I beg to move,
That this House
welcomes the European Union’s openness to extend the transition period for negotiations;
calls on the Government to immediately accept this offer and notes the Scottish Government’s publication of 3rd June entitled, “COVID-19: The Case for Extending the Brexit Transition Period”, warning of the damage a no deal would cause to the economy in addition to the cost of the covid-19 health crisis.
The Prime Minister, like all of us here, could not have foreseen the covid-19 pandemic when his Government initiated the process of leaving the European Union. 2020 has become a year like no other, and this Government must adapt and do what is right by their citizens. Our priority must be dealing with this health emergency and the consequent economic challenge; it is definitively not business as normal. That is why my Government in Edinburgh, under the stewardship of Nicola Sturgeon, has prioritised dealing with the crisis above all else. We are demanding that the UK Government do the same—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, it has started already. This is a serious subject, and what we get is laughing and guffawing from Andrew Bowie. He really should show some respect and grow up.
The SNP is calling on the Government immediately to extend the Brexit transition period while we navigate the unprecedented health and economic crisis we currently face. The European Union has expressed its ongoing openness to extending the transition period for negotiations, and the UK Government now need to accept that offer. The Government will claim that this opportunity ended at the end of June, but we are dealing with realpolitik here. We know that while we are still in the transition period this House can legislate for an extension and the European Union would recognise the mutual benefit. It simply requires political will and leadership.
The Scottish Government have set out their position in “COVID-19: The Case for Extending the Brexit Transition Period”, which sets out why it is vital, if we are to ensure the most rapid recovery possible from the covid-19 crisis, that the UK must immediately seek an extension to the Brexit transition period for two years. We are in unprecedented times: a health pandemic, an economic crisis, and the real threat of a second wave of covid-19 later this year. Now is the moment for the UK Government to recognise reality and to reconsider their position.
The United Kingdom is facing an unprecedented economic crisis. The Office for Budget Responsibility and the Bank of England have published various scenarios in which GDP falls by as much as 13% to 14% this year, which would be the largest decline in economic output in 300 years. By comparison, the most recent largest single-year fall in GDP was 4.2% on the back of the financial crisis in 2009. This overshadows anything that any of us we will ever face.
At least 1 million jobs have already gone, and many more will go when the Government end the furlough scheme, which is needed as a bridge to secure employment until recovery takes hold. Indeed, we know from the Office for Budget Responsibility that close to 2 million of those on the furlough scheme could face unemployment. Just dwell on that: the threat of unemployment in the UK could perhaps increase to as many as 4 million people. Just dwell on the human misery—the families struggling to make ends meet and pay their bills; a sharp rise in poverty, and the human cost of that for families and their children. That is why a stimulus package is required to build confidence and get folk back to work.
The right hon. Gentleman is outlining the stark realities that we currently face across the whole United Kingdom, and indeed the world. Because of that, is he grateful that Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, and that the broad shoulders of this Union are supporting Scotland, with more than £10 billion going from the UK Government to Scotland just during the covid pandemic?
I must say that I am disappointed in the hon. Gentleman, as I would expect more of him than that. I say to Conservative Members that we must ensure that we have the tools at our disposal in the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. I spoke about the importance of the furlough scheme, and we welcomed that. We will welcome Government measures that help to deal effectively with the challenge we face. There is a harsh reality, however, for our industries in Scotland, such as the tourism industry, which is important in my constituency and that of the hon. Gentleman, as well as many others.
Effectively, we are facing three winters, and there is a truncated summer season. Our tourist industry barely exists over the winter months, and the last thing we need is to find that the UK Government are kicking the legs away from our industry by ending the furlough scheme early. The challenge for every Conservative Member of Parliament from Scotland is to ensure that if the UK Government do not provide the necessary support for our businesses and our people, those powers have to reside in the Scottish Parliament. Will Scottish Tory MPs stand with us and ensure that the Scottish Parliament has the powers it needs to do its job and protect the people of Scotland? I think we know the answer.
The Chancellor said that the UK is suffering because of covid-19, in common with many other economies around the world. However, the UK economy is likely to suffer worse damage from this crisis than any other country in the developed world. According to the OECD, a slump in the UK’s national income of 11.5% during 2020 will outstrip falls in France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the US. With the continued risk of a second wave hitting the economy and our communities in winter, the idea of the UK leaving the European Union at the same time is economic madness.
The outlook is bleak—there is no other way to look at it—and things are about to get much worse, unless the Government end their refusal to extend the Brexit transition period. Refusing to do so is the ultimate act of self-harm. With businesses fighting for survival, a bad deal or no deal will burden businesses with additional costs and red tape. Yesterday, the Financial Times told us that UK Government officials had indicated that a potential additional 215 million customer declarations will be required, at a cost of up to £7 billion. Businesses are fighting for survival, and the UK Government want to send them a bill for £7 billion. I wonder if the Prime Minister will put that on the side of a bus. That is not taking back control; that is self-induced madness.
We can stop this now. We can recognise that this is a price that we cannot pay in the middle of a health and an economic crisis. All it requires is political will. All it requires is leadership.
Is it not the case that the injudicious dropping of a crisp packet would be enough for the Scottish National party to be asking for the extension of the implementation period or the scrapping of the whole project altogether? Might I remind the SNP—I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has the figures—that more people voted for Brexit in Scotland than have ever voted for the SNP?
Really? Is that the best that Thanet can send to the House of Commons? Heaven help them. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that we were told that if we stayed in the United Kingdom in 2014, Scotland would be respected and that we were to lead the UK. The question for him and for his Government is: why did they not respect the fact that Scotland voted to stay in the EU, with 62% of those living in Scotland voting to do so? At every opportunity in the past few years, the Conservatives, as they have been in every year since 1955, have been thoroughly rejected by the people of Scotland, and it is no wonder. We stood on a platform in the election in December about Scotland’s right to choose. The Tories said, “Say no to devolution. Say no to independence.” How did that go down? They lost more than half their seats and we increased our representation from 35 to 48. I think he has had his answer.
I hope it is a point of order.
We do not both need to stand at the same time—it is easier if you sit down. As a person who is very good with red cards, you should be aware of what we need to do to keep good order. That is a point of clarification and I am sure you will want to save some of that for when you speak later.
Mr Speaker, to use football parlance, I think the hon. Gentleman is offside and the Tory party regularly gets a red card from the people of Scotland. The Tories have shown themselves hostile to devolution since time immemorial; a leopard does not change its spots.
Why are this Government intent on this hammer blow hitting the UK economy when we are already in dire straits? We need to create the circumstances for recovery, not make a bad situation even worse. Instead, this UK Government want to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on border infrastructure to prepare for Brexit. Any rational person—I know that not many of those exist on the Tory Benches—would point out the lunacy of such tomfoolery, but of course this is driven by the ideology of those who want to “take back control” whatever the cost, whatever the impact on jobs, whatever the impact on communities, and conveniently blame it on covid-19, rather than admit the reality that it has been self-induced as a result of dogma. This is economic self-harm brought on by the UK Government, cheered on by Dominic Cummings as he holds the reins of power in Downing Street—well, not in our name.
We know that the UK is not even ready for leaving the EU at the end of December. The Government’s own International Trade Secretary has warned of possible legal challenges from the World Trade Organisation; increased smuggling from the EU if not all UK ports are ready to carry out checks; concerns about the protocol if EU tariffs are applied to all goods heading for Northern Ireland by default; and the undermining of the UK’s international trade policy. The NAO said that the Tory Government’s 2019 £100 million Get Ready for Brexit campaign was ineffective and made no clear difference—another monumental waste of scarce resources. Can the Minister, when she rises to respond, tell us how much money will be wasted on the new Let’s Get Going campaign?
Then there is the issue of lost EU funding—something that has been so critical for Scotland for so many decades. “Not to worry”, we are told, “The UK will step in with a shared prosperity fund”. Where is it? Where is the shared prosperity fund? There has been no detailed information from the UK Government on how the fund will operate. Can the Minister update us?
The European Commission’s Brexit preparedness publication also makes for grim reading. Certificates of authorisations will no longer be valid for placing products in EU markets. Products certified by UK-based bodies will no longer automatically be allowed into the EU. All service firms will lose access to the single market unless equivalence arrangements are in place to ensure that standards are the same in the UK and the EU. The visa exemption for UK nationals does not provide for the right to work in the EU and is subject to the reciprocity mechanism applying to third countries. It could be suspended if EU citizens ceased to be given visa-free access to the United Kingdom for short stays: the right to work and travel freely in the EU—rights we have enjoyed for more than 47 years—ripped up, opportunities cut off, hopes shattered, dreams crushed, and for what?
Experts and industry figures have been clear: businesses will not be ready for the end of the transition period at the end of this year. More than 100 UK company chiefs, entrepreneurs and business groups have written to the Prime Minister saying that businesses simply do not have the time or capacity to prepare for big changes in trading rules by the end of the year, especially given that we are already grappling with the upheaval caused by coronavirus. They can see that, we can see that; the only people who cannot are the Government Front Bench and their cheerleaders on the Back Benches.
I could read out statistics from all sorts of business organisations that are, quite frankly, scared stiff about what ending the transition will mean.
A survey by the Institute of Directors tells us that three out of four business leaders believe that their organisation is not ready for the end of the transition period and that one in seven says that dealing with the pandemic has taken up bandwidth that would have been devoted to preparing for Brexit. The Institute for Government says that in normal circumstances meeting
Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, said:
“We are within six months of Brexit and we still do not know what the future holds for us.”
That is the uncertainty that businesses are facing. For many businesses that manage to survive the coronavirus crisis, this second, Brexit shock would hit them at their weakest and could be the final straw that puts them out of business—more jobs lost, more households in desperate situations, and all because of the intransigence of the Tory Government.
It does not have to be like this. We on the SNP Benches welcome the EU’s openness to extending the transition period for negotiations. Six political parties from every nation of the United Kingdom wrote to Michel Barnier calling for the UK and the EU to agree a two-year extension. In a letter to me, representing the SNP, along with the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Green party and the Alliance party, the EU’s chief negotiator confirmed:
“an extension of up to one or two years can be agreed jointly by the two parties. The European Union has always said that we remain open on this matter.”
Mr Barnier said that any extension decision should have been taken by the Joint Committee “before
All the while, EU leaders have highlighted the lack of progress in negotiations. Angela Merkel recently said:
“To put it mildly, progress in the negotiations has been very limited. I will continue to press for a good solution. But we in the EU and also in Germany must and should prepare for the event that an agreement is not reached after all.”
That should deeply worry all of us.
There is still time to change course. The Institute for Government has made it clear that there are mechanisms for an extension. It cites four legal options for extending the transition period: amend the end date of the transition period in the withdrawal agreement; create a new transition period to begin on
The Scottish Government have set out the evidence to back up the arguments for an extension to the transition. Their analysis has revealed that ending the transition period in 2020 could remove £3 billion from the Scottish economy in just two years—£3 billion in just two years. Are our colleagues from Scottish Tory constituencies prepared to sit back and see that self-harm take place against their constituents, or for once, are they going to stand up for us, stand up with us and stand up for Scotland?
The Scottish Government’s analysis revealed that ending the transition period will be calamitous—a £3 billion hit to Scotland made in Westminster and delivered by this Prime Minister and his Government. A no-deal Brexit scenario has greater economic implications and could see the economy 8.5% smaller by 2030 compared with the scenario of continued EU membership. That is the price that Scotland will have to pay if we stay in the Union of the United Kingdom. Those are eye-watering numbers, but behind the statistics is the human cost: unemployment, hardship, poverty—Scotland paying the price for Tory dogma.
