Thank you for contacting me about alleged changes to the Withdrawal Agreement. As the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State to Northern Ireland, I can assure you that I have thought about this matter very carefully and I have every confidence in the Government’s position on this.
I understand your concern about media reports that the Government is seeking to override provisions in the Northern Ireland Protocol. I can assure you that my ministerial colleagues and I are committed to implementing the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol. Many steps have already been taken to do so.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was designed to ensure that the UK’s exit from the EU was consistent with the Belfast Agreement and respected the balance between different communities’ interests. The Protocol left certain elements to be resolved in 2020 and it is possible that this may yet happen. As a fall-back option, however, the Government is taking limited and reasonable steps in the UK Internal Market Bill to ensure that the Government is always able to deliver on its commitments to the people of Northern Ireland. This will protect the communities of Northern Ireland and the peace process from damaging default rules that neither the UK nor the EU ever intended to be used.
These measures do not prevent the UK from complying with requirements in the protocol. They exist as a fall-back option if no agreement is reached with the EU on the issues that were left to be resolved in 2020. While they may constitute a technical breach, the Government is taking the power to disapply the EU law concept of direct effect, required by Article 4 of the Withdrawal Agreement, in certain very tightly defined circumstances. This is necessary to make sure that the Government can always deliver the wider objective of the protocol which is to protect peace in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement.
Provisions in the UK Internal Market Bill will ensure, as that Protocol intended, that Northern Ireland is fully part of the UK customs territory by guaranteeing that goods moving within the UK will never pay EU tariffs. They will also ensure that Northern Ireland businesses have unfettered access to the rest of the UK, as per the Protocol, without any paperwork. They finally ensure that while Northern Ireland would remain subject to the EU’s State Aid regime, Great Britain would not.
Furthermore, there is no reason why these provisions should undermine our future relationship negotiations with the EU. The Government is working to ensure that nothing inadvertently compromises the UK and the EU’s shared commitment to the Belfast Agreement and to ensuring that the original intention of the Northern Ireland Protocol is implemented. It is the Government's overriding priority to work within the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee to reach a negotiated outcome. But a responsible government must consider fall-back options to ensure that the communities of Northern Ireland are always protected.
I emphasise again that the Bill will not prevent the Government from complying with requirements in the Protocol. It simply ensures that ministers have the power to implement the Protocol in a way that doesn’t compromise the Belfast Agreement.