I thank the Chairman and the committee for the invitation. One of my biggest concerns about a no-deal outcome was that it might turn acrimonious and that we could enter a downward spiral of months of both sides blaming each other and being unwilling to talk. There is no question that there has to be a future relationship. The UK is still very close to Europe and Europe is still geographically very close to the UK. Whatever that relationship might be, there has to be one. One of the positive things we have seen this week is the intensification of talks and the seeking of solutions. Regardless of whether there is a deal, I am more hopeful that there will not be an acrimonious, mud-slinging end to all of this, which would be detrimental to both sides.
From my point of view as one who is completely not a supporter of Brexit, I believe that any deal reached will be fairly thin. There are many sectors which it will not cover. The bureaucracy and delay at borders will arise whether there is a deal or not. The fishermen in my constituency will not gain from leaving the Common Fisheries Policy because they fish langoustine, which is a non-quota catch. They will, however, now face multiple pieces of paper, bureaucracy and the threat of border delays which will devalue their produce. They are anxious as to whether they will even survive. Some of them are talking about registering their boats in Northern Ireland, if possible, to allow them to have access to the Single Market. This is not a comprehensive deal which covers finance and a range of other sectors.
Agreement has been reached on the Northern Ireland protocol, and that is definitely a positive step forward. Being from Belfast, it is clear to me that not much thought was given to Northern Ireland back in 2016. The Northern Ireland protocol was a sudden recognition of the difficulties described by Ms Hart and Mr. Mills. The main thing is that there is now a drive to move away from hard positions and to find practical solutions for Northern Ireland. The protocol, of course, applies whether there is a deal or not.
With regard to the UK Internal Market Bill, my understanding is that the House of Lords will now be asked to insist on its amendments, which would remove sections 44, 45 and 47, which include the offending provisions with regard to Northern Ireland. As a Scottish Member of Parliament, I note that this does not remove the anti-devolution parts of the Bill. From the point of view of Northern Ireland, which as I understand is the main interest of the committee, the common frameworks which had been worked on for three years and which allow for a way through divergence while still respecting the devolved governments' right to innovate, tend to drive standards up. The Welsh Government was the first of the devolved governments to introduce the plastic carrier bag levy and Scotland's was first to introduce the smoking ban, minimum unit pricing for alcohol and a ban on plastic cotton buds. Under the UK Internal Market Bill, the lowest standard must apply. That is not just the case for British manufacturers, but for anything that is imported to any part of the UK. The danger and the concern in the devolved nations is, therefore, that this would drive standards down because any Scottish or Welsh regulation about standards would only apply to their own producers. This would disadvantage those producers without preventing substandard produce being sold in those territories. This completely undermines the sort of innovation we have seen from all three devolved nations over the last 20 years.
With regard to the clause about spending in devolved areas, if one looks at the list, one sees that it includes almost every devolved area. Westminster would take power over that spending rather than the devolved governments that understand what the needs are. I know this is presented as a way of binding the union together but, from my perspective north of the border, this is like trying to sort a bad marriage by locking one's wife in the house and taking away her chequebook. The way to strengthen a union is through respect and by allowing the devolved nations to continue with the powers they have rather than taking powers away. From the point of view of strengthening the union, regardless of which of the three devolved nations one considers, the UK Internal Market Bill is going in completely the wrong direction.