[7th Allotted Day]

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 10:43 am on 11th January 2019.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 10:43 am, 11th January 2019

I say first to the hon. Gentleman that his Government refused point blank to give the immediate unilateral guarantees the Scottish Government asked for the day after the—[Interruption.] No, they refused point blank to do it. Nicola Sturgeon was pointing out to EU nationals in Scotland the danger of continuing to have an immigration policy that was reserved to this place. She was not stating what would happen in the event that Scotland became independent; she was warning what might happen in the event that we did not. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the fears being expressed now by tens of thousands of people in Scotland are exactly the fears they were warned about by the then Deputy First Minister.

Let me remind the House of one of the boasts the hon. Gentleman made when he intervened on the shadow Home Secretary. Unless I am very mistaken, he boasted that he had fought to get his constituents passports. The Conservative party is proud of the fact that people who came here to live, work and contribute as a matter of right now have to seek the services of a Member of Parliament to fight to be given the passport that should be theirs as a matter of right. If the Conservatives think that is something to be proud of, that demonstrates once again how far their moral compass is from anything that could ever be accepted in Scotland.

That is only when we consider the moral and humanitarian arguments against what the British Government are seeking to impose on us. It would be bad enough for them to embark on such a regressive, socially divisive path if they thought that it would make us better off, but every one of their own analyses, of which there are quite a few—in fact, just about every credible analysis ever made of the economic impact of free movement of people—tells us that it is good for the host nations, and good for the peoples of the host nations.

The Government’s own analysis shows that, no matter what Brexit scenario we end up with, ending free movement and slashing the rights of immigrants to come here on anything like the scale that they intend will damage our economy. So even if we subscribed to the Thatcherite gospel that there is no such thing as society, but just a collection of individuals—even if we followed that creed of “Let us look after ourselves, and to hell with everyone else”—ending free movement of people would still be the wrong thing to do. To subscribe to this Government’s anti-immigration and anti-immigrant philosophy, we would not just need to be selfish; we would need to be out of oor flaming heids.

On 19 December, during the final Prime Minister’s Question Time of the year, I asked the Prime Minister to name one single tangible benefit that would compensate my constituents for the social and economic damage that we know ending free movement of people would cause. She could not give a single example. If the Home Secretary wants to listen, I will give him a chance to stand up and name one benefit to my constituents of ending free movement, but even if he were interested enough to listen, he would not be able to do so.

In fact, I will happily give way to any Conservative Member who wants to take the opportunity to answer the question that the Prime Minister dodged. None of them wants to do so. No Conservative Member can identify a single tangible benefit that my constituents will see. By their silence, the Conservatives are telling me that I cannot vote for this deal. By their silence, they are telling me that ending free movement of people is not good for my constituents—so how dare they ask me to support it?

The Prime Minister dodged the question, just as she and a succession of Ministers have dodged every difficult question that they have ever been asked during the Brexit process. Indeed, the ongoing debacle over parliamentary scrutiny of this shambles demonstrates that we have not only a Prime Minister and a Government who have lost control, but a Prime Minister and a Government who will cynically play the card of parliamentary sovereignty when it suits them, but will use every trick in the book—and quite a few tricks that are not in the book—to try and stop us doing the job that we were elected to do. They spout their creed of parliamentary sovereignty sometimes, and at other times they do everything possible to undermine it.

They Government went to court to try to prevent Parliament from having any say in the triggering of article 50. They have whipped their own MPs—although not successfully in every case—to vote against allowing this debate even to happen. I have noted on every day of the debate that those who claim that allowing it to take place was an act of treason have not exactly been backward in coming forward and asking to join in at every opportunity. The Government abuse their privileged position in respect of setting parliamentary business to try to strip the meaningful vote of any actual meaning. Like bad-loser, spoilt-brat football managers the world over, they have even resorted to ganging up on the referee to complain and accuse him of cheating every time he gives an offside decision against them—and not just during the 90 regulation minutes of points of order on Wednesday; the Leader of the House even tried to do it again during a wee bit of penalty time yesterday morning.

The Government are mounting an intense campaign of what can only be described as misinformation to frighten Parliament, to frighten our citizens, to frighten businesses, to frighten everyone, into believing that they must accept this deal because it is the only possible deal and the only alternative is no deal. That is simply and palpably not true, and the Prime Minister knows it is not true. How can I be sure that the Prime Minister knows it is not true? Because she has said so herself on at least half a dozen occasions that I can trace. She has said it at the Dispatch Box, and she has said it in television interviews. She has told us that it is not a simple choice between her deal and no deal.

In an attempt to scare the no deal brigade in her own party, the Prime Minister was forced to admit that if her deal failed, Brexit might not have to happen. When I first saw that reported on the BBC website, I thought it must be a mistake, but if it was, it is a mistake that the Prime Minister has made nearly every day since then. Her clearly stated position is that we are not faced with a simple binary choice between her deal and no deal. We still have the option of keeping the deal that we already have. Staying where we are is always an option. The status quo is always available. The best of all possible deals is the deal that we have right now, and I must say to my colleagues and good friends on the Labour Benches that it is the only possible deal that meets their six tests of an acceptable Brexit. If they could only get their act together and accept that, between us we could stop this madness with absolute certainty.

Earlier this week, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Chris Heaton-Harris, in what I have to say was the most shambolic appearance before a Select Committee that I have ever seen, managed to walk into a trap and make an admission that he had been trying to avoid making throughout the meeting. It was a trap set—presumably by mistake—by one of his own fellow hardline Brexiteers. He was asked:

“Minister, would you agree that, by taking no deal off the table, it weakens our hand in negotiations with the EU?”

His reply was “I would, yes.” Members should think about that for a minute—apart from the slight technical point that there are no negotiations with the EU, because the deal has been done and the negotiations have finished.

Not only the Minister, but one of those hardline Brexiteers in the European Research Group, has admitted that the Government have it in their power to take no deal off the table. Why would they leave it on the table when they know, and everyone knows, that it is the worst possible outcome? Why would they try to force a situation in which it the only alternative, which is what they want us to believe? Why, in recent weeks, have they spent so much time and money telling businesses, trade unions, voluntary organisations and everyone else something that they know is not true?

Only the Government could answer those questions, but when it is put in the context of all the other shenanigans that they have been up to, it seems obvious what they are doing. They know that the Prime Minister’s deal has absolutely no chance of getting through the House on its own merits. In fact, I think most Ministers have known for months that as soon as the Prime Minister set her stupid red lines, there was no possibility of an acceptable deal that complied with those red lines, but instead of doing the right thing—instead of persuading the Prime Minister that she had to change her approach— they set out to try and pauchle the whole process. They were determined that the only vote we would ever have—the vote, remember, that they do not want us to have at all—would be rigged. They knew that the only good thing about the Prime Minister’s deal was that it was not quite as bad as no deal, so they set out to fabricate a situation in which they tried to tell us that no deal was the only alternative. That is why we have seen the Prime Minister’s almost Damascene conversion, virtually overnight, from “No deal is better than a bad deal”—which, by the way, is in the Conservative manifesto—to “Any bad deal is better than no deal”.

That is just one example of the hypocrisy and the double standards that we have seen from this Government, but perhaps the most brazen example of their double standards—and that is saying something—appeared in a tweet earlier this week.