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Artillery Row

The Internal Market Bill doesn’t do a lot

There is much more to legislate to ensure Britain’s sovereignty

The UK was founded in by the Act of Union 1800. This dealt with merging the two Parliaments and merged the established Churches, but the third most important issue it dealt was Article VI:

That from the first day of January, one thousand eight hundred and one, all prohibitions and bounties on the export of articles the growth, produce, or manufacture of either country to the other, shall cease and determine; and that the said articles shall thenceforth be exported from one country to the other, without duty or bounty on such export.

The United Kingdom from the very beginning was a united economy, and like the EU, the nascent state we have just left, that meant a Customs Union. It also meant what might have been called a single market, for as with Scotland before it, access to the whole UK market was the prize of union. And so this remained until Theresa May did, what she said no Prime Minister should ever do, and agreed an economic border in the Irish Sea putting the United Kingdom asunder.

Which brings me to the UK Internal Market Bill, one of the most important pieces of legislation in as many centuries.

The need for this piece of legislation is urgent. When we finally leave the EU at the end of the year we will be leaving the EU’s internal market and require a replacement framework.

When we joined the then E.E.C. the UK had a single market regulated by the UK’s Parliament. Since then we have seen devolution and the grievance factory that is the SNP administration in Edinburgh. By a quirk of drafting, the devolution legislation devolved everything except for a long list of reserved powers. It could have been done the other way around, but it wasn’t. At the time the power to regulate the UK’s internal market resided in Brussels and so was carelessly left off the list of reserve powers. But these powers will be coming back to the UK and if nothing is done the power to create internal borders will flow to the devolved administrations undoing one of the building blocks of the United Kingdom. This Bill is therefore urgent and must be on the statute books before the end of the year.

Is the UK joining Fatty Kim in the league of international outcasts? Obviously not

The second reason this legislation is required is to protect Northern Ireland from being held to the fire by the EU in the event of a ‘no deal’ – a ‘no trade deal’ ‘no deal’. The reason why the EU has this hold over Ireland goes back to Theresa May and her determination to treat Northern Ireland separately from the rest of the Kingdom. Having agreed the principle of a ‘backstop’ this has stubbornly refused to go away, reappearing in Boris Johnson’s deal as the Northern Ireland Protocol.

If the Act of Union guaranteed no Irish Sea Border, the departure of the South and its membership of a different Customs Union created a problem – for Southern Ireland. But for now that has been papered over by the Protocol.

For now the problem resides with the Protocol. This creates a number of barriers in the Irish Sea. Regulatory checks on meat products going into NI, bans on the sale of GB but not EU compliant goods, the payment of tariffs if the goods are deemed ‘at risk’ of onwards travel to the EU, customs declarations going into GB from NI and separate VAT areas.

These potential barriers could be ameliorated or removed entirely by agreement with the EU. Indeed the agreement foresaw ‘alternative arrangements’ replacing what is a temporary Protocol. In the meantime, whereas in strict legal terms the EU could insist on tariffs on 100% of goods going into NI and 100% checks (and even a ban) on foods, a Joint Committee exists to agree exemptions – none forthcoming so far.

The problem is this. If there is ‘no deal’ there will be tariffs and an unethical EU could insist on 100% tariffs and checks to strangle Northern Ireland and so damage the peace process. No UK Government could stand by and allow the EU to do that.

So what does the Bill seek to do? Well not very much as it turns out. There will be Ministerial powers to introduce regulations to overcome some aspects of the Protocol: Customs declarations coming into GB could be dispensed with and EU insistence on State Aid control over GB could be curtailed. On its own that does not (yet) break EU law and does not solve the problem of the Protocol. Indeed No. 10’s highlighting the issue of an EU ban on food going to NI is not dealt with in the Bill as presented. More legislation will be required, amendments to this Bill and potentially in the forthcoming Finance Bill.

So is this a big deal? Is the UK joining Fatty Kim in the league of international outcasts? Obviously not. In fact this is a reckoning much overdue. The EU knew it had overplayed its hand in 2019 when it used the Remain Parliament to take effective control over Northern Ireland as the price for letting the UK leave. That was never going to stand, nor will it. In any case, the Protocol has few friends – a Venn diagram of Protocolistas includes Irish nationalists, FT reporters and die-hard Remainers – those who wish to see Northern Ireland suffer to prove some other point they wish to make. They deserve to be and should be ignored.

If this small piece of legislation does anything it will be to jolt the EU into a more cooperative state and hopefully live up to its own commitments under the Withdrawal Agreement. If it doesn’t then the agreement is already dead and there will be no international law to break by the time the Minister decides to use these powers.

The United Kingdom was founded on a Single Market and soon it will again be in full control of a united UK market.

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