I take no pleasure in saying that UK relations with the Scottish Government are worse than ever under this Prime Minister’s leadership. We have been increasingly concerned at the lack of any meaningful consultation with the Scottish Government and other devolved nations on the Brexit talks and at the growing threat of a Tory power grab in devolved areas, including agriculture and food standards—all for a Brexit fantasy that Scotland never gave its consent to and that is now being used as a power grab from the Scottish Parliament, and for a future that we never voted for.
It is worth reminding folk in Scotland of the promises that were made in 2014 during the independence campaign. If we stayed in the UK, we would be staying in Europe. Well, we stayed in the UK, and we have been taken out against our will. All the way through this process, the Scottish Government have sought to achieve a compromise to best protect jobs. [Interruption.] We talk about compromise, and the Tory MPs laugh at Scotland. That is the way that Scotland is treated by the Tories in this House. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. Carry on, because people in Scotland will be listening.
We have said that staying in the single market and the customs union is the least worst option for jobs and our communities. At every turn, we have been shut out, shouted down and disregarded. It is little wonder that so many who voted to stay in the UK in 2014 now recognise the UK they voted to remain in no longer exists. It is little wonder that poll after poll shows a majority for independence. So many see our future as an independent country in Europe—an outward-looking Scotland, working constructively with others—and see this as a choice of a progressive future with independence, or one of staying with an increasingly inward-looking UK. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, David Duguid keeps chuntering away from a sedentary position. If he wants to say something, I will allow him to get in. [Interruption.] Well, perhaps he would not continue to shout and chunter; it is most disrespectful to everybody, including his own constituents.
My right hon. Friend speaks about the polling, which shows that we are only going in one direction as support for independence has gone up. Does my right hon. Friend agree with my analysis that the UK Government are clearly carrying out polling on a regular basis—we know that the Cabinet Office is carrying out that polling—and does he, like me, want to see the UK Government publish the polling analysis that is being paid for by taxpayers, which will show that support for Scottish independence is on the rise?
Indeed, let us have transparency. Let us have some openness. The UK Government should indeed publish that information.
Where does power lie today in the United Kingdom? The Prime Minister has invested political and Executive oversight in an unelected adviser, Dominic Cummings. We know that a Green Paper is to be published tomorrow, ahead of a joint ministerial meeting with the devolved Governments, that is nothing more than a blatant power grab under the guise of the establishment of a UK internal market. When this Tory Government said they wanted to take back control, they did not mean just from Brussels; they meant from Edinburgh, they meant from Cardiff and they meant from Belfast. This Tory Government’s contempt for devolution has always been known. They fought against devolution in 1997, and they lost.
Of course, the covid crisis has seen the Scottish Government give effective leadership to the people who live in Scotland. The success of that leadership is reflected in the high standing of our First Minister not just with the public in Scotland, but elsewhere—[Interruption.] Again, I hear the laughing and the chuntering. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and his team have dithered and given out mixed messages. Rather than recognise and applaud the success of the Scottish Government, the Tories want to attack them. The Tories cannot come to terms with our Scottish Government providing effective leadership, so they want to constrain our Parliament—that is the reality—and not just our Parliament, but the Parliaments in Wales and in Northern Ireland.
I am grateful that the Welsh First Minister is standing shoulder to shoulder with us, and I am asking our colleagues in the Labour party—
Where are they, indeed. Members should not worry, because the SNP will provide an effective Opposition.
I am respectfully asking my friends in the Labour party who are present to stand with us. We went through the Lobby together to establish devolution, and devolution is now under attack from this Tory Government. There is a question to be asked of the Labour party: will they stand with us? [Interruption.] It would be helpful if they would turn up, but I hope when it comes to votes —and there is going to be a fight over the coming months—that we stand shoulder to shoulder against this attack on devolution in Scotland, in Wales and in Northern Ireland.
What is now taking place is nothing more than an undignified attempt to neuter the Scottish Parliament. Let me put the Tories on notice that we will stand up for the sovereign rights of our Parliament enshrined by the referendum result and by the establishment of our Parliament. Let me remind the Tories: our Parliament was established by overwhelming numbers in 1997. It belongs to the people of Scotland.
“Not the SNP!” Do I really have to take that? I know the hon. Member represents an English seat and perhaps he does not pay much attention, but if he looks at every one of the results of elections to the Scottish Parliament since 2007 and to Westminster since 2015, as well as the European results, he will see that the people of Scotland have put their trust in the SNP to defend them from the kind of attacks that we have from the Tory Benches. [Interruption.] I hear, “What about a referendum?” so let me say this. We went to the people of Scotland last December and we stood on the principle of Scotland’s right to choose. We got 45% of the vote. There is a bigger gap between us and the Tories than there is between the Tories and Labour in the United Kingdom. We won that election, by any definition. The people of Scotland elected us in 48 of the 59 constituencies. There are six Tories from Scotland. We won that election. I accept that the Conservatives won the election in the UK, but that means that it is incumbent on the Conservatives to recognise that the SNP won in Scotland.
“No, it’s not”—well, there we are: democracy Tory-style. The Tories think that they can simply ignore the people of Scotland. I say to them: carry on, because people are saying now that support for the SNP and support for independence is rising, and you will not stop the people of Scotland determining our own future. It is ours to choose and we will not be stopped by any Tory Government.
I am going to make some progress.
A Scottish Government assessment of the proposal that is coming tomorrow shows that successful pioneering policies such as minimum unit pricing for alcohol, our no tuition fees policy and the smoking ban would face the unelected body that the Conservatives now want to put in place. The proposed establishment of an unelected external body to determine whether a Bill in the Scottish Parliament has met a new test is outrageous. It is completely undemocratic and will not be accepted. Westminster, under these plans, will have the power to block the legislative process in Scotland under the guise of this new body, so that Scotland’s elected representatives could not decide what is best for Scotland. The internal market plan would also require standards in one part of the UK to be automatically accepted in others. This would be a serious threat to Scotland’s high food standards.
Any forthcoming legislation on these plans needs the consent of the Scottish Parliament. The decisions of the Scottish Parliament must be respected. Will the Minister confirm that Westminster will recognise the importance of consent from the Scottish Parliament, and accept that if consent is not granted the legislation cannot be passed? That is the historical position.
The internal market plan also suggests that the UK Government will include state aid in their power grab. The Scottish and Welsh Governments have been clear that state aid policy should be devolved under current legislation. They want to stay closely aligned with the EU state aid rules. Legal experts have noted that Westminster’s decision to legislate to make state aid policy a reserved power was an implicit recognition that the UK Government were not confident of winning the argument in court. We already know that this Tory Government will do what they want to Scotland with regard to state aid if they get their way on this. Of course, the Tories have form. In 1992, John Major’s Government diverted cash from the highlands to try to boost dwindling Conservative support in south-east England.
Let us be clear: the UK faces a constitutional crisis. Scotland continues to be completely ignored by Westminster and Westminster has proved itself to be utterly incapable of acting in Scotland’s interests. With the exception of the Scottish Tories, who have completely isolated themselves, the Scottish Parliament is united against the moves to erode Scotland’s devolved settlement. All the Opposition parties, as well as the SNP in government, recognise this threat to devolution coming from the Tories. The Scottish Tories remain tin-eared. The UK Government must recognise that Scotland has a choice: we either accept the downgrading of our Parliament or we choose to become an independent country. Let me appeal to those who live in Scotland to join the momentum. There is another way: we can stop the power grab, we can defend our interests, and we can finish our journey to independence.
People want an extension, and in Scotland people have a right to an extension. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union. A new poll has put support for Scottish independence at 54%, and that is the second Panelbase poll to show such figures in recent weeks. This marks the highest level of support for the SNP and independence ever, in any poll of its kind. The recent polling on independence shows the unstoppable power of people choosing their own future.
Since the Westminster election of 2019, a majority of polls have shown support for independence in the lead. Commenting on the findings, Professor John Curtice said:
“Never before have the foundations of public support for the Union looked so weak.”
He explained that
“the past three months have exemplified how Scotland could govern itself better as an independent, small country”.
Even a casual observer could draw that conclusion, based on how the Scottish Government led by Nicola Sturgeon have dealt with the covid-19 crisis compared with this UK Government. Indeed, Nicola Sturgeon scores more highly with English voters than the Prime Minister does—[Laughter.] Conservative Members think the fact that the Prime Minister is unpopular, certainly in Scotland, is funny. We do not think it is funny; we think it is something much worse than that. It is now impossible for the UK Government to deny Scotland a choice over its future .The Prime Minister may be the best recruiting tool for Scottish independence since Margaret Thatcher.
The cost of leaving the EU and managing a health crisis simultaneously is unacceptable, particularly when we could be facing a covid second wave in the winter. If the Prime Minister and the Tories fail to seek an extension, if they push ahead with their power grab, and if they continue to impose a future on Scotland that we never voted for, the choice will be clear. The only way to protect Scotland’s economy and our place at the heart of Europe is to become an independent country, and that day is coming. We can provide our road map to independence. We will have our say. Scotland will become an independent country.
It is a pleasure to respond to this Opposition day debate, not least because it affords me the opportunity to pay tribute to UK and, in particular, Scottish businesses, which have been so resilient and creative during these unprecedented times. It is not just that we want the economy to recover and that we want to beat coronavirus; it is that we can only defeat coronavirus, and whatever might follow it, if the economy recovers. Without businesses and the tax revenue that they generate, we will not have an NHS or a care system, or room for manoeuvre at the Treasury. I want to thank all those businesses for what they have endured and for all the efforts they are taking to keep going. I am sure the whole House would agree with that.
One moment, please. I should also like to genuinely and sincerely congratulate Ian Blackford and his party on having a policy on the transition period, which is more than the official Opposition have managed to do to date.
In the time I have, I want to touch on some of the very understandable issues that concern hard-pressed businesses about next year and about how the Government are helping to mitigate the economic effects of coronavirus and to prepare for when we will take back control of our borders and leave the single market and the customs union. These will bring significant changes, and also opportunities, for which we all need to prepare, which is why we have already undertaken a series of measures to help businesses and individuals to get ready for the end of the transition period, whatever the circumstances are.
Before I do that, however, I want to put this debate in context. I wonder what the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber thinks the odds are of the Government extending the transition period. How likely does he think it is that we would do that, given that its end date is enshrined in law; given that the Government of the UK were elected on a mandate not to extend the transition period; given that the deadline for asking for an extension to the transition period has passed; given that doing so would simply prolong the negotiations and bring uncertainty for our businesses; given that it would hinder our economic recovery; given that an extension would see us paying more to the EU, which is not a good idea; given that we would have to back EU laws and decisions that we had no say in designing, which is an even worse idea; and given that the legislative and economic flexibility that we need to respond to coronavirus would not be possible? What are the chances of the Government doing that? What are the chances of this Opposition day debate succeeding or having any influence? I suggest none.
