Iain Duncan Smith raises his concerns about UK sovereignty and the Brexit backstop

15th November 2018

Iain Duncan Smith raises his concerns about the Prime Minister’s draft Brexit agreement, in particular about the mechanism for coming out of the backstop which requires agreement from both the UK and the EU so that if the EU did not agree we would be locked in to an arrangement against our will.

May I state that I have always wished my right hon. Friend well, and my question is in this light. I have deep misgivings, on reading much of this document overnight, about the way that we will be treated with the backstop. When we read this, we realise that we are locking ourselves in to an arrangement from which we seem unable, therefore, to have the sovereign right to withdraw. That seems to me to be the biggest single issue here, which strips away the thing that we said when we wanted a vote to leave, which was that we took back control. I say to my right hon. Friend that my concern is that we have the sovereign right when we want to leave the UN; we have the sovereign right when we want to leave NATO; we have even the sovereign right when we want to leave the EU; but we do not have the sovereign right to leave this arrangement.

My right hon. Friend says that the references to the backstop raise some difficult issues. I fully accept that they raise some difficult issues. I fully accept that, across the House, there are concerns in relation to the backstop—indeed, I share some of those concerns. These have not been easy decisions to take. It has been necessary, as I explained, and it would be necessary in any deal that we struck for our future partnership with the European Union, to agree a withdrawal agreement. We wanted to commit to ensure that we delivered no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and it has been clear that that withdrawal agreement needed to include this insurance policy.

My right hon. Friend talks about being held in the backstop. First, the backstop is not necessarily what will happen because we want to ensure that the future relationship is in place before the backstop is necessary. Secondly, in the circumstance that a temporary interim period was needed before the future relationship came into place, we would be able to choose a preference between the backstop and the extension of the implementation period. There are pros and cons on both sides of the argument and there will be Members who believe that one is better than the other.

There is a mechanism for coming out of the protocol if the backstop is in place. My right hon. Friend is right: that mechanism does require mutual consent. It is for both sides to agree that—I make no bones about that. However, it enables the backstop to be replaced in a number of circumstances, first and crucially if the future relationship supersedes it. Originally, that was the only point at which it could be superseded; now, alternative arrangements could replace it. But I repeat what I have always said: it is my intention to work to ensure that such an arrangement is not necessary and we are able to go into our future relationship when we come out of the implementation period.