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Britain's Place in the World

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords) 6:00 pm, 15th October 2019

I suppose, like many other hon. Members, I approach this debate by asking: “What are the implications and consequences of these proposals for the people who elected me and sent me to this place to speak for them?”

This Queen’s Speech is a mixed bag of 26 Bills; some of them will not apply to the people I represent or to Scotland, and for that I am eternally grateful. The Government in England may want to go on trying to break records in terms of the proportion of its population that they can put behind bars, and locking up more people for longer, but in Scotland we will be free to pursue policies that tackle the reasons behind crime and build social cohesion, and to have the policy aspiration, at least, of reducing our prison population.

Other proposals are probably well-meaning. No doubt laudable action is proposed on the environment, but I expect that by the time we get to see those actions—if we do—we will find that they are woefully inadequate to confront the challenge they are trying to meet. Then there are other proposals in this Queen’s Speech that are downright bad for the people I represent. The immigration Bill will remove freedom of movement; the trade Bill will take Scottish consumers and businesses out of the single market. Both those things represent an existential threat to the future of my country.

But then I consider: “What does it really matter?”, because this is entirely a charade. We know that this is a Government 40 MPs short of a majority. We know that none of this is going to pass, or come to pass, certainly in this Session of Parliament. It makes me wonder why we are engaged in this charade for six days, sitting here discussing proposals that will never happen. Of course, the truth is that the Government want to keep us occupied here, because the last thing they want to discuss is what they are talking to Brussels about at this point in time.

We also know that there is an attempt to abuse the parliamentary process and, indeed, to abuse the monarch of the country in trying to engage in what the Government hope will be a six-day party political broadcast. Well, good luck with that.

Today’s debate is about the role of Britain in the world, and many people have considered Britain’s standing in the world as part of that debate, so let me start with Brexit. I have heard a number of colleagues now say that there will be a problem if we do not, in the puerile language that we have now descended to, “get Brexit done” by 31 October; somehow, that will be a democratic outrage and it will compromise our ability to argue for democracy in other parts of the world.

Let us test that proposition. For it to be accurate, it would have to presume that there is an intention of this Parliament to overturn, negate or otherwise throw out the referendum of the British people in June 2016. I repeat for the umpteenth time that those who say that completely misunderstand the argument in this House. Nobody on the Scottish National party Benches and, as far as I have seen and witnessed in this House, nobody who is arguing about the dangers of Brexit has ever suggested that the referendum should be set aside and ignored by this Parliament. What has been argued is that the people who took that decision should be given the opportunity to reconsider and asked whether that is really what they want, knowing now what they did not know then—the terrible consequences of what that means.

We can look at this from the other end of the telescope, can we not? Imagine this: what does it do for our standing in the world to have a Government without a majority in Parliament or in the country pursuing a set of policies that, by their own admission, they know will impoverish the people they have sworn to protect and reduce the standing of the country in a global context? What does that do for our reputation, if a Government are prepared to do that without even consulting the very people in whose name they speak? Then we can look at the wider debate about Britain’s standing in the world.