The Government have been very clear multiple times that we will not extend the transition period. Some might argue that it is not only undesirable to do so but now impossible, so why are we having an Opposition day debate on this issue, on this particular topic, and not on, say, rewards for health and care staff, not on investment in Scottish infrastructure, and not on food standards or Scottish farmers, which my hon. Friend John Lamont debated recently? Why are we having this debate in a week when key negotiations are ramping up and David Frost is going into bat for Scotland’s interests—[Laughter.] I am sure that Scottish fishermen do not appreciate Members laughing. Why not have a debate on issues that might strengthen his hand in negotiation? Why not hold a debate on fishing or, indeed, on any practical or tangible issues that Scottish MPs on these Benches have been talking about at every single opportunity they have been given to stand up for their constituents. Why pick this issue? Why pick the issue of the transition period? Sadly, it is because the purpose of this debate is not to influence or secure change, or even to suggest any further practical measures that could help business. There was no mention in the right hon. Gentleman’s speech of the phased approach, the Goods Vehicle Movement Service, or Treasury schemes. No, this Opposition day debate is designed to do what Scottish nationalists always try to do, which is, sadly, to further divide, to sow seeds of doubt, to undermine confidence and to highlight differences right at the moment when everyone should be pulling and working together. Stirring up division is clearly something that SNP Members enjoy, and I have never understood those motivations in politics. Even if that is what floats your boat, to do it now, when we should be maximising the benefits and focusing on those benefits for the whole of the United Kingdom and for the sake of all our citizens, is truly amazing. It shows, sadly, that SNP Members, and anyone else supporting them today, will have learned nothing from the past few years.
The sizeable majority that this Government enjoy is, in very great part, down to the fact that the people of this country want to move forward. They want to look to the future, not unpick the past, and they respect democracy. This Opposition day debate is simply an attempt to undermine and prevent an instruction given to this Government by the people of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues wish to return to division, to chaos, to paralysis, which is what pushing out the deadline for negotiations would do. The motion does not focus on anything practical in the report. That is not surprising really as that report was written prior to the announcement on the phased border and the border operating model. None the less, it is the SNP’s debate today, so, despite the fact that events and people have moved on, I will focus on the issues that those Members have raised.
I thank the Minister for giving way and ending her lecture, telling us what we should be thinking about. If we are talking about division, a lot is predicated on what she said about control of our borders, ending free movement and controlling immigration. Earlier she talked about business resilience. Can she tell me how ending free movement will help businesses, how it will help the fruit and vegetable growers who already cannot get people to do their work? Can she explain what good that will do for the economy and what it will do for food exports, when we have a reliance on EU vets?
I have been through the detail of the report mentioned in the motion and looked at each sector that it focuses on and mentions. We have not just brought through schemes that help to support business and to mitigate the changes that are going to have to be brought in. The Treasury has also introduced schemes in the wake of coronavirus, and I will come on to that. However, I want to address—
Bear with me.
I want to address the issues the report raises, because the reasons why we are having this debate are illuminating. The report proposes a two-year delay to our timetable and claims that not having one would reduce Scotland’s GDP. The version of the report I have seen says that that will be by £1.8 billion, but the hon. Gentleman refers to £3 billion—a figure that many dispute. However, some say that the cost to UK GDP of a delay would be around 2%.
There are a number of interesting graphs to support the right hon. Gentleman’s points, but I would ask any SNP Member present to add an additional line—one illustrating the hit to Scottish GDP from the break-up of the United Kingdom. Pre Brexit, the Scottish Economic Association put the cost of Scottish independence at 5.5% of Scottish GDP, stating that that would be even greater after Brexit. So why does £1.8 billion or £3 billion matter, when £5.5 billion does not?
The right hon. Gentleman cannot wring his hands about the 144,000 jobs contingent on exports from Scotland—jobs that we are determined to protect—while discounting the 545,000 jobs reliant on trade with the United Kingdom. He cannot claim to mourn the end of EU funding mechanisms that bring benefits to Scottish citizens—and that will be replaced, I might add—and at the same time discount the very real United Kingdom dividend to the taxpayers of Scotland of about £2,000 per household. He cannot complain about the results of negotiations, on the grounds that he thinks he has not been consulted, and at the same time advocate extending a transition period that would make us subject to EU laws, schemes and decisions over which he has had no say whatever. He cannot claim to use economic forecasts to make one argument, but disregard them for another. And he cannot claim to be a democrat, while ignoring the results of votes.
This debate is simply about creating conflict and division, just as the right hon. Gentleman’s press release today is. He has not seen the details of the proposal he alluded to at Prime Minister’s questions earlier, but he does not need to, because the facts are irrelevant to his case, as were many of the things he said in his speech about these proposals.
I want to turn to the substance of what we are doing to support business, because, after all, that is what matters. There will be significant changes and opportunities ahead, and we will help businesses and citizens to manage the necessary adjustments in a very practical and flexible way in order to minimise the challenges and maximise the opportunities. None of those schemes did the right hon. Gentleman mention.
In the withdrawal agreement struck by the Prime Minister, we removed several significant uncertainties that were a feature of our contingency planning ahead of
While we have already made good progress in getting ready for the end of the year, there is still more to do. There are actions that we would strongly encourage businesses and citizens to take now to ensure we are ready to hit the ground running as a fully independent United Kingdom. That is why, earlier this week, we launched a new, major campaign to communicate the steps that we must all take to prepare for the end of the transition period.
I thank the Minister for eventually giving way. She asked many times why we have brought this debate today. Let me just pick out one sector and give her another 1.8. Scotland’s quality food sector exports £1.8 billion of food per year, 70% of which goes to the EU. My question to the Minister is, how many businesses in Scotland has she spoken to about the effects on them, because that, in just one sector, is why we are bringing this debate?
When I came into office I spent a considerable amount of time working with the central office of information and all Government Departments to improve our communications with business. An enormous number of meetings and forums take place not just with me and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster but with every single Department across Whitehall. Our officials continue to have those discussions and consultations, as do Ministers.
I would say to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, who mentioned one or two sectors: you have not spoken about any of the Government schemes. You have not spoken about the phased approach. You have not spoken about free services that are available from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and how they can be improved. You have not called for any of that.
The right hon. Gentleman began the debate calling for leadership and for the Government to adapt. Indeed, the past few months have been an inflection point for nations and individuals. I call on the SNP to adapt: try co-operation; try finding some common ground for the sake of all our businesses and citizens. I would say that to you at any time but now more than ever, against the backdrop of this unprecedented time that we face.
The Minister talks about the need for the SNP and the Scottish Government to compromise. She is in the Cabinet Office and will be aware of the document, “Scotland’s place in Europe”. Can she name any part of that document, which contains a raft of proposals and compromises from the SNP on the single market and the customs union? On which of those would the United Kingdom Government compromise?
There are many things that I could talk about, but one of the first meetings I held was to put together our negotiating position: we listened carefully to all the devolved Administrations on some of their concerns, particularly on programmes, and we changed our negotiating mandate accordingly. We do listen, and I have taken great pains. I gently point out—I am not going to repeat the vast number of meetings I have had, as I have done that frequently at the Dispatch Box—that as someone who has, in quite difficult circumstances, made sure that I could attend every single meeting that I had planned with the devolved Administrations and the Scottish Government, as I am happy to do, I was stood up by the Scottish Minister. I have shown up for every meeting—the Scottish Minister has not shown up for every meeting.
To conclude, I call on the SNP to adapt—to find common ground—for the sake of all our citizens and businesses, because that is what leadership looks like, and it is what Scotland deserves.
Order. Before I call the spokesman for the official Opposition, many people in the Chamber are making the serious mistake of calling other people “you”—even the Minister, whom I have never heard make such a mistake before today. I am anxious that people who are new to the House and have not really seen the Chamber operating properly should not be led astray by those who should know better. Throughout Prime Minister’s questions today, people called the Prime Minister “you”. In the Chamber, “you” means the Chair. One addresses other Members as “the hon. Gentleman”, “the hon. Lady” or something else, but not “you”. [Interruption.] Quite. I call Paul Blomfield.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am just reflecting on “something else”.
I am pleased to be able to respond to the debate and remind the House that when we debated the withdrawal agreement Bill in January, the Opposition warned of the foolishness of the Government tying their hands by committing the date for the end of transition to law. We argued that unforeseen events might result in the Government needing some flexibility, although clearly no one expected a crisis on the scale that we face with covid-19. However, our amendment was rejected and the departure date was locked in law. Clearly, the Government could have changed that before
We are now past the date when an extension could have been agreed. The Government did not seek one and nor did the EU propose one. That ship has sailed and, frankly, it is the wrong focus for a debate on the negotiations that we need today. The issue is not the time available to the Government, but their approach to the talks. If, instead of the motion, the SNP had tabled something seeking to protect Scottish whisky or Welsh lamb, or to avoid non-tariff barriers in manufacturing, we could have worked together on it, because the country needs the best possible agreement—now more than ever—and we hope the Government will secure that, but it is now five months since we left the European Union. We have had four rounds of formal negotiations. We have had a high-level summit between the Prime Minister and the Presidents of the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament. We are into our third week of intensified talks. But judging by the Government’s own statements, we have seen very little progress.
It was not supposed to be like this. Remember the election campaign? Time and again, the nation was told by the Prime Minister that he had an “oven-ready deal”. That is what the people voted for: a deal negotiated by the Prime Minister himself and signed off last October —the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. The withdrawal agreement delivered our departure from the European Union and the political declaration set out the principles for our future relationship. The two went together: a single package. As the Prime Minister said:
“The ambition for our future friendship is contained in the revised political declaration”.—[Official Report,
That was the deal promised to the British people. I quote from it:
“an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership” with
“no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors”.
It was a deal that would safeguard
“workers’ rights, consumer and environmental protection” and keep people safe with a
“broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership”.
There was a promise that the Good Friday agreement would be protected through the proper implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol.
Those are the promises against which the Government’s deal will be measured, but it is not going well. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster chilled British business when he warned that the UK may accept tariffs on some goods if that is the price we have to pay to avoid the level playing field provisions. And let us not forget what exactly the level playing field is about: food standards, workers’ rights, environmental protection and consumer protection.
The Government’s proposals in this area have been described as “a giant step away” from the political declaration. The UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, has said there is “fundamental disagreement” in most of the important areas. He went on to say:
“there is a big gap”.
The former Prime Minister, Mrs May, warned her successor that he will not be able to keep our people safe without access to the quantity and quality of data that is currently available through Prüm, passenger name records, the European Criminal Records Information System and SIS II, but her successor will not commit to that. Just yesterday, the Met police Brexit lead said that UK police forces’ ability to detain criminal suspects from the EU will become slower and less effective if the Government fail to secure a Brexit security deal. At the same time, Northern Ireland businesses are saying:
“we are really in a quandary as to what way to turn…We need a bit of clarity because we haven’t a clue where we’re heading—It’s like walking out into the fog.”
The Government have not even managed to negotiate the continuation of the pet passport.
The weeks ahead are crucial. The Government need to double their efforts to deliver the deal that they promised to the British people. They need to listen to business, whose voice, the CBI, said recently:
“A good deal with the EU will be just one strand of a national recovery plan as the UK responds to the coronavirus pandemic, but it will be one of the most important for the future of our economy, jobs and livelihoods.”
They need to listen to those reeling from the Government’s announcement on the border arrangements, which left the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association saying that he was
“completely at a loss to understand how this framework can be achieved by
They should listen to the TUC, which has called on the Government to
“prioritise negotiating a deal with the EU that guarantees good jobs, rights and other protections rather than a deal with the US that stands to undermine these standards.”
I have elaborated our position clearly: we expect the Government to deliver on the deal that they promised the British people. I understand the anxiety among those on the Conservative Benches when they see how the talks are going and see that they—those who were elected on that pledge—may not be able to turn to their constituents and say that they have done that job.
There is great concern and great appetite to have a serious discussion about the negotiations on the future relationship with the European Union. We have brought the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to the House twice through urgent questions when he had refused to report to Parliament. Some of my colleagues may have anticipated that this debate would not be the one we needed to have, but instead would be framed by the leader of the SNP at Westminster as being about independence, as he did in his final words. We want a serious discussion about the negotiations.
