Power to notify withdrawal from the EU

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (International Affairs and Europe) 5:45 pm, 13th March 2017

I have only three points to make in the time that I have available.

When my hon. Friend Ms Ahmed-Sheikh asked the Secretary of State whether he would be prepared to deport these European nationals in our midst, he said, rather significantly, “No, of course not, not somebody with my liberal credentials stretching over so many years.” That is the case, and it would be the case for every Member here—with perhaps one or two exceptions whom we shall not name. The vast majority of this House would not countenance ever doing that, which is why, as Hilary Benn has just said, those European nationals cease to be any sort of bargaining chip. Even if we thought that the International Trade Secretary was right to say that they were an important card to play—even if we thought that that was acceptable language—they are not a card that we can play. It is like a nuclear deterrent: if we are not going to press the button, it is not a deterrent. If we are not prepared to follow through on deportation or to use people in that way, it cannot be a bargaining chip or a card to play. Therefore, the correct course of action for the Government is, unilaterally, to accept and secure the position of our fellow citizens working and contributing among us. There is no possibility of their being effective as a bargaining chip in negotiations. I call on the Government to do the right thing and accept the Lords amendment.

Yesterday, the nation was transfixed as we tried to interpret the latest Government policy on Brexit. Should we follow the advice of the Foreign Secretary, who was on one channel, when he said that it would be no problem if we had to resort to World Trade Organisation terms? Or should we follow the advice of the International Trade Secretary, who on another channel was saying, yes indeed, it would be a problem? In fact, we were all watching the wrong people. We should have been watching the Brexit Secretary on the “Andrew Marr Show”, because he was actually getting to the guts and the nub of the problem. Andrew Marr asked, “So what happens if they don’t accept it?”—referring to our voting down the deal that the Government bring to us in a meaningful vote. The Brexit Secretary answered, “That is what’s called the most favoured nation status deal with the World Trade Organisation.”

When this Bill was in Committee, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central and others were trying to tempt a commitment out of the Minister of State when he appeared at the Dispatch Box with a flourish—with as much of a flourish as the Minister’s parliamentary style allows—and told us that the Government intend us to have a meaningful vote. Member after Member asked him what would happen in this meaningful vote if we decided to reject the Government’s terms. We had the answer yesterday from the Brexit Secretary: WTO terms. It is absolutely clear: our deal or no deal; our way or the highway. No vote can be described as meaningful if the alternative is the damage of WTO terms.

Given your injunction to be brief, Mr Speaker, I will come to my final point. We are asked why we do not just accept the word of the Brexit Secretary and these other chaps and chapesses in the Government when they tell us that we do not need to put things into legislation. Can I quote a little bit of history here and show Members what assurances we have been given in Scotland on this legislation? On 15 July last year, The Daily Telegraph said:

Theresa May has indicated that…she said she will not trigger the formal process for leaving the EU until there is an agreed ‘UK approach’
backed by Scotland.”

I admit that that does not come from Hansard, but surely The Daily Telegraph is the nearest the Tories can have to an Official Report. That promise has been swept away. That commitment has been broken, as indeed was the reaction to the Scottish Government’s argument to keep us all within the single market. It was not regarded seriously, and we were not even consulted before the Prime Minister dismissed that as an alternative.

Then there was the compromise: let Scotland stay within the single marketplace, even if this Government are determined to drag the rest of the UK out of it. That was not even given serious consideration. We have had no substantive reply in the past three months, because, in their arrogance, this Government believe that the views of the 48% across the UK, of the Members of the House of Lords, of the Tory Back Benchers who have their doubts, and of the nations in this country, two of which voted for remain in the referendum, do not matter. They can be swept aside as we proceed headlong to the hard Brexit cliff edge. Today, in Scotland, perhaps the Government were disabused of that notion, because there might not be a meaningful vote in this Chamber, but there shall be a meaningful vote in Scotland about protecting our millennium-long history as a European nation.

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