Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder


Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 8th January 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 6:15 pm, 8th January 2020

Absolutely. My hon. Friend’s constituent Paul has made a fair point. Brexit should not be about the narrow nationalism of the European research Group and inward-looking “little Britain” attitudes. My new clause suggests a way of expressing a more outward-looking view of the future relationship. I am sure that when the Bill goes to the other place, the Government will be able to table an amendment to that effect. However, I want to stay in order, so I shall now speak in favour of new clause 8, tabled by my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford, and new clauses 50 and 51 and new schedule 1, tabled by my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry.

I will not detain the House for too long, but will confine my remarks to amendments relating specifically to membership of the single market and the customs union and, subsequently, those relating to workers’ rights. First, however, let me say that it is important to reflect on the new reality of where we are following the general election. Like it or not, the Conservatives must accept that their Brexit message failed in Scotland. They lost more than half their seats, and the SNP now holds 80% of the Scottish seats in the House; but, in the most undemocratic manner possible, the Tories are choosing to ignore Scottish voters by pressing ahead with their hard Brexit plans. To put it simply, we are being dictated to by a minority party in Scotland. During the election campaign, one of the Prime Minister’s more bizarre media stunts saw him drive a JCB digger through a polystyrene wall to deliver his “Get Brexit Done” message. It is now very clear that that wall represents Scotland, and that this Tory Government intend to forge ahead with their “Bulldozer Brexit”.

Like so many people in Scotland, I distinctly remember leaflets being delivered during the Scottish independence referendum campaign, imploring people to accept that a No vote was a vote to protect our rights as EU citizens and to maintain our membership of the European Union. Understandably—although it was not how I voted—many of our fellow citizens voted No in good faith, believing that that truly was the best way of protecting our EU membership. Five years on, having voted to stay in the United Kingdom, the people of Scotland now face the harsh and sad reality of our country being dragged out of the European Union by a British Government we did not vote for and by an intransigent Prime Minister who has no mandate from Scotland for this utterly reckless move.

Early on, following the Brexit result, the Scottish Government sought to compromise with the British Government to ensure that if Brexit were to be pursued, it would be done in such a way that would cause as little economic damage as possible for our nation and its people. For those of us who closely followed the consequences of the 2014 referendum, an expectation of compromise and respect was perhaps not an unrealistic ask. We were promised that, if we voted no in 2014, Scotland would not just be treated equally and with respect; we were told that we would lead the United Kingdom. When the First Minister of Scotland outlined the compromise position that would see Scotland remain in the single market and customs union, many people thought, somewhat naively, that this would be considered in good faith by the British Government.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West has already referred to the document “Scotland’s Place in Europe” from 2016. We asked for that compromise to be considered with goodwill, but it was not. We were told that it was impossible. So imagine our surprise when this Prime Minister came to power and negotiated an amendment to the withdrawal agreement that gives Northern Ireland unfettered access to the single market and customs union, unquestionably putting Scotland at a competitive economic disadvantage. What we see in its starkest terms is an unequal and broken United Kingdom, with Scotland being left out in the cold. Every nation in the UK other than Scotland gets compromise or what it voted for: Northern Ireland, which voted to remain, gets access to the single market and the customs union; England, which voted for Brexit, gets Brexit; Wales, which voted for Brexit, gets Brexit; but Scotland, which voted to remain, gets economically trashed and utterly ignored.

New clause 8 is a last-ditch attempt from the SNP to make the British Government see sense and protect Scotland from the inevitable job losses after leaving the single market and customs union. The cost of leaving the single market and customs union is just too high to contemplate for Scotland. Put simply, it means up to 100,000 jobs being lost, including thousands in my own fragile constituency of Glasgow East, so I implore hon. Members on the Government Benches—particularly those from Scotland who claim to come here to stand up for Scotland—to support new clause 8. I am looking around the Chamber but I cannot actually see any Conservative Members from Scotland, but perhaps that will be no surprise.

I wish to turn now to new clause 51, which seeks to protect workers’ rights. Quite simply, the British Conservative Government cannot be trusted with workers’ rights. Let us never forget that theirs was the Government that brought forward the draconian anti-trade union legislation. Trusting the Tories with workers’ rights is akin to putting a lion in charge of an abattoir. We already know what they think: it is on public record. Take for example the current Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab. He has been attacking workers’ rights ever since he became an MP in 2010. Nine years ago, he wrote a research paper calling for

“a total opt-out from the working time directive”.

Even though the working time directive ensures that millions of workers have the right to paid holidays, time off work and guaranteed lunch and rest breaks, the current Foreign Secretary singled it out as one of 10 obstacles to British business. His paper, entitled “Escaping the Strait Jacket”, also urged the UK Government to ensure that this

“costly anti-jobs legislation cannot cause further damage to the economy”.