Ulster Unionist Peer Lord Empey stated in the House of Lords today (Wednesday) that the Prime Minister has broken her own red lines and that the Withdrawal Agreement is not the right deal for the country. The full text of Lord Empey`s speech is below:
“My Lords, much has been said in this House about the Irish situation. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, reminded us of some of the things that happened in the bad old days, when members of the judiciary were attacked. Indeed, a Member of this House who held that role found a bomb under his car. Fortunately, he discovered it and it was disarmed. We get the very strong message that the noble and learned Lord has set out.
“With this deal in front of us, I find myself in a virtually impossible position. I want to see a deal with the European Union, but that does not mean that I oppose the decision of the British people to vote for Brexit. After all, it seems to be forgotten that this Parliament provided them with that opportunity. The concerns that many Members are currently expressing were not expressed at the time, even though some of the options could have been foreseen. In many respects, complaining now that the rules should be changed after the match is over does not fall well, because we, as a Parliament, let it take place.
“During that campaign we had grossly exaggerated claims from either side: it was a poor-quality debate and an unedifying spectacle. As a consequence of what was said on both sides, the economic forecasts that people are now bandying around in all directions have little or no credibility with the general public. Given the fact that most of those who are making them cannot even anticipate 12 months ahead, let alone 15 years ahead, that will come as little surprise to some of us.
“I gently remind the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, that when we talk about getting a good deal and preparing for negotiation, her party leader called for the immediate triggering of Article 50 after the referendum—that was before we had even had a chance to think our way through.
“While I would prefer to look at this in a pan-Unionist position from the whole of the United Kingdom, because so much of it has been focused on my Province’s position, it is inevitable that that will guide what I do next week. I fear that the whole border question has been grossly exaggerated. The real border between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland is between Dublin and Holyhead. At a recent meeting I was at, the Irish ambassador publicly said that between 80% and 90% of Irish goods go to or via Great Britain to reach European markets and the British market. Only 1.6% of its exports go to Northern Ireland and only 1.6% of its imports come from Northern Ireland. There are, of course, goods in transit, and most of the trade is in agricultural products, alcohol and other matters. The point is that the real border is between Dublin and Holyhead. That is where goods in volume go, yet it has hardly ever been mentioned in this debate.
“I have to say that while the Prime Minister cannot be faulted for her work ethic—far from it—my party wrote to her on 7 December last year, and after the European Union produced its papers in March, to seek assurances. On 8 December, some people in Northern Ireland put out statements to say that there would be no regulatory differences between any parts of the United Kingdom. They were proved wrong. There will be differences. Indeed, a new manufacturing logo called “UKNI” will be developed to show that a product is made exclusively in Northern Ireland.
“I would like the Minister in his wind up to address this: the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland made clear that we will not be free of the jurisdiction of the European court. We will still be guided by its decisions and we will not be free to make the trade deals that we want as a country. I also hear people say, “Well, we’ll get back control of our fishing policy”. In theory, yes, but in practice, if you have been listening to President Macron and others, you will know that everybody will have their slice of the cake when it comes to it. To put ourselves in a position where we are incapable as a nation of taking a decision, whether it is on our trade or our foreign and other polices, without having other people mark our homework is quite concerning.
“I have listened very carefully to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, the Lord Advocate and a leading Queen’s Counsel. He stood here the other day and talked about this arbitration process and using best endeavours. I am a veteran of the Belfast agreement: it contained “best endeavours” and stated that some people would use their influence. Instead of taking two years for them to use that influence, it took nine years—indeed, it is not clear that it has been used.
“To my friends in the Government I say this. I understand that some people are bored with this and say that we have to do it because it is on the table. It may be on the table, but I fear that it is not the right deal for this country at this time, and it certainly breaks the red lines that the Prime Minister gave us assurances about in December last year and in March this year—that there would be no barriers or border up the Irish Sea. There will be. We will be in a different place, and if the agreement goes through as it is now, in 15 years’ time, that difference will widen. Once we get into this backstop—I wish it were a rugby move, as the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, put it—we will be very lucky ever to get out of it.”