Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:05 pm on 28th January 2019.

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Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales) 9:05 pm, 28th January 2019

My hon. Friend makes a good point.

When confronted with these alternative facts as portrayed in the media and by some hon. Members here, who can actually blame some people for agreeing to what amounted to a quick fix? The difference between the attitude and actions of the Scottish Government and the Westminster Government following the referendum in 2016 was stark. Immediately after the result was announced, the First Minister of Scotland gave an open-hearted address to EU citizens and the message was crystal clear—“We want you to come to Scotland and we want you to stay”—whereas the Tories spoke of bargaining chips.

Scotland rejected the false promises, the hate-filled rhetoric and the lies. We did this because something greater is being offered in our country. In Scotland, the largest party has been proudly in favour of immigration and freedom of movement. Some politicians in this place are scared to follow this example, but it can be an easy argument to win; they just have to make it. I say to the Leader of the Opposition and some on his Benches that politicians are here not merely to follow public opinion, but to lead it—to persuade and debate the merits of a policy, not to cower meekly in the corner desperately waiting for 29 March to come and go. That is not leadership. It is a total abdication of responsibility.

Freedom of movement is the greatest achievement that we have reached together in the European Union, and it is the single greatest reason why we must remain members. Programmes such as Erasmus allow for an unprecedented exchange of ideas between the students who populate Europe’s rich universities. Millions of people from the UK’s constituent nations, including many Scots, choose to retire to quiet lives on the Mediterranean and millions of others travel across the continent, taking in Europe’s vast cultural heritage. Others have built careers abroad in every conceivable field, allowing us to advance every aspect of our shared society.

Just before the withdrawal agreement, I made a call on social media for people to tell me their stories and experiences of freedom of movement. During the withdrawal agreement debate, I raised the story of Ivan and his family. Ivan was born in Spain, studied in Italy and has worked all over Scotland in Scotland’s NHS. He met his Irish wife, who then went on to work in Denmark. They have had two daughters born in Scotland—one with an Irish passport and one with a Spanish passport, but both indisputably Scottish.

I have other constituents with similar experiences. My constituent Emma Hendrie is a 21-year-old student who studied for a semester at Ghent University in Belgium. Once her fellow students got past her apparently strong Paisley accent, she became lifelong friend with people from Europe and beyond. Alison Hughes lived in the Netherlands on two different occasions, which was a great experience for her children and her family, who got to meet other children from all over the world. Mark Harold emigrated to Lithuania in 2005 to work on music projects, and stayed for many years. Mark was eventually elected to the city council and is now the night mayor of Vilnius; he is the only non-citizen to have sworn on the Lithuanian constitution. Sandra and Steve Murray wrote to me to tell me their story of making a new home in a small village on the French-Spanish border that is populated by Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Belgian, English, Irish and Swedish people, as well as people from many other nations. Their only wish was that the UK would adopt the Scottish view that we all want the same things—peace, equality and opportunity.

This is what we are about to lose. How can we in this place rip this from our young people, who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU? How can we rip Scotland out of the free movement area when the Scottish people overwhelmingly voted to continue to have this freedom? My message today is this: I understand that millions of people across England are disillusioned with politics and are yearning for something better, and I am sorry that there is no major party that can help them at this point. I do not blame them for their anger; I am often angry about the situation myself.