[5th Allotted Day]

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Act – in the House of Commons at 6:20 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Ross Thomson Ross Thomson Conservative, Aberdeen South 6:20 pm, 9th January 2019

My views on Brexit are well known. As a prominent campaigner for Scottish Vote Leave, my views were well known by my constituents before I was elected to this House. I respect the fact that colleagues and other MPs have very different views, often genuinely and passionately held, but I hope that, regardless of those deeply held views, we can all agree that we all want what is best for this country.

Did Members know that the number of people who voted leave in Scotland is similar to the populations of Glasgow and Edinburgh—Scotland’s two largest cities—combined? Over 1 million Scots voted to leave the EU, yet they are wholly under-represented both in this place and in the Scottish Parliament. There is growing frustration and anger among Scottish leave voters about their being airbrushed out of Scotland’s story by the narrative of some that Scotland voted to remain, and that that is Scotland’s voice. Well, I will not be airbrushed out of here. The National can attack me and bully me as much as it wants, and people can vandalise my office or protest outside it as much as they want, but I will never give up speaking up for the 1 million Scots who voted to leave the European Union.

I am not just a Brexiteer. I am a committed, dedicated and most passionate Unionist first. Our United Kingdom is something that we have built together, and the ties that bind us go beyond the nations to individuals. For over 300 years we have traded together, fought for freedom and peace together, and built our lives together. That is why in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum I campaigned with my head, heart, body and soul to keep this United Kingdom together.

It is because I am a Scottish Unionist that I cannot in good conscience support this withdrawal agreement. I share the concerns of other colleagues and Democratic Unionist party Members that the backstop arrangement would mean hiving off Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, with Northern Ireland being kept in a separate regulatory regime. Northern Ireland would be left in the single market for goods and agrifoods, while Great Britain leaves, an arrangement that would give Brussels more say over the rules in Northern Ireland than our own United Kingdom Parliament.

The backstop would require that Northern Ireland follows around 300 EU regulations, and if the UK were to diverge from one of them, it would mean a border down the Irish sea. If the EU were to change any regulation and the rest of the UK did not follow, despite having no say over those changes, it would impose a border down the Irish sea. Northern Ireland would be left in full harmonisation with the EU.

I have heard the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and other Ministers say that, to avoid a border down the Irish sea, Great Britain would align with Northern Ireland, but what does that mean in practice? It means that the UK would be tied to EU rules that it would be voiceless to change or oppose. That would not be taking back control. It is the opposite of what people voted for and worse than the current arrangement.

The prosperity of our Union is dependent on our own internal market and the thousands of jobs that depend on it, so any barriers that are put in the way of that and that affect our ability to trade within the United Kingdom are hugely damaging. I therefore struggle to comprehend how anyone who believes in the integrity of the UK can support a deal that would keep Northern Ireland in the single market. How could anyone want to see new burdens and regulations put in place on trade going east to west across the Irish sea? That would mean that goods manufactured in my constituency of Aberdeen South that move to Belfast would be subject to new customs declarations and the issuing of certificates—new barriers to trade within our own country.

I recognise that the Government have attempted to address these real concerns, and that they have brought forward new measures, but it is with regret that I feel that those measures do not go far enough. What I read today seemed more like a public relations exercise than a real remedy to the problems. The backstop arrangement will be part of an internationally binding treaty, which means that by its very nature it will supersede any domestic legal provisions. Furthermore, the arrangement fails to hold true to what was agreed in the joint report of December 2017. So, to coin a phrase, nothing has changed. The withdrawal agreement does protect the Union—the European Union. Sadly, it does not protect our own.

There are wider concerns about the withdrawal agreement. The backstop means that we could be trapped in the EU indefinitely, with the EU27 having a veto. We would be unable to strike our own trade deal. The advice from the House of Commons EU legislation team is that the backstop customs arrangement would be

“a practical barrier to the UK entering separate trade agreements on goods with third countries”.

As a Scot, I know that one of our greatest exports is Scottish whisky. Its global reputation for quality is absolutely unmatched. The industry has been optimistic about the opportunities presented by Brexit to sell its product into the exciting new and growing markets in the world. The withdrawal agreement recognises and protects more than 3,000 geographical indications. The agreement is not a trade deal—in fact, we cannot even talk trade—but under it, the UK will protect EU GIs, such as Parma ham and feta cheese. That has the potential to prevent us from reaching free trade agreements with the US or India, which are the big markets for Scottish whisky. In trade deals, we need to protect our own GIs, not the EU’s. Furthermore, US ambassador Woody Johnson has clearly stated that if the withdrawal agreement is passed, it does not look like it would be possible to agree a bilateral UK-US trade deal.

Finally, we will have to pay £39 billion to the EU. That is £1,400 per family in the UK. Ordinary taxpayers should rightly feel that they are not getting very much for that amount of money. I recognise that in a negotiation one side does not get everything that it wants and the other side nothing. However, nowhere in the agreement can I see a significant concession that the UK has achieved. Unbelievably, the EU appears to have got everything that it wants. It is therefore little wonder that the EU Commission is claiming that the power lies with it—that its mission is to prove that leaving the EU does not work.

In conclusion, yes, Brexit is an unprecedented challenge for our country, and it requires a national effort to meet that challenge, but Brexit is not an existential threat to our Union. That is why I am horrified that before us is a deal that leaves Northern Ireland behind and treats it like a foreign territory. I will not stand by and allow our United Kingdom to be broken up by the back door. No Unionist can ever accept that. The Conservative and Unionist party cannot accept that. The UK Parliament cannot accept that, which is why MPs must vote down this deal.