Geoffrey Cox intervenes during the fifth day of debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill

6th December 2017

Geoffrey Cox debates the need to introduce a new clause to protect the principles of the Northern Ireland Good Friday agreement as the protections already in place in the Northern Ireland Act will remain and any new laws introduced into the Brexit Bill would create significant legal uncertainty.

The hon. Gentleman is making a logical and thoughtful case. Does he not agree that all the substantive protections that were intended after 1998 to protect the Belfast agreement in Northern Ireland’s domestic law were introduced either in the Northern Ireland Act, or in specific statutes that still apply or will apply in retained law as a consequence of this legislation, and that all the substantive protections will therefore still exist? The declaratory or mandatory provision that would be introduced by new clause 70 would simply cut across those protections and introduce significant legal uncertainty.

The hon. and learned Gentleman has nailed it extremely well. By agreeing to this proposal, we would be diminishing the principles that many colleagues say they are signed up to and support, because we would be limiting the provisions to a few words on the front of this Bill. That would be unnecessary and the wrong way to treat an international treaty signed by Her Majesty’s Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland.

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My right hon. Friend might well reflect on the fact that section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 creates quite a complex but rather delicate mechanism for the enforcement of many of the Belfast agreement principles. It relies not on a court, but on the Equality Commission, and the Secretary of State is at the apex, the decision maker, and decides whether or not a public authority is obeying the principles of equality in the Belfast agreement. If this new clause is introduced into Northern Ireland’s law, it will unquestionably create a situation of complex uncertainty as to how it sits with the Northern Ireland Act.

I am grateful that my hon. and learned Friend, who knows considerably more about the law than me, concurs with my comments that this new clause could be justiciable. On those grounds, I will not be supporting the hon. Lady’s new clause, but I hope that she has a satisfactory meeting with the Minister.

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Has the hon. Gentleman considered whether his new clause would achieve that, because it is phrased so that a draft of the instrument authorising a payment must be approved, but that would not require a specific sum? It could simply be a framework regulation allowing for such a payment to be made. Surely his new clause is not to the point.

The hon. and learned Gentleman, who considers these matters in great detail, will understand that this matter relates to clause 12, which details financial provisions. Clearly it would be impossible for the Government to bring forward such a motion that did not have the clarity that the House expects. In my generosity, I drafted the new clause so as to make it as broad and flexible as possible. Any information would be better than no information. I know that he is urging me to be firmer with the Government on the issue—a manuscript amendment is always possible, so I look forward to that. Let us give the Government a chance to accept the new clause, because it is perfectly reasonable.

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Surgery Dates

Geoffrey holds regular surgeries. To book an appointment please click here or call 01822 612925.

Saturday 27th July
Bideford, Torrington

Saturday 14th September
Holsworthy, Tavistock