“There has been a lot of talk this week about the Internal Market Bill, and I want to explain to you why I voted for the Second Reading of this Bill. I did so in order to give the Government a strong negotiating position to secure a deal which is in the interests of both sides. October 15th is the deadline for negotiations. It’s always been my first preference we leave the transition period with a Free Trade Agreement in place.

“When we renegotiated our Withdrawal Agreement from the EU, we struck a careful balance to reflect Northern Ireland’s integral place in our United Kingdom. In good faith we accepted certain obligations in the Northern Ireland Protocol in order to give the EU the assurances they sought on the integrity of their single market while avoiding any change to the border on the island of Ireland. 

“Under this finely balanced arrangement, the EU agreed Northern Ireland would remain part of the customs territory of the UK, able to benefit from the free trade deals with other countries which we are now beginning to strike.

“However, unfortunately in recent months the EU has suggested it is ready to go to extreme and unreasonable lengths by using the Northern Ireland Protocol in a way that goes well beyond common sense, simply to exert leverage against the UK in our negotiations for a free trade agreement.

“For example, the EU has said if we fail to reach an agreement to their satisfaction, they might refuse to list the UK’s food and agricultural products for sale anywhere in the EU. This would then, under the Protocol, create an instant and automatic prohibition of the transfer of our animal products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. This is unacceptable. The EU is essentially holding out the possibility of blockading food and agricultural transports within our own country. 

“Therefore, what we are seeking to do through this Bill is to protect this country against the EU’s proven willingness to use this delicately balanced Protocol in ways for which it was never intended. This Bill includes our first step to protect our country against such a contingency by creating a legal safety net, taking powers in reserve – whereby Ministers can act to guarantee the integrity of our UK.

“I share people’s unease over the use of these powers. The Prime Minister has been clear that he has no desire to use these measures. They are simply an insurance policy. If we reach an agreement with the EU, which I still believe is possible, then these powers will never be used.

“It’s worth pointing out that it is the case that the passing of this Bill does not constitute the exercise of these powers. If they were ever needed, ministers would return to the House of Commons to ask for Parliamentary approval to invoke these powers.”