Northern Ireland Protocol Bill Debate

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Department: Scotland Office

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Excerpts
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to support the Bill. As a former Member of the European Parliament—

Lord Triesman Portrait Lord Triesman (Lab)
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I am sure the noble Baroness will get a go.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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My Lords, to clarify, there has been a bit of a swap. It is the turn for the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. We will then hear from the noble Lord, Lord Triesman.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to support the Bill. As a former Member of the European Parliament and a current member of the UK-EU Parliament Partnership Assembly, I recognise fully the vast amount of work that the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament—let alone those in Belfast, Dublin, Westminster and Whitehall—have put in to produce the protocol as it stands originally. I recognise the dismay at any alteration, which was fully expressed, faithfully received and partially explored in the first recent plenary of the newly created UK-EU Parliament Partnership Assembly, itself a satisfactory Brexit creation.

Yet despite these important views, I believe strongly that today’s Bill is not just important but in fact essential, and I question why, when by careful negotiation we enabled a workable, indeed, a sound solution for Gibraltar, we failed so profoundly to care for the UK citizens of Northern Ireland. This was indeed a political failure and one of such profundity that it demands the immediate and urgent reparation that today’s Bill offers.

I worked successfully on many pieces of legislation in Brussels and Strasbourg with our Irish parliamentary colleagues. I know of the deep and continuing relationship that our two nations enjoy. I was in Dublin, by coincidence, when the Anglo Irish Bank collapsed. I saw at once the immediate action of the Bank of England to save the currency. I saw too the magnificent way in which successive Irish Governments handled the EC structural funds. Indeed, I applaud the leading role that Ireland has played in demonstrating to many other member states how structural funds can be correctly and properly used, with benefits for their whole populations.

Yet despite these splendid things and powerful, historical ties, I know too that Ireland cannot afford to embrace Northern Ireland—I believe that it is now €1.2 billion—and that Northern Ireland is and will remain an integral part of the UK. I say that as one who has three great-grandfathers who, in both Houses, voted against the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in an attempt to keep Ireland all together in 1869. Our respect for Northern Ireland is complete, but in the haste of Brexit we agreed a wrong piece of legislation with major, negative results for a part of the United Kingdom.

Today’s Bill, unamended by the other place, should go straight through in your Lordships’ House as well. Indeed, we will recall that Lord Salisbury declared more or less 150 years ago in 1869 that decisions made in the Commons are based on the will of the country and that they should not be overturned in the House of Lords. I support that view, which is exactly what my noble friend Lord Forsyth said and is perhaps the argument against my noble friend Lord Cormack.

Many of us recall the awfulness of the civil war. Brighton was just the tip of the continually erupting volcano, which took life, limb, safety and happiness from so many before the blessed Good Friday agreement. We should not look back but go forward. I remind Ministers that continuous referral to Parliament for the widest of powers that they are granted in this Bill will restore confidence in the EU that we here serve the people and that, as a Parliament, we are omnicompetent and committed entirely to turning back a wrong step if we take it. I support the Bill unhesitatingly.