Ireland Protocol was presented as a triumph, I doubt whether the Noble Lord the Minister imagined he would remain responsible for its implementation.
Can he tell us whether the problems he highlights today were anticipated at the time the agreement was signed? Because if not they should have been.
If they were anticipated by the Minister before the Government signed up to the agreement, as I suspect, then I’m afraid my Lords, that this will damage our international reputation.
In his statement the Minister says he has tried to operate the protocol in good faith. But the technological solutions promised that would have eased the situation have not materialised. That does not look like good faith.
The problems he describes are so wide ranging that if he didn’t foresee any of them raises serious questions about the Government’s approach to the negotiations at the time and its attitude to the serious undertakings to which the Government committed the country and from which it now seeks to break away.
The protocol was described by the Prime Minister as an ‘ingenious solution.
We all remember the Prime Minister promise to Northern Ireland businesses. And we all remember him saying there’d be no checks whatsoever. He said, ‘If somebody asks you fill in a form tell them to ring up the Prime Minister and I will direct them to throw that form in the bin.’
This is not the first time the Noble Lord the Minister has appeared before this House to discredit his own deal. I regret that this approach has potentially dire consequences for communities in Northern Ireland and also, critically, for our international reputation, at a time when we are seeking to forge new agreements.
The erosion of trust in the UK Government – an essential component of stability in Northern Ireland – is deeply regrettable and must not be taken lightly. The Noble Lord the Minister’s statement is an admission of failure.
The Government promised to Get Brexit Done. And yet here it is trying to unpick it.
The Government must find agreement to fix the problems the Prime Minister created. What we have is yet more political brinkmanship - more threats to tear up the Protocol with nothing to take its place.
My Lords the people of Northern Ireland are not pawns in a chess match. Communities are tired of these games and the political stalemate.
The last thing they need is a Summer of crippling uncertainty which is bad for them and damaging to business across the United Kingdom.
The Secretary of State knows that the best way forward is to get a veterinary agreement, as it is the most straightforward way to remove the vast majority of checks. I’m sure that is what they are saying right now? Isn’t it time the Government simply delivered what they promised?
Mr Speaker, this ongoing stand-off is having consequences for Northern Ireland, and our relationships with our closest friends and partners.
The eyes of governments around the world are on the Minister this afternoon. President Biden and Prime Minister Ardern of New Zealand are among those who need reassurance that the UK will abide by international law, and be a partner they can trust.
Is there anything less British then forging an agreement never having any intention of making it work. What does the Minister think our friends, allies and future trade partners will make of this?
I am sure the Noble Lord would never advise the Prime Minister to put his own political interests over and above the interests of Northern Ireland.
The Minister objects to the EU’s previous threat to use Article 16 powers. And I agree with him on this. I am pleased that he has made clear that he does not consider now to be the right time for the UK to make use of Article 16 powers. Can he make clear to the House whether, when and in what circumstance he would resort to such a drastic measure as the use of Article 16?
The US State Department has been upfront and told us that they are watching this situation closely and encourage us to find a solution within the terms of the existing agreement we so recently and eagerly entered into.
What conversations has the Minister had with representatives of the Biden administration on his new position? What is his assessment of the impact of today’s statement on the favourability likely to be shown to the UK as we seek to make binding deals in the future?
For us to maintain our position as a respected, trusted partner in defence as well as trade, we must show that we keep our word. We do not make deals knowing that we will break them.
But I ask the Noble Lord the Minister to keep in his mind the people of Northern Ireland. He owes it to them to quickly reach an agreement with the EU and find a sustainable way forward.
Baroness Jenny Chapman of Darlington is Shadow Minister for Task Force Europe in the House of Lords. She tweets @JennyChapman