Northern Ireland Protocol Bill
Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

As the former Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, this is an issue I have worked extensively on and absolutely share your concerns.  I have worked, over the last two years, with the European Commission, the Republic of Ireland and stakeholders from across communities in Northern Ireland to protect all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, whilst also trying to address the many constitutional and practical issues that Brexit has presented to Northern Ireland.

Obviously I voted against the Bill when it had its second reading and I have spoken out against it many times.  For example, you can see me speaking on the issue in Parliament here.

I have seen first hand how the Government wasted vital time having a needless row with the European Union over a deal that has already been done. At any time this would be irresponsible but in the middle of an economic crisis the Government’s actions are reckless.

In my view, the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal with the European Union has always needed to be improved. Without responsible leadership, the Brexit deal that the Prime Minister negotiated always had the potential to unsettle the delicate balance of identities across these islands.

However, it is important to find a sustainable way to fix these problems. I do not believe that unilateral action is the right way forward.

The Government and our next Prime Minister therefore must urgently show responsibility to the people of Northern Ireland, be honest about the consequences of the Brexit deal that Boris Johnson negotiated, and commit to working with the EU to find the long-term solutions that we desperately need. 

This Bill should be judged against three simple questions. First, will it resolve the situation in Northern Ireland? Secondly, is it in the best interests of our great country? Thirdly, is it compatible with our commitment to the rule of law? I believe that the answer to each of these questions is a clear no. For these reasons I cannot support it.

A clear example of what the Government should be doing, is seeking an agreement with the EU on common veterinary standards. This would deliver the long-term solutions needed to prevent disruption and reduce the number of checks in the Irish Sea.

I am also extremely concerned about the Bill’s extensive use of so called Henry VIII powers which would allow the Bill, if it becomes an Act to be essentially re-written without Parliamentary approval. Unfortunately, in my view, this is now a pattern of behaviour from his Government. We have seen repeatedly that in response to the challenges of Brexit, it has repatriated powers from the EU but has hoarded them rather than restoring them to Parliament as it claimed.

People and businesses in Northern Ireland are sick and tired of the endless threats and uncertainty from a government they have long since lost trust in.

I can assure you that I continue to oppose this Bill. I call on the Government to return to the negotiating table with the EU to find lasting solutions to lower tensions, and improve the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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