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Interpretation

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 8th January 2020.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:45 pm, 8th January 2020

That is very much the experience of my Scottish Government colleagues across the board in this engagement with the British Government. In fact, in a recent keynote speech to the Institute for Government, my friend and colleague Mike Russell, the Cabinet Secretary for the constitution in the Scottish Government, said that

“at no point have the views of the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government or Northern Irish representatives been addressed” in a way that has led them to believe that they have been listened to and would be taken account of in any meaningful way. Still less has there been any recognition of any need to accommodate the pro-EU majority in Scotland and in Northern Ireland, nor of the position of Scottish MPs or, indeed, the Scottish Parliament, which normally votes by more than two thirds to one third on substantive Brexit issues. Indeed, just this afternoon as we have been debating here, the Scottish Parliament has voted by 92 votes to 29 to withhold legislative consent to this Bill. I am afraid that the Government cannot just blame the bête noire of the Scottish National party for that. It has involved all parties in the House—the Lib Dems, Labour and the Greens, but not the Scottish Conservatives, who are not interested in what the majority of people living in Scotland want. They are more interested in doing the bidding of their Westminster-based masters.

The point is this: there has been no meaningful engagement with the Scottish Government. There has been no meaningful engagement with the Welsh Government. As we heard even from the DUP, which has a genuine right to be annoyed about recent developments, there has been no meaningful engagement with Northern Irish representatives.

While we hear a lot of rhetoric again and again today about how the British people have spoken, the will of the people and a suggestion that the Opposition are somehow an affront to democracy for turning up and scrutinising this Bill, it is important to remember that, far from being an affront to democracy, my hon. Friends and I speak for majority opinion in Scotland—the majority opinion in Scotland is to remain in the European Union. Every electoral opportunity that has been afforded to Scotland since the EU referendum, including the last general election, has resulted in a resounding majority of seats for parties that support remaining in the European Union. So can we tone down a wee bit the rhetoric about the will of the British people and acknowledge the reality of the degree to which engagement has taken place?

Members need not just take my word for it or that of my colleagues in the SNP Scottish Government. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Commons concluded in July 2018:

“It is clear from the evidence to this inquiry that Whitehall still operates extensively on the basis of a structure and culture which take little account of the realities of devolution in the UK. This is inimical to the principles of devolution and good governance in UK.”

That was the conclusion of a cross-party Committee of this House. I do not expect any support from Government Members for the SNP’s new clause 8, but it gives me the opportunity to correct some factual misunderstandings about the degree of engagement that has taken place over the last few years.

Before I conclude, I would like to express my support for new clauses 45 and 46, tabled by my colleagues in the Social Democratic and Labour party. New clause 45 would require each devolved legislature to give legislative consent to any trade deal affecting the NHS. It is very similar to the SNP’s new clause 68, which was not selected for debate. The SNP manifesto in Scotland contained a commitment to protect the NHS from a trade deal with the United States of America. We won the election in Scotland with 45% of the vote and 80% of the seats, and it would perhaps be a courtesy to take on board an amendment that reflects the will of the majority of people who bothered to vote in Scotland.