Last Monday a debate in the House of Commons was set out by the government to change their existing Northern Ireland Protocol which Boris Johnson formed with the EU and that became formal at the start of 2021. That government now wants to reverse their agreement and they have described it as a red lane and green lane approach for goods exported from Britain into NI. The green lane would be for trusted companies sending goods to NI only which are exempt from checks and customs controls. The red lane is for products going to NI but which are possible to travel over to the Republic of Ireland and indeed over to the EU. These would undergo the full checks and customs controls. The government wants to make it easier for some goods to flow from Great Britain to Northern Ireland but the EU opposes this approach, saying it is going back on the deal breaches international law that Johnson approved several years ago. Last Monday’s debate was the second reading of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill which is the new protocol and after that debate there was a vote that took place and with one exception all Sussex MPs participated. All of the Sussex Conservatives apart from Nick Gibb, the MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton voted Aye in favour of the Bill. All of the non Conservative MPs in Sussex voted Noe against it which was very appropriate given the way that the Government is proposing to reverse their own previous decision. We are entitled to know why Nick Gibb did not support the Bill and perhaps more significantly why did the other 12 Conservative MPs support it? The Government achieved 287 Conservative votes and 8 DUP votes for it. The opposition managed 221 votes which included an Alliance MP and two “Social Democratic and Labour MPs” so three Northern Ireland MPs voted against it. The reality is that there were many more MPs that could have voted and indeed they could have prevented the Bill from gaining approval at its second reading so it would be very helpful for us to be able to know why this result was achieved.
One of the reasons why this theme is significant here in Sussex is that Peter Kyle, the MP for Hove is also the Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Along with that political aspect there are also many people who live in our area who have been connected in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. Last Monday along with Peter two other MP’s spoke during the protocol, they were Caroline Lucas from Brighton Pavilion and Sally-Ann Hart from Hastings and Rye. The first Sussex MP to speak after the statement by Elizabeth Truss, the Government Minister was Caroline who stated
Does the Secretary of State understand why so many people would accuse this Government of the most rank hypocrisy? First, this is a predictable outcome of the agreement that they negotiated when they did not give a fig for the situation in Northern Ireland, frankly.
And she ends with
Does she understand the concerns we have? What kind of reputation will the UK have on the global stage as a result of this proposal?
A few moments later Sally-Ann Hart spoke up and claims
this Bill is borne out of necessity: necessity to act in our national interest, to provide a permanent solution to a temporary measure, to preserve the Belfast agreement, and to preserve the constitutional settlement that keeps Northern Ireland as part of the UK? It is a necessity to prevent a democratic deficit and to use international law to safeguard and protect our essential interests while protecting those of the EU.
The challenge from that is that the new Bill is not at all effective for our nation or within an international setting. Later in the debate Peter Kyle began with
I want to begin with an apology to the victims of crimes committed during the troubles in Northern Ireland; they were expecting the Committee stage of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill today. Several had booked and paid for their plane and train tickets, so their money has now been wasted
He speaks very extensively and his final few words are
That is why we oppose the Bill. It takes us further away from the negotiated progress that is the only way forward. It is worth putting the scale of the current Tory incompetence in perspective. The previous generation, including John Major and Tony Blair, negotiated a framework that delivered peace in Northern Ireland. This lot cannot even negotiate a prawn sandwich across the Irish sea.
These words were very amusing, but sadly the Bill got through last Monday. Let us hope that it will not get completed.