The Government should also listen to voices in every part of our country, and they need to engage effectively with the devolved Administrations—
I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman may want to hear my point.
I thank the hon. Member for giving way. Does he agree that the intransigence of his party on this issue is perhaps why it received 42% of the vote in Scotland in 2010, but just 18% in the general election of 2019?
The nature of these interventions indicates why it does not seem that the SNP is serious about having a debate about the actual negotiations on which the future of our country is going to be so dependent. It is all about point scoring, not protecting jobs and protecting the economy.
The Government should listen more effectively to those voices of the devolved Administrations and recognise that the Joint Ministerial Committee is not working. It needs to be put on a formal footing, with its decisions properly recorded and respected. The agreement reached with the European Union will affect the nations and regions of the UK differently, and the devolved Administrations will be on the frontline of delivering it. They must be properly consulted and proper regard must be given to their views. It is not a question of vetoes, but of respect for the devolution settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as the Government negotiate with and repatriate powers from the European Union. We need—I make this point both to the Government and to the leader of the SNP at Westminster —a spirit of constructive partnership between the four Governments of the United Kingdom, rather than division.
My hon. Friend is making some important points. To expand on that last point, the concern for the devolved Administrations must be not simply with the UK-EU deal, but with how they are involved in all free trade agreements and in organisations such as the Trade Remedies Authority, with how those deals are put together, and with how the Administrations are engaged and consulted? My real fear is that that will not happen.
My hon. Friend is right to have that fear because the experience over the past months demonstrates that there is not the real consultation that there needs to be. The Government are playing with the future of our country if they do not respect, engage effectively and have regard to the views of all the devolved Administrations.
There are just five months left until we leave the transitional period—months in which we are already facing the biggest hit on jobs and livelihoods in our lifetime as a result of covid-19. The people of this country expect the Government to do everything possible to mitigate that damage, not to add to it. The Government will not be forgiven if we reach the end of the transition without a deal, or with a deal that falls short of the ambition that they signed up to in the political declaration. That was their promise to the British people, and it is that on which they will be judged.
It is an absolute honour and a privilege to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am very grateful to have the opportunity to speak in this SNP Opposition day debate. The SNP motion calls for an extension to the transition period for negotiations with the European Union. It is important that we are absolutely clear what the motives are for the SNP calling for that extension to the transition period. It is not about protecting Scotland’s economy. It is not about assisting the economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic. It is all about creating further uncertainty and constitutional chaos to assist in the nationalist dream of breaking up the United Kingdom. That is the SNP’s top priority. That is its only priority. That, in fact, is the only reason that many SNP Members got involved in politics in the first place—[Interruption.] I am pleased that they are nodding in agreement. I am pleased that they are agreeing with me—we agree on something at last. Any proposal from the separatists should be considered in that context. The SNP is aggravating on Brexit simply to push its independence obsession.
There is no doubt that the impact of the coronavirus will be significant on Scotland’s and the UK’s economy, but the answer is not to add further uncertainty to Scotland’s businesses with further dither and delay on Brexit. Businesses want certainty so that they can plan for Scotland’s and the UK’s future outside the European Union. Businesses are already preparing for life outside the EU at the end of 2020. The last thing they need or want is the further uncertainty that has been advocated by the SNP today, so I fully support the UK Government’s commitment not to extend the transition period at the end of 2020, because that would simply risk further economic damage to Scotland’s economy.
I also fully endorse the massive support of more than £13 billion that this UK Government have pumped into Scotland so far during the covid-19 outbreak. This includes nearly £5 billion in furlough payments, £1 billion for the job retention scheme, the kick-start scheme, the VAT cuts, the eat out to help out scheme, nearly £1 billion in the self-employed income support scheme, hundreds of millions of pounds in business loans and increases to benefits, plus £4.6 billion in Barnett consequentials. That is a £4.6 billion boost to the Scottish Government’s budget during this covid-19 outbreak. I know that some in the SNP, including the Scottish Government’s Finance Minister, Kate Forbes, like to pretend that this support does not exist unless the Scottish Government logo is branded all over it, but if Scotland was no longer in the United Kingdom, the safety net of support that the UK can provide during this pandemic and other crises would not have been there for other parts of these islands or, indeed, for Scotland anymore.
The hon. Member and I have disagreed numerous times about the UK’s place in the European Union and what we should do about that, but does he share my confusion about why a party that is so intent on dragging Scotland from one valuable union—indeed, the most successful economic union in history—is so intent on using another to do it?
I completely agree. The points that the SNP’s Westminster leader made earlier could have been made by anybody during the campaign about whether we should leave or remain in the EU; Nigel Farage would be proud of the arguments that he articulated. I am pleased that the hon. Lady is nodding wholeheartedly; it was a very good Farage argument that was put forward by Mr Blackford.
Let me move on to reiterate the support that has been made available by the UK Government and what that means from a practical perspective for Scots. These are not abstract sums of money that have no bearing on everyday lives in Scotland; these are people’s jobs and livelihoods, and the economic wellbeing of our families. Some 800,000 jobs in Scotland have been saved so far during the pandemic, highlighting the strength of our Union. The coronavirus job retention scheme has furloughed 628,000 Scottish jobs, and the UK Government have spent £425 million on supporting 146,000 self-employed people in Scotland through the self-employment income support scheme.
Of course, when talking about jobs, it is worth remembering that nearly four times as many jobs in Scotland are linked to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom as with the European Union. The Fraser of Allander Institute estimates that around 545,000 jobs in Scotland are supported by demand for our goods and services from the rest of the UK. That is why it is so important that we do everything we can to protect the strength of the UK single market, ensuring that businesses across the UK can continue to trade easily. Scottish exports to the rest of the UK are worth £51.2 billion, against £16.6 billion in EU exports. Whether they are in my constituency in the Scottish borders or in Eastleigh, West Bromwich, Brecon or Dudley, our businesses should be able to trade freely in every part of Britain.
The importance of the UK internal market is why the suggestion from Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, that she may close the Scotland-England border or impose quarantine restrictions on people from England is so damaging to Scotland and to our economy. After the First Minister’s announcement, I had tourism businesses, B&Bs and hotels contact me to report that their customers from the rest of the UK had started to cancel their bookings because they were so worried about the border being closed and quarantine restrictions being imposed. That should concern us all, because overnight trips from the rest of the UK were worth nearly £3 billion to Scotland in 2018.
To compound matters, we had the horrific scenes on the Scottish-English border in my constituency, on the A1 north of Berwick, of nationalist protesters shouting—and I quote—“Stay the F out” at English people travelling into Scotland. These racist protesters have admitted taking inspiration from the division stoked by the SNP politicians. They were inspired by comments by SNP politicians. One of the protesters has been pictured with Nicola Sturgeon and other senior SNP figures—
The hon. Gentleman knows—[Interruption.] Please do not talk so loudly while I am talking. Chris Elmore can heckle other people, but he cannot heckle me. Well, he can try. Patrick Grady knows that his point of order is not a point for the Chair, but a point of debate. John Lamont will give way when he is ready to give way, and I look forward to hearing the retort from the hon. Member for Glasgow North.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am going to take an intervention—don’t you worry—but I want to conclude this important point about the completely unacceptable behaviour towards our neighbours, friends and family members trying to cross the border between Scotland and England, coming into my constituency to work, to see family members and to visit friends. Nationalist protesters with “Yes” banners were shouting abuse at them. That is totally unacceptable.
I would like to say to the hon. Member, who has made a number of allegations, that the SNP, as he knows, does not have any truck with racism in any of its forms. He seems to suggest that the SNP is an anti-English party; if it makes a country racist to seek self-government, then the other 190 members of the United Nations are all racist countries. The First Minister’s granny is English, so what possible motivation could the hon. Gentleman have for these hysterical comments? If he is condemning any analysis that suggests that borders may perhaps be temporarily closed to control this virus, perhaps he would like to comment on the practice that has been adopted by Australia, which is doing the same thing between states.
The fact that the hon. Lady refused to condemn that behaviour on the border speaks for itself. Similarly, the delay from the First Minister of Scotland to condemn that behaviour also caused great concern, not just in my constituency but across Scotland. That is not the Scotland I represent, and it is not what we are about. That behaviour on the border is unacceptable, and we should condemn it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am listening carefully to what he is saying about the situation on the border between England and Scotland. As a border MP representing an English seat that has a border with Wales, I can say that we in Shropshire have also seen real difficulties and problems in our community as a result of Cardiff pulling further and further away from London, which causes confusion for border communities such as mine.
I am grateful for that point. As the Minister described so well, in these times of crisis, as a nation—every part of the nation, whether it be Wales or Scotland or England—we should be coming together to tackle those challenges, not having foul-mouthed nationalist protesters standing at the borders shouting abuse at our English friends and neighbours.
I want to develop the economic point. We can see the economic damage that can be caused to Scotland by statements made by nationalist politicians when they deter people from travelling to Scotland. Even before the current crisis, the SNP’s record of managing Scotland’s economy has been extremely poor. The SNP is holding Scotland’s economy back. Scotland’s deficit is six times that of the UK. The rate of unemployment in Scotland is higher than anywhere else in the UK.
Even before coronavirus, the SNP had cost Scotland more than a quarter of a million jobs, and then we have its failures in other policy areas, too. Under the SNP, Scottish schools have slipped to their lowest international scores in science and maths. There are 3,600 fewer teachers since the SNP came to power. On the NHS, Nicola Sturgeon’s waiting time guarantee has never been met. Crime is on the rise, with most areas of Scotland now having fewer police officers on the frontline. The Scottish Government have missed their own legal emissions targets and the SNP has broken its promise to extend Scotland’s broadband fibre network. That is a catalogue of failure by the SNP, yet SNP Members come here today arguing for more uncertainty, more delay, more constitutional upheaval and yet another independence referendum.
In thinking of certainties in this debate, I trust that the hon. Member shares with me a great gratitude to the armed forces. Regardless of whether they are Welsh, Scottish, English or Irish, they cross borders into Wales and Scotland to come and help to defeat the virus. I think we can all be proud of the armed forces of the United Kingdom.
I am grateful for that important point, which is a useful reminder of the important role that our armed forces have played in tackling this pandemic. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding the House of that.
I am not entirely sure why SNP Members claim to support independence for Scotland, because if they had their way, they would be rushing to give that independence straight back to the European Union by joining it again. They would be handing newly acquired powers back from Scotland to the European Commission; handing back control of our fishing waters to the European Commission; and dragging Scotland back into the hated common fisheries policy.
The SNP lacks ambition for our great nation of Scotland. I am sad to see the division and uncertainty in Scotland that the SNP is stoking up in an attempt to score political points. The SNP will use any means to push for its independence obsession. It will not come as any surprise to the House that I will not support the SNP’s motion. The SNP is desperately trying to undermine the UK and the UK internal market, putting Scottish jobs and the livelihoods of my constituents and other Scots at risk.
It is the UK Government who are putting the protection of Scottish businesses and jobs at the heart of their approach, both in their EU negotiations and in tackling this pandemic. I support them in everything they are doing to achieve that.
It is an experience to follow John Lamont, with his typical hysterical and emotion-filled contribution. I will resist the temptation to follow a lot of where he attempted to lead this debate.
I will give way in a moment, but first I will thank my right hon. Friend for the thoughtful way in which he opened the debate. He laid out clearly why we believe that it is the best interests of everyone across these islands that the UK Government, even at this late stage, seek an extension to the transition period. He is absolutely correct that at a time of economic crisis, in the middle of a global pandemic for which there is currently no vaccine and when no one knows where or when the next wave will come or how severe it will be, it is beyond madness for this Government to believe that it will be possible to conduct and conclude all the necessary negotiations and implement the results within the next five months. The reality is that the Government know it—they know that cannot happen.
