United Kingdom: Union - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 1:23 pm ar 14 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Udny-Lister Lord Udny-Lister Ceidwadwyr 1:23, 14 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I welcome this important and timely debate and, like every other speaker, thank my noble friend Lord McInnes of Kilwinning for bringing this topic to the Floor of your Lordships’ House and for the way in which he so eloquently made the case for why the union of the United Kingdom must always remain at the forefront of our thinking. I welcome my noble friend Lord Cameron to his place at the Dispatch Box and look forward to hearing from him in due course.

The union of the United Kingdom has been forged through centuries of shared history and culture. Today, the union represents a mosaic of identities and traditions of a united people who are bound together under one flag, in peaceful union, for the greater good. This union has endured domestic trials and tribulations and international wars and conflicts. It has endured, as it is a union that is built on the shoulders and sacrifices of an ever-resilient people who have adapted and evolved to the changing tides of time.

Today, we face immense global insecurity. We have wars waging in Europe, instability in the Middle East and global economic uncertainty. We cannot afford to underestimate the gravity of these challenges and the potential issues that may lie ahead. Against this backdrop of global uncertainty, when it comes to our national security there is not a clearer case for why the nations of our union are stronger together, and we must continue to make this case. The illegal war that has been waged by the Russian state against the people of Ukraine demands that we must now focus on strengthening our internal security arrangements to ensure that we are able to stand up against the aggression of rogue states.

As an island nation, our history tells us that our first line of security is the waters around us. We must now ensure that our naval capacity and capability is equally distributed around the shores of the union. With Russia and other aggressors posing a threat to the western approaches of the British Isles, so eloquently explained earlier by my noble friend Lord Godson, now is the time for the Government to expand our naval and air presence in Northern Ireland. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that it is time for us to look at an enhanced, one-union approach to national security? Can he comment on the need for the Government urgently to reconsider the role that Northern Ireland plays in the wider defence and security of the United Kingdom?

I raise this point, as have the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, and the noble Lord, Lord Godson, in considering a report published recently by Policy Exchange, Closing the Back Door: Rediscovering Northern Ireland’s Role in British National Security. It highlights why we cannot be reliant on the Republic of Ireland for the defence and security of the Irish Sea and our own national security. As others have done, in drawing this report to the attention of your Lordships’ House, it is worth highlighting the grim reality that, after years of underfunding, the Republic’s defence forces are wholly inadequate to face up to the challenges that we face today. With this in mind, it is vital that we consider an enhanced security role for Northern Ireland in the immediate future.

Some will argue that the Good Friday agreement necessitates that we have a separate approach to security in Northern Ireland. I remind your Lordships’ House that the agreement acknowledges the need for security co-operation across the entirety of the UK. If ever there was a time to strengthen and equalise that co-operation, it is now. An enhanced security role for Northern Ireland, built on trust and mutual respect, has the ability to strengthen the fundamental principles of the Good Friday agreement while ensuring the security of our United Kingdom. I therefore politely request that my noble friend the Minister, if he has not done so already, considers the recommendations made in the report. If the Government are serious about wanting to strengthen and safeguard the union, we need a one-union approach to defence and national security.

The union of the United Kingdom is not merely a political arrangement that has withstood the test of time. Foremost it is our security guarantee. It is a union of people who, while being distinctly different, can come together in heart and mind for these principles. This makes us collectively a force and a beacon for good in an ever-dangerous world. We should and must do more to promote this. It is our duty, as the custodians of the union, to move heaven and earth to ensure that the union of the United Kingdom is strengthened for generations to come. I am assured that this Government remain committed to that duty.