[5th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 4:24 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Gethins Stephen Gethins Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 4:24 pm, 9th January 2019

It is good to hear the hon. Gentleman’s point, which he makes well and honestly, but it is extraordinary, and a shame, that many of his colleagues—some of whom are in the Chamber—were not listening to him. If he cannot even win over his colleagues, what hope does he have of winning over everybody else? There is almost nobody on his entire half of the Government Benches—extraordinary stuff—but I have the greatest respect for the courage and indefatigability he demonstrates.

This Government’s disrespect agenda has turned the constitutional settlement of the United Kingdom upside down. The UK Government have imposed legislation on the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly against overwhelming opposition from across the parties—from not just the Labour party but the Scottish National party, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru. The Scottish Parliament rejected the deal by 92 votes to 29, leaving the Conservative party in utter isolation in Scotland, as it has been for decades.

As the Government turn the constitutional settlement upside down, without reference to this place and ignoring the Scotland Act 1998, let me paraphrase the great Winnie EwingMadame Ecosse—who said that it was claimed once upon a time that Britannia ruled the waves; now, Britannia simply waives the rules. We heard howls of protest in this place today when Parliament took back control, but Parliament did the Government a favour. The Government have wasted all this time, but now they will be forced to come back within three days, not because of something they did, but because Parliament reasserted itself, and you, Mr Speaker, did the right thing today in allowing the vote. That is incredibly important as we reach this crunch time. One cannot do this kind of thing in the European Union.

I have found utterly baffling and really quite depressing the lack of knowledge about the European institutions in this place. The EU is made up of independent and sovereign states, which reach agreement and compromise in what is truly a partnership of equals. There is democratic oversight from the European Parliament—Ministers here have attempted to stifle democratic oversight—and there is a Court, not to impose anything on anybody but to resolve disagreements, which will arise in any democracy with 28 independent and sovereign member states.

I am not entirely sure what future arbitration mechanism the Government propose. I see from their agreement that they propose a role for the European Court of Justice. I welcome that, but it is a bit too little, too late, and it has been met by a wall of opposition from their own Members, who do not seem to understand what the Government are arguing for.

As I set out what the European Union is all about, it strikes me that despite all those who try to compare it with the United Kingdom and ask whether, if Scotland becomes independent, we want to be in the EU, no one can tell me in what way they are similar. Can anybody compare the EU with the UK? Silence. It is not possible to compare them. To do so would be to disregard every treaty, and the fact that the EU is a club for independent and sovereign states. I am astonished, since Government Members persistently make that argument, that nobody can tell me what the difference is. That argument is almost as dead and defunct as the Prime Minister’s deal.

Let me move on to a human element. The way EU nationals have been treated is a disgrace. No Member should be complicit in what is being done in our name. That is nowhere clearer than in the appalling treatment of our friends and neighbours who happen to hold passports from a different European country. They contribute so much to our homes and our NHS, and they contribute financially so much more than they take away.

On a point made by my hon. Friend Drew Hendry—as well as, to be fair, Huw Merriman during Prime Minister’s questions today—does the Minister agree that it is deeply offensive to be asking those who already pay their taxes and so much in contributions to pay £65 each to remain in their homes? Would anybody on the Government Benches like to defend that? Anybody? I didn’t think so. Would anyone want to defend the disgrace of charging people £65 to remain in their homes?