Without an extension to the transition period, the UK will almost certainly crash out of the European Union at the end of the year, with all the economic chaos that will inevitably follow, and those who in 2016 were regarded as the not to be taken seriously, wide-eyed extremists on the fringes of the Conservative party will have won. They will have achieved their goal.
My right hon. Friend was also absolutely right when he reminded the House that this is being done to Scotland by a Government we did not elect who are pursuing a policy that we overwhelmingly rejected. In the 2016 EU referendum, the people of Scotland said unequivocally that we wished to remain part of the European Union. That message has been reinforced time and again since 2016, in both general elections and in last year’s European elections.
I respectfully say to the hon. Gentleman that democracy is a constantly evolving process—it is not a one-off event. I know that this will be a problem for many Government Members, but people have the right to change their minds. Politicians have the right to bring back ideas for themselves and for the public to decide upon. In fact, the Tories’ deputy leader in Holyrood has been beaten more times than my granny’s old carpet, but he comes back time and again, as is perfectly his right so to do. It ill behoves Jacob Young to stand there like some kind of imperial overlord telling Scotland that it can only go so far and no further. This Tory Government will not decide Scotland’s future. The people of Scotland will decide Scotland’s future.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the thoughtful way he is dealing with these issues. I just want to respond on the issue of Scotland being open and make it crystal clear that Scotland is open. We are an open country; we are an open democracy; and we want people to come to Scotland irrespective of where they come from. We find that there are issues to do with public health that the First Minister is taking responsibility for. That is what responsible Governments do. Let me make it crystal clear that, with Scotland now being open for business, people from England are welcome to come to Scotland, and I know that my hon. Friend will agree with that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention, and I absolutely agree.
Numerous opinion polls since the referendum of 2016 have shown that the desire of Scots to remain in the European Union is strengthening and hardening as time goes by, because not only are they being dragged out the European Union against their will, but it is being done by a Government who are seemingly hellbent on doing it in the most damaging and reckless fashion possible, including refusing even to consider extending the transition period. That is why I firmly believe that Scotland is moving towards becoming an independent nation.
The debate in Scotland is not now framed in terms of “should” and “could”. More and more, that debate is framed in terms of how and when Scotland becomes an independent nation. As my right hon. Friend said, the polls bear this out. The highly respected pollster Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University said just last week:
“Never before have the foundations of public support for the Union looked so weak.”
That is because, increasingly, those Scots with no particular emotional attachment to the United Kingdom who in 2014, after careful consideration, decided against independence for whatever reason are changing their minds. Those Scots who, maybe with a heavy heart but in good faith, decided in 2014 that independence was a step too far and who were perhaps seduced by the idea of being in a partnership of equals or liked the idea of Scotland staying and leading the United Kingdom, who believed the promises that their Parliament in Edinburgh would become the world’s strongest devolved Parliament, or who truly believed that only by sticking with the United Kingdom could their citizenship of the European Union be guaranteed are changing their minds. Opinion poll after opinion poll tells us that they are changing their minds in droves.
That crucial, pragmatic group of people who will look at an issue, weigh up the pros and cons and come to a considered decision based on what is best for them, their families, their communities and the country are increasingly saying that an independent Scotland is the only viable option, particularly when set against the madness they see unfolding here. They are doing it quietly. They will not shout about it. Mercifully, they will not go on Twitter and have a fight about it. They will do it, as they have done in the past, by looking at the available options and doing what they honestly believe is the right thing.
Let us be clear: the United Kingdom, by its actions since 2014, has brought about its own demise. The United Kingdom is the architect of its own downfall. Every bit as much as the SNP, under the exceptional leadership of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, has been pulling Scotland towards independence, so this Government have been actively pushing Scotland towards the exit door. I am sure that in decades to come, scholars and academics will produce theses on the end days of the United Kingdom. They will debate whether this UK Government were utterly incompetent and arrogant to the point of stupidity or whether this was in fact all part of a great Tory plan.
For what it is worth to students of history reading Hansard decades and centuries in the future, I reckon at the moment that it is probably the former. But I can see how someone could come to conclude that it was the latter. If the United Kingdom Government were serious about preserving the Union in 2014, following the narrow no vote in the referendum, they could have decided to make good on their promises to Scotland. If they were serious about preserving the Union in 2015, they could, following the election of 56 SNP MPs to this place, have decided to ensure that in any future EU referendum Scotland’s voice would be heard and Scotland’s decision respected.
If the Government were serious about preserving the Union in 2016, after every single part of Scotland voted to remain in the European Union, they could have decided that the hard, no-deal Brexit was off the table. If they were serious about preserving the Union in 2019, after they lost more than half their Scottish MPs and saw their vote share in Scotland collapse, they could have decided not to indulge in a shameless power grab, trying to seek back the powers of the Scottish Parliament. If they were serious about preserving the Union in 2020, having seen Scottish public opinion swing towards independence, they could have rowed back from the brink of Brexit calamity, agreed to an extension period and sought to salvage something from the wreckage that is Brexit.
But no, the Government did not. Such is their arrogance and misplaced self-assuredness, and so blind and disdainful are they about what is happening across a border that only last week they told us did not actually exist, that they, like zealots, are ploughing on with the project regardless of the inevitable consequences. It would even appear that their oft-vaunted precious Union is expendable for the project. If someone is a Scottish farmer terrified at being put out of business when the UK is flooded with cheap, low-grade meat and poultry from America, or a Scottish hotelier tearing their hair out wondering where next season’s workers are to come from, or a Scottish health board worker trying to work out how to recruit in subsequent years EU nationals to work in our health and social care sector, or a young Scot seeking to live and work in other European nations and take advantage of the opportunities that every single person in this room today has taken advantage of, then that is just too bad. The bottom line is that their voices do not get to be heard. Their opinions do not get to be counted; their fears and concerns are just not important enough to matter. The only thing that matters to this Government is the project.
No, thank you.
The Government’s insane, narrow British nationalism may well involve driving the UK off a cliff and seeing what emerges from the wreckage. I suppose that in that respect they have just the man at the wheel of the bus, skulking around between Downing Street and Barnard Castle, but let me tell the House that Scotland is not coming with them.
This week, I and probably millions of others were left slightly bewildered as the UK Government displayed once again their love of a totally meaningless, utterly vacuous three-word slogan. This week’s classic was “Let’s get going.” But perhaps, on reflection, as three-word slogans go it is not that bad, because that is exactly what Scotland is planning to do—we are going to get going, we are going to get out of this deeply damaging Union, into a future as an independent member state in a Union of equals with the European Union.
I honestly believe that Scottish independence is an idea whose time has come, and thankfully there is precious little that Government Members are going to do about it.
I intend to be brief, so I hope the House will forgive me if I do not take interventions.
I wish to speak today on behalf of places that many Members will never have heard of, and whose voices have too rarely been heard. In the referendum, almost two-thirds of my constituency of Leigh voted to leave the EU, but in many of its local communities the vote to leave was more than 70%—in some cases, more than 75%. Communities such as Siddow Common, Hope Carr, Higher Folds, West Leigh, Shakerley, Mosley Common, Derby Road, and Kings Avenue in the Oaklands and Meadows estate, voted most overwhelmingly to leave the EU. In fact, every single polling district in my constituency voted to leave the EU, from those who live in the bungalows and semi-detached houses of Pennington to those in the red-brick terraced streets of southern Atherton and those who live in the new-build houses of Astley.
Not too long ago, in many of those places, we would have been more likely to find the Loch Ness monster than a Conservative voter. I am stood here today because huge numbers of my constituents broke with the political habits of a lifetime to send me here to end the political chaos that had been crippling the country since the EU referendum; and that referendum seems, does it not, like a lifetime ago?
I will not betray the trust of my constituents by supporting the SNP’s motion tonight; it would be wrong to do so. Extending the transition period with the EU will only prolong the political turmoil that this country has faced and damage businesses that have tried repeatedly to prepare for Brexit over the past few years, only to face endless frustrating delay. They have been given the certainty of a final deadline to work towards after four years, and now here we are, with some people trying to disrupt the Brexit process yet again.
I have nothing more to say on this matter. This subject has been done to death. My constituents are sick of it. The public are sick of it. Let us get on with it: let us put this matter to bed once and for all.
It is a pleasure to follow James Grundy, who at least tried to make his point, even if I did not agree with a word of it. He at least tried to make a point that was worth making—by contrast with the bitter and twisted rant by John Lamont—and even managed to get the Loch Ness monster in, so he gets an extra point.
The Minister asked why we brought this debate to the Chamber. We did so because it is the right thing to do for people and communities and businesses across Scotland, who are facing a treble whammy of hits in terms of the economy, their lifestyle, their jobs and their family status. There are people living across Scotland, including in my constituency in the highlands and islands, who will be dealt a serious blow come January if there is no extension to the transition. The UK Government are not sleepwalking into this; they are running towards a cluster crisis.
My constituents—and Scotland—never voted for this and they do not want it. It is bad enough that the combined loss of economic activity in leaving the EU is estimated to be up to £3 billion. But on the covid emergency, the UK Government’s language—unlike that of the Scottish Government, whose aim is elimination of the virus—shows that they are planning for a second wave, with the forethought that we shall be going into a second wave while we are faced with a no-deal-Brexit exit—
I seek clarity on the point the hon. Gentleman makes. He seems to be criticising the Government for planning for all eventualities in a pandemic. Is he honestly saying that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP Scottish Government are not planning for all eventualities on covid-19?
The hon. Gentleman is a former Minister who resigned because his boss’s boss took a trip to Barnard Castle and so broke the covid regulations, so fair play to him, but of course that is the problem. He has left a legacy there and it is now an issue that the Government have to plan for that second wave. To clarify, in Scotland we are planning for elimination of the virus. That is the right thing to do.
We are facing a calamity. The Minister, who is not in her place now, said that she wanted us to focus on the policies of the UK Government—or should we say promises, or rather broken promises. For communities around Scotland, especially in regions such as the highlands and islands, there is another pressure caused by this reckless course. According to research by the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions, locally we will lose over £160 million and, Scotland-wide, over £800 million. That is the extra punch that our communities are losing out on in terms of EU structural funding. This is funding that underpinned further education, youth employment, smart cities, connectivity for islands and communities, small and medium-sized enterprises, apprenticeships, regeneration, innovation, productivity, social inclusion, and a whole lot more.
People in Scotland, across our cities, towns, villages and communities, are now seeing that the promises will not be delivered through the so-called shared prosperity fund, because it is not coming. Communities and charities have used the EU funding to benefit people, especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. They have been waiting now for years to find out what funding will be available post-Brexit, and in spite of promise after promise it is becoming clear that come January there will be none. The Minister had the opportunity to answer the question from my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford about the shared prosperity fund earlier, and she chose not to do so.
I have been asking for clarification on this point since 2017, as have many others. A succession of Ministers, including the Prime Minister, have all promised details. They said they would consult widely. In 2018, the mantra was: “before the end of the year”. Time and again, they repeated that. In 2019, it turned into “shortly” and “soon”, and in 2020, it is morphing into “in due course”. In fact, we are now at the end point. There is no funding in place. Nobody can bid for anything as we enter 2020. All those promises have been broken, it has all been a glaik.
