Brexit and Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:13 pm on 26th June 2017.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 9:13 pm, 26th June 2017

I wish to start with a statement that will cause anger and disbelief on the Conservative Benches:

“Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU.”

Those are not my words; they are the words of the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. In other words, he has admitted that the notion of taking back sovereignty to this Parliament is nonsense. Some of us have a much more democratic tradition. We believe that the sovereignty that is exercised in this place belongs not in this place, but in the people who have sent us to represent them here. For me, that principle of the sovereignty of the people is a red line, on which neither I nor the SNP will ever budge an inch. That is why 62% of our sovereign citizens say that they want to stay in the European Union. It is not about being defeatist, remoaner or continuity remain, but about respecting the will of the sovereign people. If the nearest we can come to that is to retain our membership of the single market and customs union, then that is what we will do. If that has to mean Scotland looking for a differentiated deal, as has already been guaranteed to Northern Ireland, or having to ask for a special deal as well, that is what we will ask for.

I have one ask for when the Government sum up: will they tell us exactly what is going to happen now with the Joint Ministerial Committee, because there seem to have been two JMCs operating since the Brexit vote? The Government have attended a JMC that was wonderful and so constructive—everybody had a great time and thought that it was very helpful—but the Governments of the devolved nations have attended a JMC that was a total and utter waste of time, for they went and spent 45 minutes being told what the UK Government had decided, and if they were very lucky they might get the chance to decide whether they wanted milk and sugar in their tea or coffee. That is the extent of the consultation we have had so far. It is not enough.

I was delighted to hear Anna McMorrin insist in her maiden speech that the Government of Wales must be part of these negotiations. I look forward to the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Lesley Laird, using her maiden speech to make the equivalent demand on behalf of the people of Scotland.

Membership of the single market is not the same as access to the single market. Anyone who does not understand that difference really needs to get themselves better informed before they take part in this debate. Those who understand the difference but deliberately try to pretend that they are exactly the same thing have no place in this House or in any other House of politics, because they are simply trying to con the electors.

Access to the single market means you can sell your tomatoes, plums, beer and whisky in Europe. Membership of the single market means the Europeans have got to accept your produce on exactly the same terms as everybody else’s. The difference between membership and access is exceptionally great. As my dear friend the former Member for Gordon, Alex Salmond, used to say, the international guild of Patagonian shoemakers has access to the single market, but that does not do it any good.

Access to the single market on its own is worthless, so unless we can retain membership of the single market and of the customs union, we could be looking at 80,000 job losses in Scotland. That price is not worth paying simply to meet this Government’s continued obsession with immigration. They tell us that we cannot be in the single market or the customs union because we have to get immigration down, but not a single word has been spoken in this debate to explain why cutting immigration is essential. Cutting immigration to the levels that the Tories are obsessed with will cause immense damage to our health service, our public services and our economy. Worse, it will make these nations far less attractive and far less pleasant places to live.