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European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:24 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Gethins Stephen Gethins Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 7:24 pm, 25th March 2019

The hon. Lady makes a very powerful point about the way that millions protested peacefully on Saturday. I am delighted that our First Minister joined them, as did the leader of the Liberal Democrats, colleagues in the Labour party and even some Conservative colleagues. They were right to have done so.

The Prime Minister is effectively out of power, and we need to move on. Her deal has been rejected twice, overwhelmingly, which means that it becomes more and more pointless to debate it with every passing hour. The Opposition spokesperson was right to point that out. The House of Commons must seize control of this process tonight so that we can hold those indicative votes and start—start—to find a way out of this mess. We know from the UK Government’s own warnings that her deal is not in the best interests of anybody in the UK, and we know that no deal is not in anybody’s best interests either. This Parliament has come together and comprehensively rejected both her deal and no deal. Having wasted almost three years, the Government have run out of options and run out of ideas, and we need to step up.

Where we are today is not a farce: it is a tragedy, and a tragedy that is taking us all down with it. I assure colleagues that, as somebody who fundamentally wants Scotland to be an independent state, it really gives me no pleasure when I speak to colleagues overseas and find that the UK’s international reputation is broken. That hurts us all. When I was working in the European institutions, I saw that overall in the EU, the UK could be a real force for good. Although I did not always agree with everything that it did, I acknowledge many of the positive contributions made by UK citizens to the EU project. It is right that we all acknowledge that.

What was more striking, however, was the way in which the UK and Ireland worked as the closest possible allies and partners in the European Union. For the first time in that troubled history, there was truly a working as a partnership of equals alongside other European states. Now—again, this gives me no pleasure, nor, I suspect, the Irish either—the boot that has historically been on the foot of the UK is now on the other foot. As Robert Cooper wrote in the Financial Times:

“The smallest insiders (Dublin in the case of Brexit) matter more than the biggest outsider (us).”

That tells us everything about solidarity in the workings of the European Union. Yet even on this, the Irish do not crow but have been honest brokers. The best friends any of us can have are our most critical friends—the ones who tell us the truth when we want to see it the least. I have heard, when these matters of truth have come out, Brexiteers getting enraged and annoyed at the truth that people dare speak from Dublin.

Let me remind all Members that Ireland is independent and is not coming back—and it is not difficult to see why. Independent states thrive in the European Union. That is a means of strengthening democracy and sovereignty. The EU is a partnership of equals in a way that the UK simply is not. I want to see Scotland as a full and independent member state of the EU. That would be healthier in our relationship as a modern outward-looking nation in the same way that it has been healthy for the Anglo-Irish relationship.

Here in the UK, people are seeing through this mess. At the weekend, as we have heard, hundreds of thousands of people from the length and breadth of the UK marched for our collective future. Since then, at the last look, the revocation of article 50 petition has been signed by 5.5 million people, including 17% of the electorate in my own constituency—and that is not even the highest figure in Scotland. Millions of people can see what this Government cannot. What this Government clearly cannot see, but these people can, is that when you are careering towards the cliffs you slam on the brakes—that is what they are there for. Let us not forget that Parliament has that power, as was recognised by the courts, because the UK Parliament throughout this has retained, and always will retain in these circumstances, sovereignty in a way that the Scottish Parliament does not. Spot the difference, everybody: the UK Parliament, as a member of the EU, retains sovereignty; the Scottish Parliament, as this process has shown us, does not. This may provide a mechanism to stop doing untold damage to those we all represent.