If the fund ever is established—let us imagine that it could happen somehow—it looks like yet another power grab will be at centre of it, with, ironically, as is proposed, another unelected body telling the devolved Parliaments what to do about the funding. In Scotland’s case, these should be decisions for the Scottish Parliament. It is no wonder—this has been repeated, because people are noticing these things—that polling in Scotland is showing support for independence consistently above 50%. It is no wonder that people who voted no in 2014, who said, “We just can’t do it”, are now coming to me and my colleagues and saying, “You know what? It was a big mistake. We were sold a packet of goods they had no intention of delivering. If they had, we would have had some of it and we have had none of it”.
As this Government ride roughshod over our people’s rights, and ignore the needs of our communities, it is important that they think again. Let me recall the words of the Minister of State, Jake Berry, during a Backbench Business Committee debate on shared prosperity that I secured in 2019. He twice made the promise that devolution would be respected. Indeed, his second clarification stated:
“To be absolutely clear and to repeat what I said in my contribution, the Government will fully respect the devolution settlement in respect of the UK shared prosperity fund and, I am sure, in all other respects.”—[Official Report,
At that time I told him that he would be judged not on those words, but on the actions of his Government. Let me tell hon. Members, and those watching the debate, that the people of Scotland are making that judgment, and seeing that Westminster is not working for them. It is not listening to them or delivering what they need, and that is why more and more people are convinced that Scotland would be better served by taking our place as an independent nation.
There is another unique hit that we will take as a result of this Government’s actions. This is the worst of all possible times for young people across our constituencies for the economic crisis to be coupled with Brexit. That is not in Scotland alone, as it affects all nations of the UK, but it is particularly harsh in places such as the highlands and islands, where we have been working incredibly hard to turn around the demographic of losing our young people.
I am going to continue. The jobs that will be lost in the coming weeks and months will predominantly be of those in the 16 to 25 age bracket. Why? It is because they are cheaper to make redundant; they are usually on zero-hours contracts, if they have a job, and they normally have a lower length of service than anyone else. Young people will be disproportionately affected, so if for no other reason than to protect the next generation who will want to deliver a lifestyle that is suitable for them and their families to which we should all aspire in this century, surely the Government should now ask for that extension. Nobody would blame them, because everybody understands that this is a unique crisis. They should ask for that extension and protect our young people.
It is always a pleasure to speak in SNP Opposition-day debates, because we get the opportunity to play Blackford bingo. We heard the regular things from Ian Blackford who must, at some point—today twice—show full outrage at Conservative Members for daring to make any sort of noise when he is speaking during the debate, totally ignoring, of course, the chirling nature of his colleagues behind him, when Government Members choose to make points on behalf of the people of Scotland.
We also had, as we always do during Blackford bingo, the words “power grab”, yet I have never heard a single SNP Member be able to articulate what powers are being grabbed. If it is a power grab, there must be powers that are currently held by the Scottish Parliament, and enacted by the Scottish Government on behalf of the people of Scotland, that we, the UK Government, are taking away.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The shared prosperity fund has been mentioned by every SNP Member who has spoken thus far. For those present who do not know, that is the successor to the EU funding mechanism that the Scottish Government, and local government, have used productively for 20-odd years to encourage economic growth. The current proposal is for the UK to take over that funding and control it from London, via the Scotland Office. That is a power grab, surely, in any objective sense of the word.
The search goes on, so I will keep asking. What the hon. Gentleman has just described is a power currently held by the EU that the UK is going to get back, because we chose in a referendum to leave the EU, which the SNP would want to give back to the EU.
The hon. Gentleman knows that the principle of the devolution settlement is that if ain’t reserved—if it is not scheduled in the Scotland Act—it is devolved. The Government are scheduling these powers that should come from Europe, as he says, to the Scottish Parliament and they are grabbing them and keeping them here in Westminster. That is a power grab.
It is not. I was very clear, but I will try to be clearer for SNP Members if they need me to be. Can any SNP Member explain just one—not 10 or hundreds—power that the 129 MSPs and the Scottish Government currently have that during this “power grab” the UK Government will somehow take away? [Interruption.] None can; SNP Members simply cannot do it, because there is no power grab. As I said in my intervention, this and successive Conservative UK Governments have given more powers to the Scottish Parliament than any other and it is now one of the most powerful devolved Administrations anywhere in the world. The problem, more often than not, is not the lack of powers in the Scottish Parliament, but the lack of desire, will and vision on the part of the Scottish Government to use those powers to the best of their abilities. That is really the crux of the argument.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber missed my opening remarks, but I want to come back to his motion, on which the House will divide later. It is about the transition period, the EU and the UK Government. It seems strange to have this debate after the deadline set by the EU and the UK to decide whether to have an extension to the transition period. A decision was taken by the UK Government not to seek an extension and the EU Commissioner said of that decision:
“I take this as a definite conclusion of this discussion”.
The EU Commissioner who responded to the UK Government’s decision has decided that that is a definitive conclusion of this matter and I wish the SNP would accept it as such.
I am always happy to agree with my hon. Friend. Let me add that Scottish Conservatives in the Chamber today would outnumber, if he were here, the one Scottish Labour Member by five or six to one. We continue to be a strong force in Scotland and in this Chamber.
Let me return to the title of this debate and what we are discussing generally this afternoon, because there have been a number of omissions in the SNP speeches we have heard so far—I am sure this will be rectified later. We have not heard the F-word at all during this debate. I represent Moray and the Minister on the Front Bench represents Banff and Buchan. In a debate about the EU, I expect to hear about fishing, particularly from the SNP. So why, would we surmise, would SNP Members and their leader here, who represents a constituency that has many fishing interests, not mention fishing once during this debate? Is it perhaps that they are ashamed of their policy towards Scottish fishermen?
During this debate, we are speaking about an extension, but what the SNP have not spoken about is what they would do at the end of that extension, because of course they just want to prolong this period of instability for our businesses, communities and individuals. At the end of it, they do not want another extension or a deal with the EU to be granted by the UK Government; they want to stop us leaving the EU. That is a perfectly acceptable policy for them to hold, but they therefore have to explain to fishing communities in Moray, in Banff and Buchan, and around Scotland, including those that they currently represent here and at Holyrood, what their plans are for the fishing industry in Scotland. It is very clear: they would say to the 1 million people in Scotland who voted to leave the European Union, many of them in fishing communities: “We don’t need you, we don’t trust you, we think you were wrong, and we’re going to take you straight back into the European Union and straight back into the common fisheries policy, which you have campaigned against throughout your lives and has been damaging to your business, because we don’t trust the result you gave in 2016.” That is a shameful position for Scottish National party Members to hold. Maybe it is not surprising, then, that they have not once mentioned the word “fishing” in this debate.
I would very much appreciate it if just one Conservative Member could explain to me why Conservative Members suggest that there would be total control of the seas around the UK in the event of Brexit when UNCLOS—the United Nations convention on the law of the sea—makes it very clear that that would not be case, and, based on historical fishing rights, the other countries in the EU will be challenging this in court? I never hear Conservative Members talk about that—all they say is that UK waters will be completely controlled by the UK, and it simply is not true.
I would say to the hon. Lady that I am her one Conservative Member, because I can explain it to her. When we finally leave the transition period on
Something that is not often considered in this debate is how big a difference a short extension to the transition period would make. Fishing leaders in Scotland have said that a one-day increase in the transition period beyond
I represent the constituency in Scotland that came closer than any other to voting leave in 2016: just 122 votes separated leave and remain. So while I know it is very convenient for Scottish National party Members, the Scottish Government and others to say that Scotland voted to remain, not everyone in Scotland did. One in two people in Moray voted to leave and one in two people in Moray voted to remain. This argument does foster great passion, understandably, but it is not as black and white as the SNP would often like to make it.
I also want to focus on the points about leadership that we have heard during this debate. I tried to intervene on the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber when he highlighted poll ratings that suggest that Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership has been positive during this pandemic. I was going to ask him: was it leadership when Nicola Sturgeon chose not to inform the Scottish people of the first case of covid-19 being identified at the Nike conference? [Interruption.] I am sorry if Pete Wishart thinks it is funny that the Scottish Government, the First Minister and Scottish Government Ministers withheld information from the Scottish people about the first case of covid-19 in our country, but I do not believe it is a laughing matter. I hope that he will reconsider his actions when I am discussing an important matter about people who have lost their lives.
Is it leadership when the UK Government are carrying out more covid-19 tests in Scotland than the Scottish Government? I am happy that our broad shoulders of the United Kingdom can help the UK Government, but I would have thought that the Scottish Government would be ambitious enough to have the testing facilities in place to do more than the UK Government. I am extremely grateful that the UK Government are there to support the Scottish Government.
Is it really leadership when we have senior members of the Scottish National party, and indeed the First Minister, threatening to put up barriers at the border to stop people coming into our country? Given that the Scottish Tourism Alliance criticised those comments by saying that 70% of tourism in Scotland is from the rest of the United Kingdom, any signal from the First Minister, the Scottish Government or the SNP that we are closed for business is unacceptable. It is not a political issue—it is a financial issue for bed and breakfasts, hotels, restaurants and all those who rely on investment and money from people across the United Kingdom to support them. We need to send an unequivocally clear message that Scotland is open for business. I was grateful to hear that from the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber today. Sadly, I would say that the message has come too late.
While the hon. Gentleman and I do not share the same view of the European Union—and I would not wish to leave at this moment—does he share my confusion at hearing an SNP Member say that this was the worst possible time for the economic dislocation of leaving the European Union, without recognising the economic dislocation that would be caused to Scotland by leaving the United Kingdom? [Interruption.]
I agree with the hon. Lady. The pathetic actions by some SNP Members in response to a legitimate point made by one of my political opponents show their narrow-mindedness, not just in this debate but every time there is a debate in the House of Commons. It was only one of a number of confusing comments from the SNP in the debate and, sadly, I think we will hear more this afternoon.
I want to come on to a point that I made in my intervention on the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber. It was unbefitting of him and his party not even to recognise the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom during the pandemic. People in Scotland, whether they support the Scottish National party, the Scottish Conservatives, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Labour party or the Scottish Greens, or whether they have no party affiliation at all, recognise that during a pandemic, when people were looking for health and economic responses, the UK Government went above and beyond, with one of the strongest and most comprehensive arrangements anywhere in the world, to support individuals, businesses and communities.
Almost £13 billion was provided to protect hundreds of thousands of jobs, with support for the self-employed. Support from the UK Treasury went to the Scottish Government, which they sent to local government in Scotland to support businesses with grants of £10,000 to £25,000. That is by any measure the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom supporting every part of the UK: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. Whether Members disagree with the Government or with the Conservatives more generally, I hope they would all accept that it is because of that that we have got to this stage of the pandemic in as strong a place as possible.
Let us try to bring some grace to the debate. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on something: when we are dealing with a pandemic, it is important that we work together. I shall use an example of something that happened in my constituency, on the Isle of Skye, where there was an outbreak in Home Farm care home. The testing by NHS Highland and the UK-wide testing was put in place to make sure that we supported the community and we got to a position where we controlled the outbreak. That is an example of the benefits of the two systems coming together, so I am happy to give credit where it is due.
