Parliamentary oversight of negotiations

Part of Informal European Council – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 6th February 2017.

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Photo of Stephen Gethins Stephen Gethins Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe) 5:45 pm, 6th February 2017

My hon. Friends and I have also tabled some amendments. I am glad that we have the opportunity to discuss and debate the Bill over the coming days, although we have had been given very little time in which to do so. It is fair to say that this is not scrutiny that the Government either welcomed or encouraged. It is good to have at least a short opportunity to debate this issue, although that has more to do with the Government’s confidence in their own arguments and their ability to deliver a better deal with our EU partners than the one we have at present than it does with a scrutiny process. The Government were dragged kicking and screaming to this Chamber just to have a vote on article 50 in the first place.

On Thursday, we got the White Paper as the Secretary of State was getting to his feet, which was pretty disrespectful of the entire House. That failed to put my mind at ease—I am sure it failed to put the minds of many other MPs in the Chamber at ease—about the way in which the Government are conducting this process. The White Paper is something of a metaphor for the entire Brexit process; it was rushed, without time for proper scrutiny, and it did not even get all its facts right, which is quite remarkable, given the time the Government had to prepare it.

This Brexit process could not be more important. It is one of the most important processes anybody in this House will ever take part in—it is certainly more important than a debate about wigs or the other crucial issues Government Members want to debate. This process will have an impact on us all and on all our constituents, given the health of the economy, and the jobs and taxes that are generated as a result.

Against some fairly stiff competition, some people have argued that the craziest political decision of 2016 was the one to elect Donald Trump President—incidentally, my colleagues and I welcome the Speaker’s announcement today. However, while the good people of the United States of America have the ability, should they wish to do so, to reverse the decision they made in November, there is no likelihood that we will be able to reverse the decision we made any time soon. Although four years’ time might seem a long way away for many in the United States, the mistakes made by the Government here, and any lack of scrutiny as a result, will be felt down the generations by policy makers in this place.

Given that this is such a big decision, our ability to have any meaningful scrutiny is woeful. Regardless of the vote, the role of Parliament is to scrutinise the work of Government. That is the entire point of our sitting here and having a Parliament in the first place.

I remind Conservative Members that the SNP won the election earlier this year with 47% of the vote. [Hon. Members: “Last year.”] Actually, the Holyrood election took place this year. That tells us all we need to know about the attention they pay to these things. We won the vote with 47%, but in 2015, the Conservatives won the election with 36% of the vote, and I am particularly pleased to say that Scotland dragged down their UK average by some considerable degree.

However, the role of Opposition parties, be it in Holyrood or in this place, is to hold the Government to account for the enormity of their decisions, which impact on each and every one of us. The process of leaving the European Union will involve one of the greatest upheavals since this Parliament came into existence in 1801. We should be given a lot more time to consider the implications for our constituents, the economy and our European partners. That is why SNP Members will back any moves to give Parliament greater scrutiny over this process.

That scrutiny is all the more important because of the lack of detail provided by members of the Vote Leave campaign—an act of irresponsibility by Members who were in the Government previously and by Members who are in the Government at present. Significant questions were left unanswered during the debate on the referendum, and since Vote Leave did not bother giving us the details, we have a responsibility as parliamentarians to ask for those details.

One question is: will we stay in the single market? The Prime Minister’s speech obviously differs from the Conservative party manifesto, on which she and other Conservative Members were elected. Will it be for Scotland to decide its immigration numbers? How much extra cash is the NHS getting? We deserve answers to all these questions before article 50 is triggered. Who is accountable for the promises that were made? I have not received an answer so far, and I have not heard other Members receive one.

A number of my colleagues will want to touch on the point about EU nationals, and it is easy to see why we back the proposals to give them the right to remain. We are richer financially and culturally as a result of European nationals calling Scotland and other parts of the UK their home.