Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con)
Well, Sir Graham, it is difficult to follow that. I remember your enjoinder, Sir, that we should stick to five minutes. So far, nobody has met that challenge. I thought that the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) was going to do so several minutes ago, but he did not.
I rise to support this Bill. I especially support clause 11 and part 5, and amendment 66, the “break glass” amendment. It reflects in all important respects amendment 4, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), the Chair of the Justice Committee. We have all been grateful to him for the consideration that he and others have given to this matter. I appreciate the agony that many hon. and right hon. Members have gone through in trying to work their way through this Bill and reconcile it with their views on international law.
The hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) spoke about values and asserted that our reputation was at stake. Last week, we saw how the UK stands up for international law. We saw a graphic demonstration of our values when perhaps others fall short. In the middle of the channel—not a pleasant place generally speaking, and it certainly was not last week—there was an inflatable dinghy containing 16 Afghan refugees and asylum seekers. They were people in peril on the sea, and they were being shepherded by the French navy not to safety, but to British territorial waters where, of course, eventually they were picked up by Border Force and conducted to a place of safety. I am proud of that, not only because it demonstrates our British values—something that many may be uncomfortable with—but because, in doing that, we were complying with one of the most fundamental of international treaties, the United Nations convention on the law of the sea of 1982. There is no grey in this treaty, no ambiguity, and it strikes at the very heart of what we are in this country. Indeed, it strikes at the very heart of our humanity, because we save life and we ask questions later.
Others have described violations of international law by the European Union and others, and I am certainly not going to rattle them off again. We heard eloquent contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) in which they listed some of the treaties that have been mutable. Clearly, UNCLOS was mutable on the part of our largest continental neighbour last week, but it was not for us and, for me, that is the message that goes to the international community, not some fine debate about this particular measure that we are discussing this evening. That message will have gone out loud and clear and, on that, I am extremely proud indeed. What is clear from the list that others have trotted out is that international law is a contested space, and sometimes it is mutable and can be overwritten.
I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) on this: she said that two wrongs do not make a right, and generally speaking she is absolutely correct, but by listing the occasions on which international law has been breached, written over, mutable or contested, we are setting the context for what we are doing on this occasion. That is something that I think has been lost in this debate. Time and time again, international law has been shown to be not absolute but, on occasion, capable of being overwritten, modified and made mutable by this country, other countries and the European Union.
Generally, we stand by what we sign up to and are as good as our word, so what has changed since last year? I, like many right hon. and hon. Members, have given this some considerable thought. What has changed is the appreciation of the issue of good faith, which ran like a vein through a block of granite throughout all the discussions last year. This works only if the parties act in good faith, and it has become clear over the past several weeks that the European Union side is prepared to regard the Northern Ireland protocol as a lever to get what it wants. It raises the spectre of agrifood being unable to move freely between the nations of the United Kingdom, which is clearly contrary to the Act of Union and drives a coach and horses through the Good Friday agreement. It was not on the table last year, and it calls into question the “acting in good faith” enjoinder, which I have referred to, and which is clearly contained within the withdrawal agreement and its accompanying political declaration.
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend, but does he agree with me that it is also contrary to the European Union’s conceding to the UK that Northern Ireland is in the UK’s customs territory? That raises additional considerations that are very material to these clauses. I want to take this opportunity to say that of course I shall therefore support the Government.
I am very pleased to hear that expression of confidence in this good Bill, which is being made better by the amendment tabled by the Government. I agree with my hon. Friend’s point.
I have already gone over my five minutes, Dame Eleanor, but it is important to note the extreme hardball attitude that the EU has recently adopted and what that says about what might be in store for us in the future. The points that the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) made about state aid are extremely germane to this. I remember well, as Northern Ireland Minister and Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the issues relating to Bombardier. It was plain as a pikestaff that this might be used in the event that the UK decided to support Bombardier in GB, because, as things stand, the EU would claim that it is unfair and unlawful because of Bombardier’s presence in Belfast. That is a clear and present danger.
It is also important to get real about what we are up against. I have every respect for the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who quite rightly expounded at length on the fact that the negotiation has to be bounded in good will and said that this will cause difficulty for us in Brussels, but I am clear that this negotiation is no love-in. It is a bare-knuckle affair. Pique is never far away, nor is the desire to make an example of an errant UK pour encourager les autres. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stone said, international law is 40% law and 60% politics, as it is here—this is politics in the raw.
I am sorry that, throughout this whole torrid process, hon. and right hon. Members have shackled the UK Government in our negotiations in Brussels. The British public know that. The hon. Member for Sheffield Central shakes his head, but he should know that more than anybody else, because the British public spoke loud and clear on this issue in December. They understand what we often forget in this place, and they get this business in the way that many of us do not. His party needs to learn that lesson. That is why it suffered so badly in December.
Without amendment 66 or perhaps amendment 4, we would have a problem internally too, because we are up against the judiciary, which has shown itself to be perfectly capable of going head to head with the British Government. By bringing this matter back to the House, it will not be the British Government that the Supreme Court goes head to head with. It will be Parliament itself, and more than that—the people of this country. Amendment 66 will give certainty on both sides of the English channel. It makes a good Bill better. It assures and insures our national interests, and I wish it well.