Let me also mention the job retention scheme, which we welcome. I stress on behalf of my colleagues in the Scottish Government and the SNP that, where appropriate, we will work with the UK Government—that is what we have to do in this crisis—but will the hon. Gentleman join me in recognising that we need flexibility in the scheme, particularly to support our rural industries for as long as necessary, so that they can come back with as strong an economy as possible?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman, particularly for his earlier remarks. It is perhaps a milestone in the debate to have some consensual discussion between the opposing sides. On the job retention scheme, he asked for flexibility and, again, I hope he will accept that the UK Government delivered that. When it was established at pace not just by the Ministers and the Treasury but by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, there were strict rules, which were necessary, but listening to concerns from Scottish businesses, communities and others across the whole UK, the Chancellor and the UK Government amended it to allow the flexibility that he is asking for. On further flexibility, the right hon. Gentleman will know that many countries across Europe are winding down their job retention schemes, because it is impossible to continue them much longer.
The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for 25 minutes.
Order. That is a criticism of me, not of the right hon. Gentleman. It is obvious to me that some speeches—actually, all speeches bar one—have been long this afternoon. However, I have been counting the number of interventions, and this is a real debate, so I do not see any need to curtail it while it is flowing with equal force on both sides.
I was listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman’s comments about broad shoulders. There is no doubt there has been some level of financial co-operation between the rest of the UK and the Treasury. However, if the shoulders are so broad, why has Scotland, with 8.3% of the UK’s population, received just over 4% of all UK borrowing, and why, indeed, when the Prime Minister announced his £30 billion the other week, was only 0.1% allocated to Scotland?
The SNP and the hon. Lady talk about “some”, but that is £13 billion—£13 billion going in a matter of months from the UK Government directly to her constituency and my constituency and protecting jobs. Just because the Scottish Government cannot rubber-stamp that money and say that they delivered it to the people of Scotland, that does not devalue what the UK Government are investing directly into Scotland.
I want to bring my remarks to a conclusion by saying—
Just before the hon. Gentleman brings his remarks to a conclusion, I just wondered whether, with “independent coastal state”, “most powerful devolved Parliament”, “barriers at the border” and “broad shoulders of the Union”, I can get the prize for Ross bingo.
I think Blackford bingo has a bit more of a ring to it. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can think of something that rhymes with Ross for the next debate—[Interruption.] I said Ross.
Earlier, as the hon. Gentleman was going on about the broad shoulders of the UK and talking about testing during the covid virus pandemic, he said that the UK has done a lot more testing in Scotland than has been done through the Scottish Government. I am looking at the statistics that the Scottish Government put out every single day, and the cumulative total of covid-19 tests carried out by NHS labs was 324,474, while the total number of covid-19 tests carried out through the UK Government testing programme was 205,000. Does he agree that 324,000 is higher than 205,000?
What I would say is that if the hon. Gentleman listened to my speech, rather than trying to google the answer, he would have heard me say that the UK Government are currently testing more people in Scotland than the Scottish Government are, and that is correct. He cannot deny that. The daily testing shows that the UK Government are conducting more tests than the Scottish Government. That is what I said, and that is correct. If the hon. Gentleman gets back on his iPad, I am sure he will have a look at that.
I want to finish by saying something that, sadly, we have to say all too often now in these debates led by the SNP. It has come up time and time again, and it is important because, as the SNP likes to say, the people of Scotland are watching. I gently say to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber and to members of the SNP that they do not speak for Scotland. The SNP does not equal Scotland. I do not speak for Scotland. The Labour party does not speak for Scotland. The Liberal Democrats do not speak for Scotland. Scotland is a diverse nation, with a range of views that we should all encompass and debate, but in a manner that is befitting of this place and the people who send us here. I am sorry that in every single Opposition day debate we get from the SNP, we hear protests from SNP Members that they are speaking up for Scotland. They are not. They are speaking up for their belief about Scotland. They are speaking up for their party’s views in Scotland. But they are not Scotland—nobody is Scotland.
When we get an Opposition day debate that looks at the benefits of our two Governments in Scotland—the UK Government and the Scottish Government—I will join SNP Members in the Lobby and support them. However, as long as they use these Opposition day debates simply as party political events for the Scottish National party, rather than actually trying to achieve something for their constituents or our country, I will not support them—and, tonight, I will certainly not be supporting the SNP.
I am struck, as ever, following Douglas Ross, that PG Wodehouse really did get it right when he said that a Scotsman is rarely confused with a ray of sunshine. I have to say, though, that we do not need to make a performance art out of it. I will endeavour to strike a sunnier, more consensual note in this discussion, because I am very proudly centrist in my politics. On the centre ground is where I will be found. That is where most people of Scotland are and where most people of Stirling are, That is where we all need to tend towards in order to find solutions to this debate today.
This debate is not about stopping Brexit. We accept and we regret the fact that it has happened. It is about extending the transition period to avert a self-imposed economic disaster. There are solutions to be found. At its heart, we all need to take a step back and reboot this conversation. There are several conflicting world views at play in this discussion—all of them legitimate. Scotland voted to remain. Northern Ireland voted by a nuanced vote to remain also. Two of the four home nations voted to remain. Two out of the four home nations voted to leave. The UK-wide leave vote was 52% to 48%. All of these are facts—simultaneously correct and simultaneously legitimate. We have a conundrum that we need to try to find solutions to. Surely those numbers, those facts, suggest that we should have a more nuanced, respectful approach than we have seen from successive Governments since 2016.
There are solutions to be found. I respect England’s vote. I particularly respect what James Grundy said about his constituency and how every ward voted to leave. I respect that. I do not believe that Scotland had a right at any point in the process to stop England leaving the European Union, much as we disagreed with it, so why the hell does not that go the other way round? Respect must be reciprocal if it is to exist at all. The Scottish Government have endeavoured at every stage of this process to engage with the discussion and the conundrum. I was involved intricately with that at the Brussels end of operations. We tried to find nuanced solutions that would have recognised the conundrum that we all faced: we published “Scotland’s Place in Europe”; we put forward the idea of a Scotland-Northern Ireland backstop; and we put forward the idea that the UK could leave the European Union but remain within the single market, which would have been a compromise that most people could have lived with. All of those proposals were shot down, ignored and belittled by a Government who were so busy trying to negotiate with themselves that they could not spend any time thinking about Edinburgh, Cardiff or Northern Ireland. It is a poor show, and it is a poor show that we are here now, facing into a very negative situation for all the citizens that we serve, however they voted. We need to save the situation and it is not too late to change course. It is not too late to dig up the tram tracks that the UK Government have set for themselves.
All of our suggestions were dismissed, but our party is left with fewer and fewer options. We will work within the law. We will work within the constitution. We will work within Scotland and the UK’s democracy. We will work within the settlements that we have, but we will not meekly comply because of a vote that happened in another country. We will not meekly go along with it, because we are told to by a party that has only recently found a common purpose—for the moment. It will not last long.
Leaving aside the democratic deficit of the United Kingdom, which is clear for everyone in Scotland to see, let us look at the project that is actually being imposed on us against our will and against our democratic vote. Brexit is proceeding on a flawed premise. There were a series of interlocking promises that have not been respected, that have been forgotten about and dismissed. There were the promises on the side of a bus and an oven-ready deal that is neither ready nor anywhere near an oven. We have a deal that is falling apart. In my first speech in this place, I described the withdrawal agreement as a grubby, shabby document and we were proven right, because within seconds of that vote being passed, the governing party walked away from the commitments, which were being viewed in Brussels as solemn commitments —to a level playing field, to a non-competitive aspect, and to various mechanisms. Those were all being treated as solemn commitments from a UK Government who now do not look very solemn, or serious, or at all credible in the eyes of our wider European colleagues.
Brexit has already made the people of these islands poorer on any objective analysis of the economics. All of that pain is perhaps necessary, I am willing to accept, if the benefits are there to see and to be explained, but —I believe in intellectual honesty in my politics—all of those benefits, surely we must accept, are at best hypothetical, and absolutely none of them has been delivered in the real world in any sense. Conservative Members wonder why we are sceptical on these Benches about this project. It is because we have not seen any advantages spelled out after four years of looking for one.
Thank you very much for giving way. You said at the start of your speech that this was not about stopping Brexit; it was just about extending the transition period. So why now are you making the case for why we should not leave, and don’t you think it is uncanny how everybody who is arguing—
Order. I would be very grateful if the hon. Gentleman would rephrase his intervention, referring not to “you”, which would mean me in the Chair, but to the hon. Gentleman.
Following on from what I said, does the hon. Gentleman find it uncanny that everybody who seems to be arguing for an extension are those people who were previously on the barricades trying to block Brexit completely, full stop?
I am grateful for the opportunity to perhaps correct if I was unclear. I accept that Brexit has happened. I gave up my seat in the European Parliament because of it; I wanted to come here to fight for Scotland’s place in Europe. There was a point in the December election where we could have had that argument. In the halcyon days, we were thinking about a hung Parliament—with a Labour Administration, with SNP support, and a second EU referendum—but I won Stirling with 51% of the vote and my party won Scotland with a massive vote, to a Parliament we do not want to be in, on a pro-EU platform. Because of events elsewhere, it was clear that Brexit was going to happen anyway. I accepted Brexit has happened in my first speech, so I have made that point. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point. What I am trying to do is extend the transition period to avoid a disaster that Conservative Members are going to inflict on this House out of bone-headed ideology, and when the chickens come home to roost, I do hope they will be as accountable as we have been to the people of Scotland on those points.
I again urge the Minister, whom I have much respect for, on the shared prosperity fund. There has been much talk about the power grab. I see the eyes rolling on the Conservative Benches now, but it is a very concrete example. This was not a power that rested in Brussels. The European frameworks exist in order to empower national and local governments. This was a power that was entirely with the Scottish authorities. The proposal on the table now from the UK Government is to put those powers in the hands of the Scotland Office—a part of the UK Government—removing that budget and removing that competence from the Scottish authorities. If that is not a power grab, I will need to have a look at the dictionary the Conservative Members are working with because, in any objective sense, it is. The Minister can assure us now that I am wrong. I will happily be proven wrong. I will happily engage with what we can do with the shared prosperity fund in Scotland, but it must be as a matter of respect for devolution under the competence of the Scottish authorities. If it is not, it is a breach of trust, it is a breach of faith and it is a power grab.
As I say, the pain of Brexit or the pain that Brexit is causing could be worth it if the benefits were there to be seen, but beyond warm words and sentiment, and beyond slogans that do not stand analysis, we have not seen that. Let us be generous—I do try to be generous—and say that the one-year negotiating period was heroically ambitious. That was before covid. Covid has intervened and has taken the focus of all of our Governments and all of our public officials away, rightly, to a health emergency. Extending the transition period is not about fighting old battles. I am not in the business of fighting old battles. Extending the transition period can be done and will give us breathing space and certainty to allow our economy to recover from a health emergency that is turning into an economic emergency. To add a covid-inflicted disaster upon that because of Brexit would be flat lunacy.
I was struck by the Paymaster General’s previous comments. She is now not in her place, but I was struck when she used the phrase that we are now past the point whereby a request can be made. She said that some might argue it is impossible to apply for an extension. She is not here now, but I would happily give way to anyone on the Conservative Benches who can name anybody in Brussels who is of that view. Anyone—Berlin, Paris, Ljubljana? It is a matter of straightforward principle and pragmatism in Brussels that, if the UK applies for an extension, it will be granted. The EU has, at every stage of the process, accepted with regret the democratic choices of the United Kingdom. It will not engage in our internal discussion, so it is with regret that it accepts that an extension will probably not be applied for.
