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[Day 2]

Part of Burma – in the House of Commons at 2:14 pm on 15th March 2018.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 2:14 pm, 15th March 2018

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate, although I note with sadness that, having set aside two days to debate European affairs, in reality we are all talking about the same European affair. This place has become consumed with Brexit to the extent that other vital matters in the continent of Europe that we would normally have found the time to debate at length are now hardly even mentioned in this place.

Where is the Chamber debate on the persecution of journalists and dissidents in Turkey? Where is the debate on the crackdown of almost neo-fascist proportions in Catalonia, where academics are now being ordered to hand over anything that they might have written in support of constitutional change and civilians are threatened with arrest for the crime of wearing a yellow scarf? Where is the debate on the worryingly regressive steps being taken in Hungary and Poland, so much so that an Irish court this week refused an extradition request to Poland because Ireland can no longer trust the Polish judicial system to give people a fair trial? Where is the debate on the instability that may engulf the Government of Slovakia—a country that was previously a frontier land for the iron curtain and that is now becoming something of a buffer zone between western Europe and the more worrying developments further east?

Had it not been for the appalling incident in Salisbury, it is unlikely that we would even have found time to debate the growing and brutal expansionism of Russia—whether its illegal actions in Ukraine, its equally illegal and covert actions in parts of Georgia or its increasingly threatening behaviour towards the Baltic states. None of these issues is getting anything like the attention in this place that they are entitled to. None is getting the attention that it would have had, had it not been for Brexit taking up so much of everybody’s time and an increasing proportion of the civil service budget in every Department in Whitehall.

I have only listed the European affairs business that we are not talking about. As a number of Labour Members mentioned during business questions today, a whole host of pressing and urgent social issues in these islands are not being debated or talked about. There is inadequate parliamentary scrutiny, and there is inadequate or non-existent legislation to address these problems because everything has been sacrificed on the altar of Brexit. It might not be so bad if, by sacrificing everything to talk about Brexit, there were some signs that we were getting it right. But all the signs are that, having started off getting it wrong by calling the wrong referendum at the wrong time in the wrong circumstances and on the wrong date, things have gone from bad to worse. The catalogue of disastrous misjudgments from the Prime Minister and her predecessor would be hilarious if the consequences were not so disastrous for us economically and, perhaps more importantly, socially.

The referendum was promised to heal divisions within the Conservative party. That has worked well, hasn’t it? The date of the referendum was set because the then Prime Minister was worried that it would have been engulfed by further controversy if there was another summer of refugee disasters in the Mediterranean. It was also deliberately designed to cut across local and national election campaigns in many parts of the United Kingdom. With indecent haste after the referendum and after the Conservative leadership non-contest, the Prime Minister unilaterally—without consultation, as far as I could see—announced the red lines of leaving the customs union and leaving the single market. Those are two lines with which the Prime Minister has painted herself into a corner, and she now wants to blame the Europeans for being unwilling to knock down the walls to get her out of that corner.