UK Internal Market Bill: Bishop of Leeds says trust, integrity and morality matter in international relations

On 19th and 20th October the House of Lords considered the Government’s UK Internal Market Bill at its Second Reading. The Bishop of Leeds spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Leeds [V]: My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and look forward to her future contributions to this House. I fully endorse the arguments set out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. I concur with the concerns set out in the report cited by other noble Lords earlier. I even welcome the commitments articulated by the Minister, but I question how they can be trusted, given the underlying ethic of the Bill—and it is absolutely right for archbishops to ask questions of such matters.

Relations with potential partners usually depend on integrity. Trade, security, migration and so on all rest on fundamental trust. Trust cannot be one-sided, or it is not trust at all. Respecting one’s interlocutors is essential. This is inevitably evidenced in language. The Bill before us assumes that our interlocutors cannot be trusted and will behave in bad faith, and that we need to be protected from them. If they do not give us what we demand, we are free to do our own thing, including breaking the law and reneging on agreements made less than a year ago that were said at the time to be “oven ready”—a good arrangement that required “no more negotiations”. What the Bill does not ask is why our word should be trusted by others.

Integrity and morality matter at the level of international relations and agreements—unless, of course, we are now agreeing to reduce all our relations and transactions to some sort of utilitarian pragmatism. Morality also applies to how we remember history and establish what will shape the national mythologies that future generations will inherit. What story will be celebrated or commemorated next year, the centenary of partition on the island of Ireland: one that chose to end violence and respect difference, including different perspectives on identity, justice and unity, or one of a conscious abrogation of agreements built from bloodshed and courageous willingness to stem the wounds of grievance? Ireland, both the Province and the Republic, needs some certainty and shape in the future narrative, but what sort of certainty is built on a broken word, the negation of trust or the arrogance of exceptionalism?

Irish church leaders are surely right to be concerned about what the Bill implies for relations between the devolved institutions and with the UK Government. These leaders are not talking into fresh air; they straddle the border in Ireland and their deep concerns about a breach of the Good Friday agreement need to be listened to, not simply dismissed with a wave of boosterish optimism from Westminster.

Others will speak about the implications of closing an illegal route to challenge the Government’s implementation of the protocol, but let us be clear: parliamentary sovereignty does not translate easily into executive sovereignty. A decision to prefer short-term pragmatism over long-term ethics will lead to a future ​in which a question mark will hang over any statement by those whose word and adherence to the rule of law cannot be trusted. More is at stake here than economics.