Following the Prime Minister’s statement on the political declaration for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, Iain Duncan Smith calls on the PM to get the withdrawal agreement amended to remove the Northern Irish backstop which could result in special measures for Northern Ireland and the UK being forced into the customs union.
I of course appreciate enormously my right hon. Friend’s huge endeavours to deal with what has now emerged as a particularly toxic issue: the Northern Irish backstop, now bound into the withdrawal agreement. However, for all that effort and work, the reality is that this is not the withdrawal agreement, and the withdrawal agreement will make it very clear that should we, even under these terms, struggle with a negotiation for a free trade arrangement and not complete that process, we will fall into the Northern Ireland backstop as it exists at the moment. That means that we will be bound by those restrictions that force Northern Ireland into a separate arrangement and us into the customs union. I simply say to my right hon. Friend therefore that I hope that she will now consider that none of this is at all workable unless we get the withdrawal agreement amended so that any arrangements we make strip out that backstop and leave us with that positive open border that we talked about.
The premise of my right hon. Friend’s question is that if the future relationship is not in place by 1 January 2021, and if in some sense there needs to be that interim arrangement, we would then automatically go into the backstop. That is not the case. The withdrawal agreement makes it clear that there is the alternative of the extension of the implementation period, but it also refers to these alternative arrangements, and, as I said in my statement, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his proposals in relation to that matter and we are working on them. So it is simply not the case that we automatically fall into the backstop described in the withdrawal agreement.
Secondly, there are many instances in the document—I will not go through the full list—where it is clear that that arrangement, whether the extension of the IP, an alternative arrangement or a backstop, is there for a temporary period before we are able to put the future relationship in place. What the backstop and those alternative arrangements and the proposals amount to are what I think my right hon. Friend was talking about at the end of his question, which is our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and that they will be able to carry on their business much as they do today. That, I hope, is what we are all striving to achieve in relation to this matter. There are a number of ways in which we can achieve that, as the withdrawal agreement and political declaration make clear, and we are working on all of them.