Brexit and Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:05 pm on 26th June 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 9:05 pm, 26th June 2017

I congratulate the five Members who have made their maiden speeches in this debate: the hon. Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin), for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew C. Bowie). They spoke with good humour, giving us an insight into everything from the history of their constituencies to the best tourist spots and pubs. I am sure we will agree on some issues and not on others.

One issue on which I particularly agree with the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine is the need not to have a second independence referendum. Although I will disagree with him on many issues in this place, I welcome the fact that the election result in Scotland means a greater diversity of voices in this place; it is a truer reflection of the diversity of views in Scotland.

It is two years and three months to the day since my last contribution in this House, and I am delighted to be back. In the intervening period, John Nicolson spoke from the Scottish National party Benches for East Dunbartonshire, and although we had profound disagreements on Scotland’s place in the UK, I pay tribute to his work, particularly on equality issues—and LGBT rights especially. I know he would share my concerns, as many of my constituents do, about the Conservatives’ deal today with the DUP and, in particular, what it might mean for LGBT rights, climate change and women’s rights.

At the start of the general election campaign, Brenda from Bristol struck a chord with many when she said that there was “too much politics”. If she had lived in Bearsden or Bishopbriggs, she might have had even more cause to say that, because in the past three years there have been no fewer than seven elections or referendums in Scotland. However, in East Dunbartonshire we still have great enthusiasm; in 2014, we had the spectacular turnout of 91%, with 61% of people voting to keep Scotland in the UK, and two years later 71% voted to remain in the EU. East Dunbartonshire wants a Scotland in the UK and the UK in the EU, and that is what I will advocate as its representative in this House.

Brexit will, of course, be the overarching issue for this Parliament. From my time in government, I can well imagine the treacle of Brexit that civil servants and Ministers will be wading through. There is a real risk—indeed, it is probably a near certainty—that Brexit will divert attention from other important issues. The Government’s response to this election result is very disappointing; there is no mandate for that extreme vision of Brexit. Instead of looking at this balanced Parliament and reaching out in a spirit of compromise to try to find genuine cross-party agreement and consensus, the Government are sticking rigidly to their mantra of “No membership of the single market or the customs union.”

Recasting our relationship with the EU throws into sharp relief our relationship with the rest of the world. It is a volatile world and we will discuss in detail the global developments, risks and threats. I do not share the rose-tinted view of the Brexiteers that it is all going to be jolly wonderful, because on the cross-cutting issues of human rights, democracy and climate change it is often our EU partners who most closely share our values. This is the worst possible time to be loosening ties with our European neighbours, as we have a White House so at odds with UK interest. We are forced to roll out the red carpet for President Trump, a man who demonises a whole religion, shows disrespect for others in the words he uses about women and poses a real danger to the world by withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate change agreement. I urge the Government to think again and to look for genuine cross-party consensus as they approach the difficult issues we face.