Seven months ago, on 31st January the UK left the European Union. In the time since, the Government have been working hard to get a future free trade agreement that builds on what has already been agreed and delivers a future trading relationship that is in the interest of both the UK and the European Union.
The Withdrawal Agreement itself recognised that there were a few loose ends and points of detail relating to how the agreed arrangements in Northern Ireland would work in practice. To work through these a Joint Committee was established so that UK and EU officials could work through these points of detail and that work is ongoing. It looks at minor technical details such as how the agreed approach to tariff procedures would work and what sorts of checks would be required for different goods. However, in the event that there remain some unresolved issues at the end of that process, it may well be necessary for Parliament to legislative to provide the necessary legal certainty and clarity that business needs and that is one of the issues debated this week through a new Internal Market Bill. I think it is essential that Parliament has the necessary powers to act where necessary to give legal effect to the spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement and therefore fully back the measures brought forward.
Discussions on a future trade agreement are continuing but there are several important sticking points which require the EU to become more realistic if a trade agreement is to be concluded. Firstly, the EU have been making unrealistic asks regarding the future of fishing access which is of great importance to the west country. We are not requesting anything extraordinary. The UK simply wants to be like Norway and to control access to its own waters as provided for in international law and as every other independent country does. Secondly, the EU are requesting that we continue to follow their laws in some areas like the approach to subsidies and state aid. Obviously neither of the positions currently held by the EU are acceptable given that we are leaving the EU and re-establishing our independence.
The reason we need the Bill is that the EU have begun to say that unless we agree to their terms, they may attempt to use an extreme interpretation of the Northern Ireland protocol to impose a full-scale trade border down the Irish sea. Moreover, EU negotiators have said that they might not only impose tariffs on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but that they might actually stop the transport of food products from GB to NI essentially blockading one part of the UK to cut it off and destroy the economic and territorial integrity of the UK. It is possible that if and when the moment comes, the EU would think better of such a course but a responsible government must ensure it has the necessary powers to protect the integrity of the UK and to stand behind the Belfast agreement that we are a party to. Only the UK has the ability to legislate to protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland and that is why this Bill is important.
We have left the EU, and although the EU may not have reconciled itself with that, they should be aware that the UK is serious about its new found sovereignty. As the world’s fifth largest economy with world leading expertise in science, finance and industry, we have an incredibly strong hand of cards to play as we go out into the world as a sovereign, independent nation.