Super Lib Dem Lords on Super Saturday: Jeremy Purvis on the potential break up of the UK

At the weekend, Lib Dem Lords basically tore apart Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, highlighting its danger to our prosperity and to the very make up of our country. Jeremy Purvis highlighted the threat to our country.

For the first time in our union’s history, part of our union will be under the legislative authority of a foreign entity in which the people living in that area will have no representation. Part of our union will have the laws governing its economic policy and trade regulations set by a foreign entity whose rules they will have no say in. Taxes affecting businesses and consumers will be set by that foreign entity but their representatives will have no vote on them. To be clear: according to the schedules to the new backstop, 371 laws and regulations that would not apply to Great Britain would automatically be applied to Northern Ireland. On 1 October, the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, stated:

“Any deal on Brexit on 31 October must avoid the whole or just part—that is, Northern Ireland—being trapped in an arrangement where it is a rule taker”.—[Official Report, 1/10/19; col. 1620.]

That is what the Government propose today. The Conservative Party frequently lauds the fact that it is the Conservative and Unionist Party owing to its role in the defeat of Irish home rule, but it now puts in front of us a proposal for the UK to be one country with two systems. We can see elsewhere in the world how effective that is. Yesterday, this “one country, two systems” Brexit was hailed by the Foreign Secretary as terrific news for Northern Ireland because it will stay aligned with the EU. Presumably, he will now say that doing so is also open to Scotland.

The deal is utterly contrary to the Government’s position when they adopted the UK internal market framework, which this Parliament debated, and when they explicitly said that there would be no division within the four nations of the union. Given that it is also the opposite of what Boris Johnson presented to ​the DUP conference, when he said that this would never happen under a Conservative Government, there is little surprise that the lines in the sand have been washed away by waves of duplicity. As my noble friend Newby said, in January the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, stated:

“We will give an unequivocal commitment that that there will be no divergence in rules between … Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.—[Official Report, 9/1/19; col. 2222.]

The House can make its own mind up about where equivocation lies. Yesterday, the Home Secretary spoke doublespeak with alacrity on the BBC. She claimed that the deal takes back our laws—but not the 371 of them that apply to Northern Ireland and, therefore, the jurisdiction of the European court. She said that it takes back our borders— but it creates a new border between the nations of our island and, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, indicated, a new European Union border within the United Kingdom for the first time in our history. She said that it takes back control over our money—but we will be a tax collector for the EU, and the UK bodies in Northern Ireland will be forced to apply EU taxes that they have no role in determining.

How do the Government intend the deal to work? There will have to be a Northern Ireland economic quarantine, which will be compounded by the already hugely negative impact on the UK as a whole, and, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer refused to publish an impact assessment for this debate and referred back to the Government’s forecasts—which Conservative Members have disparaged—we know that there is likely to be more than 6.7% less economic growth. Moreover, the regulatory burden on Northern Ireland businesses will be immense. The closest we can get to estimating what that would be likely to be is in the most recent publications from HMRC, which show the potential for the crippling bureaucracy that is likely to be in place. The Northern Ireland economy is fully integrated into the GB economy with a third of businesses purchasing from GB also selling to the EU. That is 3,500 businesses, but they have no idea of the regulatory system covering what they will have to declare for their goods when they go on to the rest of the EU or Ireland, and there is no indication of how these issues are to be assessed or resolved.

Finally, if the Government no longer talk about money, business bureaucracy and the union, we should consider the mothers of those Spartan soldiers who told them, “Either come back alive or on your shield”. We now see the “Spartans” fully alive but with the shield of Northern Ireland carried in their back pockets and, as we have heard from some Conservative noble Lords, they will quite happily sacrifice it if it puts at risk the English priority of Brexit. I am a borderer, and it will break my heart if this union breaks up. Today is an historic day, because we are potentially seeing the start of that. I hope that the whole House will recognise that the people of all our four nations should have a say, not just three of them as this Government propose.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Graham Martin-Royle 23rd Oct '19 - 11:04am

    “No taxation without representation”. Hmmm, where did I hear that?

  • Barry Lofty 23rd Oct '19 - 2:57pm

    It just shows you cannot believe a word that this government tells you. I thought that the Conservative MPs who refused to follow party doctrine and were de -selected showed some rare courage, but when the crunch came most of them resorted to character and voted with the government on the their Brexit deal. Any bets on how many will be back in the Tory fold come the next election?

  • I have a very high regard indeed for Jeremy Purvis on both personal and political grounds. He makes a very compelling case against the Johnson ‘plan’.

    However, should the Johnson ‘plan’ be implemented, what would Jeremy say to those in Scotland who would wish Scotland, as an internationalist country based with social liberal values, to remain in the EU via the route of Independence.

  • steven Deller 24th Oct '19 - 10:56am

    Totally misses the significant problem that the only country in Europe that does not have its own parliament (England) is being kept in the European Union against the choice of both majority of voters and MP’s by countries that do have their own parliaments (Scotland/Wales/NI).

  • Peter Hirst 24th Oct '19 - 3:29pm

    The constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom are shrouded in mystery. Scotland cannot decide whether to hold an independence referendum and N Ireland does not even have a sitting legislature. This is why we need a codified constitution to set out the present situation and how it can be changed. People who argue for secrecy must realise we will not survive as a leading economy if this continues.

  • Peter Hirst 24th Oct '19 - 3:39pm

    Sorry, I meant to say Scotland cannot hold an independence referendum without Westminster permission and N Ireland does not even have a sitting legislature

  • U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday he was asking Parliament to approve a national election for Dec. 12 as part of his efforts to ensure the country leaves the European Union.

    Johnson said in a letter to opposition Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn that if the EU offers a Brexit delay to Jan. 31, he would seek to pass legislation to ratify his exit deal by Nov. 6 and would make available “all possible time” to do so.”

    This would mean Brexit could be completed before a Dec. 12 election.

    “The way to get Brexit done is, I think, to be reasonable to Parliament,” Johnson said in a televised statement. “If they genuinely want more time to study this excellent deal, they can have it, but they have to agree to a general election on December 12. That’s the way forward.”

    If Parliament, which earlier this week rejected Johnson’s accelerated timetable for the legislation, did not ratify the deal by Nov. 6, the issue would have to be resolved in the election, Johnson said.

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