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2nd Day

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:25 pm on 11th September 2017.

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Photo of Paul Masterton Paul Masterton Conservative, East Renfrewshire 9:25 pm, 11th September 2017

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this evening. The Government must carry out the will of the British people, but we must remember that the people are not united. As the MP for East Renfrewshire—a constituency with one of the highest remain votes in the country—I will always put my constituents’ views first. Their concerns—indeed, my concerns—about what leaving the EU means for their businesses, families and futures will be heard and respected. Although I am not yet convinced that my remain vote was the wrong choice, I, like the vast majority of my constituents, do not seek to overturn or obstruct Brexit. We want it to work. It needs to work. We want to see practical, pragmatic, reasonable solutions to complex issues.

That is why I am pleased to see this Bill before the House today—a Bill that, when boiled down to its most fundamental principle, seeks to ensure that the positions at one second to midnight before we leave the EU and at one second past midnight after we have left are, so far as possible, the same. Whatever anyone’s view on Brexit, that surely can be seen as good and necessary. We cannot wake up the morning after we have left the EU with gaping holes in our statute book, and with no one knowing what the law is, what regulations apply or what protections exist. The Government can count on my support tonight as a result.

The aims and objectives of the Bill are clear, and they are right. However, as we move forwards, Ministers must not be deaf to the issues raised in this debate from across the House, particularly those concerning the delegated powers framework, which other Members have explained in far more detail and with far more eloquence than I could. The Bill is good in intent and purpose, but it is not perfect. The right thing is to work to amend it, not collude to wreck it.

I was 13 when the Scottish Parliament opened. Devolution is all I have known. Our departure from the EU gives us a golden opportunity to deepen and enhance the existing devolved settlements. That is what was promised, and it must be delivered. Just as the EU that we are leaving is not the same beast as the European Economic Community that we joined, so the United Kingdom of 2017 is not the same as that of 1972. However, the First Minister was right when she said this morning that devolution is under threat, although that threat does not come just from a small if vocal band who think that leaving the EU means returning to the constitution of the UK as it stood 40-odd years ago. The greatest threat to devolution is from Scottish nationalists, who want to see it fail, thereby allowing them to claim falsely that separation is the only way.

The Bill, the mechanism for the repatriation of powers, and the future relationship of our Governments must be placed firmly in the present. Solutions must reflect the Union as it is and strengthen the Union of tomorrow. Our exit must reflect the reality of devolution, which is now a fundamental and permanent part of the UK. Twenty years ago today, Scotland voted yes to a new Parliament. I am committed to devolution and to the Union. They are not mutually exclusive. I will not allow either to be undermined in this process. In leaving the EU, we can deliver hammer blows to nationalism—yes, of the yellow and black variety, but also of a deeper purple variety. Proposals that give succour to nationalists of either hue should not expect to receive my support. I urge Ministers to recognise the chance before them to deliver for the moderate majority in Scotland, who want to see devolution succeed and the Union protected, with better, stronger, more sustained co-operation between our two Governments, working together, not pulling apart.

The reservation of the power to amend retained EU law will be necessary in the period immediately post Brexit. Common UK-wide frameworks will be required for the long term in a number of areas. Protecting the integrity of the UK single market is absolutely key.

More powers will be coming to Holyrood; of that there is no doubt. The idea put forward by the SNP that the UK Government, who have just completed the transfer of £12 billion of income tax powers, and who are in the process of devolving huge swathes of social security powers, want to grab and micromanage hill farming in Scotland is not remotely credible.

The process of leaving the EU is transitional, but devolution is permanent. The question is whether the Scottish Government are willing and able to use the new powers they will get in the best interests of Scotland. Given that after a decade of the SNP in power, less than half of Scots believe that devolution has improved the quality of the health service or education provision, or the strength of the economy north of the border, I will not hold my breath. So I will answer the First Minister’s call today to stand up and defend devolution, but I will be defending it from her Government—from the wasted opportunities and wasted futures her Government have presided over. For the first 10 years of devolution, Scotland walked in the wrong direction. For the past 10 years, it has had no direction at all.

I have some difficulty listening to the First Minister and the nationalists opposite preaching to others about consensus while flat-out refusing to accept the result of not one but two referendums, and still, today, refusing to take the threat of a second independence referendum off the table. While SNP Members will no doubt make their views known with the melodrama and histrionics we have come to expect, never missing a chance to shoehorn in some grievance, I look forward to what I am sure will be the altogether more measured views of the Finance and Constitution Committee of the Scottish Parliament on this Bill. I hope that that Committee is given due respect and consideration by Ministers. We can make this work, if we work together.

Although SNP Members claim to be the voice of Scotland, they speak for no one but themselves. We must not let their hubris distract or deter us, the Conservative and Unionist party, from delivering Brexit and, in doing so, delivering for Scotland.