We have not heard any indication today that the UK Government will change course, but they should, and this is a plea from us to do so, because we can still change course. We must change course. This is not about old battles. I asked whether anybody in Brussels, Berlin or anywhere else shared the Minister’s view. How about Dublin? Speaking of Dublin, Ireland is an independent state in north-west Europe that has done quite well lately. With Norway, it was voted on to the UN Security Council. It has the EU Commissioner for Trade in the inestimable Phil Hogan, who is a very strong negotiator in trade deals—Government Members will want to watch that one. It also has the president of the Eurogroup in Paschal Donohoe. The international accolades just keep coming for Ireland, and that is all based on the solidarity, support and encouragement of 26 other EU member states that have its back against the former colonial power.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the fact that Ireland managed to get itself on to the UN Security Council, but Scotland is a permanent member of the UN Security Council through being part of one of the most successful unions. Does his attitude not show that he actually wants to downgrade Scotland’s place in the world by making it a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council?
I am happy to engage with that point. I have spent a number of years on the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and I am now foreign affairs spokesman for my party. The UK is, of course, a P5 member, and Scotland is represented by virtue of that mechanism. I think that it could serve us better if we were an independent member of the UN and an independent member of the EU, working in concert with 27 of our closest neighbours, because I do not have any faith or trust in where the UK is going under the Conservative party. The Brexit process has proven us to be right.
I heard the point made earlier about the 2014 referendum. We do accept that that vote happened—we do accept that arithmetic reality. But a number of people voted no to independence on the basis of specific promises—promises that they cannot risk their European status, that we are a family of equals and a partnership of nations, that the UK is the only way to guarantee economic stability. All those promises and all that airy sentiment now look an awful lot more threadbare than they did, and no amount of bluster from Government Members will disprove that point.
Look at the recent results of votes in Scotland. Under a system where we do not make the rules, we won massively the majority of seats from Scotland in this House. Scotland is represented in this discussion by nobody from the Labour party and by a Minister who represents Milton Keynes. We have no territorial ambitions on Milton Keynes—the Minister can rest easy—but to say that it is part of Scotland is something of a stretch.
The legitimacy of this Government in the eyes of the people of Scotland is really something that Government Members need to have higher up their consciousness, because the people of Scotland are watching. The people of Scotland will have a choice at some point on whether independence in Europe is a better option than being stuck on an island run by the Conservative party. Ireland has shown us what independence in Europe actually looks like, and the Government are showing us what the UK will continue to offer Scotland. I think we have a better choice, and I believe that independence in Europe is coming.
I would like to say that I am surprised and overwhelmed by the positive atmosphere and constructive tone of the debate and that Ian Blackford has come down from his humble croft with a wonderful solution based on his inestimable skills as a slick city financier—alas, no. Like that one bore at every party who becomes more opinionated as the evening wears on, the right hon. Gentleman has returned to his singular obsession.
This week’s excuse for nabbing us by the constitutional vol-au-vents is covid, but let us not pretend that this debate is about anything other than what it is. The SNP has not met a referendum in this century that it did not want to overturn. Whether it is the neverendum of indyref2, or frustrating Brexit by extending the transition period a little bit more, for SNP Members, “once in a generation” lasts about 30 minutes. That is a half-life of caesium-130, not a major constitutional change.
I was at the Glasgow count in 2014, watching as authority after authority sent in no votes in result after result. I was there when SNP Members started cheering early when the Inverclyde result came in. Do you know what, Madam Deputy Speaker? They still learned nothing; they were calling for a second referendum before the fine folk of Fife had even sent the final coup de grâce.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman trots out the line that Scotland voted remain, but I remind him that the United Kingdom voted to leave. My constituency, Heywood and Middleton, voted to leave by well over 60% and, contrary to the groupthink of the bien-pensant Écossais on the Opposition Benches, they did know what they were voting for. They saw the opportunities and the challenges and they chose to seize them. The heart of the matter is that the right hon. Gentleman remains deeply embittered that his brand of independence did not pass—and if he cannot have what he wants, nobody should have it.
Heywood and Middleton made a pretty bold decision in December by ending Labour’s lease on its votes, and that was in no small part down to the enthusiasm of the right hon. and learned Member the Leader of the Opposition for a second referendum. Let no one forget that that is his position. If nothing else, this debate will be a telling test of whether Her Majesty’s Opposition have learned any lessons. I see not. When it comes to Brexit, the Labour party has had more positions than the “Kama Sutra” and seems in no position to end the walk of shame that started on
In closing, I would like to turn to something—[Hon. Members: “More!”] Quantity from that side, quality here. I wish to turn to something that an SNP Member said in yesterday’s debate on the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill. David Linden made an insightful point, which I shall quote exactly. He said that,
“nations are best served when they govern themselves.”—[Official Report,
The United Kingdom can, should and must now govern itself in line with the instruction that the people gave us in 2016.
I would like to thank Chris Clarkson for what was, frankly, patronising drivel about Scotland and how we think, and for his insight into the 2014 referendum. He did get a joke in about the “Kama Sutra”, so obviously that was enough to have those on the Government Benches cheering; it is a joke we have all heard before so it was not very clever.
The motion before the House is all about common sense. It makes sense to extend the transition period during this covid pandemic. Only the Tories and their unelected tsar, Dominic Cummings, can think that a no-deal crash-out in December, in the midst of this global pandemic, is a good thing. It is quite clear that they are happy to pile chaos upon chaos.
Today’s motion and debate are also about nationalism and those who are obsessed by borders—and by that, of course, I mean the British nationalists, who think that the decline of the UK was due to the malign influence of the EU; those nationalists who are obsessed with controlling the UK borders and keeping people out; the very ones who cling to the glory days of the empire and think that the empire will return. Their idea of independence is so different from what we see as Scotland’s future.
We see a future in which Scotland is a member of the EU—one in which we still have freedom of movement for EU citizens and our students can still participate in the Erasmus scheme. As it stands at the moment, if we remain in a UK that is out of EU, students from the EU who apply to a Scottish university will initially be given only a three-year study visa—a visa that is not even long enough for them to complete their four-year course in Scotland. That is a simple example of how Scotland does not matter and does not figure when the UK formulates policy, particularly in respect of immigration. It is always based on what the Tory Government think England wants and how the voters in England will react.
We know that Scotland relies on immigration for growth, and we actually value those who come and work for the NHS. Meanwhile, the Tory Government and the Prime Minister had to be shamed into abandoning the health surcharge that they were applying to people who were saving lives and keeping the NHS going. Scotland simply cannot afford to be wedded to an immigration system designed for the south-east of England: as well as being inward-looking, it would cost Scotland financially and economically.
Bizarrely, despite the Tory Government’s obsession with controlling the UK borders, they are not actually in a position to do so if they leave without a deal in December. Throwing £700 million at it this week will not magically create a system that will be in place and operating by
On that, the one aspect the International Trade Secretary understands is the fact that the UK risks being a smugglers’ charter. It is such a risk that she believes the UK could be subject to a challenge from the World Trade Organisation, basically because of the UK’s desire for no border checks for EU imports to Great Britain for the first six months of 2021. How is that taking control of your borders? The International Trade Secretary also highlighted that there is a lack of plans and timescales for tariff declaration systems, border controls and necessary infrastructure for ports in the UK. She also outlined the fear that the dual tariff system will not be in place for
The hard Brexiteers, of course, still tell us that despite all that, and despite the International Trade Secretary highlighting her own concerns to the Cabinet, there is no need to extend the transition period—that is hard Brexiteers such as the former Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, who, in previous no-deal planning, awarded a ferry contract to a company with no ferries, no money and no assets. But sure, these are the people who can come together and somehow magic all these solutions into place by December 2020! It is a complete and utter fantasy. Fortunately, the people of Scotland can see through that hard-headedness. They did not vote for Brexit and they certainly do not want a no-deal crash-out. A survey has found that 83% of people in Scotland, and even 77% of people across the UK, say that the UK Government should agree to an extension. Why are those views being roundly ignored?
There is a reason why 48 SNP MPs, out of 59 seats, were elected in December. More and more people in Scotland can see that having our independence means that we can steer our own path. We know they see that the Scottish Government have handled the covid-19 pandemic better than the UK Government, despite what Douglas Ross was saying earlier. We have now reached a period where for over a week there have been no deaths in Scotland. I think everyone in the Chamber should welcome that. It is a shame that the death figures in the UK are still way too high, but I think that is a sign of how we have handled it much better in Scotland.
Polls across the entire UK show that Nichola Sturgeon is showing real leadership, unlike the Prime Minister. It is becoming obvious to all that if we are to have a true economic and green recovery, Scotland needs independence. People can see that the Tories crowing about how grateful we should be for getting Barnett consequentials is no substitute for having our own powers on borrowing and taxation. They can see that the summer financial statement the other week completely bypassed Scotland all together.
To return to the point the hon. Gentleman makes about death rates and figures, as a member of the Science and Technology Committee we have been hearing much about different rates in care homes and lots of the powers that are currently with the Scottish Government to prevent care home deaths. I encourage him to look at the figures, because Scotland is much worse than England.
I would have thought that, as a scrupulous member of that Committee, the hon. Lady would know that the death rate in care homes in Scotland is not actually higher than the death rate in care homes in England. That said, it is much higher than we would have liked, no doubt about it—it would have been much better for all if so many people did not suffer. I go back to the main point: there have been no covid deaths at all for over a week now in Scotland. It is quite clear that we are handling the virus much better, and yesterday there were only five new cases identified in the whole of Scotland.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but honestly that comment is beneath him. The population of Scotland is so much smaller than the rest of England that of course there would be more deaths in England than in Scotland. He should withdraw the accusation that his Government have done more than the UK Government on covid. It is based on population and the point he raises is not a very good one.
I will not withdraw the factual assertion I made that we have handled the covid-19 pandemic in Scotland better than the UK Government. And if we are talking about population, we can do that pro rata. The death rate in England is far, far higher than in Scotland. There are still daily deaths occurring every day in England and, as I have said, there are none in Scotland. That is nothing to do with having a lower population—zero is zero.
I suggest that it does this House a disservice if people outside see us haggling over which country has had fewer deaths—frankly, I think it does Members on both sides of the House a disservice—so I would like to go back to the hon. Gentleman’s comment on the summer statement last week. He spoke about how the UK Government’s funding had bypassed Scotland. That is an untrue statement. What it did was bypass the Scottish Government, and once again, that shows that unless the money has the stamp of the Scottish Government on it, the SNP does not accept that money being spent here can benefit the people and businesses of Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman knows that that is part of the whole debate about a power grab. The UK Government are trying to bypass the Scottish Government, so he is right in that, because they want to stick a Union flag on it—well, that trick does not work either. I go back to my earlier point: he is one of the Scottish Conservative MPs who stands up and brags about Barnett consequentials, but it is a sad state of affairs that we are expected to be grateful for Barnett consequentials, which come from a UK Government plan on how to spend money in England. They look at England’s needs and apply money to be spent based on England’s needs. We then get a wee share of that money and we are supposed to say, “Thank you very much, UK Government. The broad shoulders do us so well.” That is not how it works. In the Budget process, Scotland’s needs are never taken into account and people in Scotland understand that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way in his characteristically kindly manner. Perhaps I can take him back to the thrust of his speech. Is it not very regrettable that we still do not seem to have any details that lead us to believe anything very much about what the shared prosperity fund will mean for Scotland? If someone travels in my constituency or that of Ian Blackford, they will see many, many signs with European stars on them. Scotland and the highlands have benefited greatly from European funding. I do not know what will replace it in future and I would like to know.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I thank him for advising me to get back to the thrust of my speech, as I will now, on that very theme. As he correctly points out, in the highlands and islands, so many areas have benefited from European funding over the years. So many road upgrades have been undertaken, with causeways built, to connect islands, all based on European funding. That money is no longer accessible to Scotland. That money was making up for the deficiencies of direct rule from Westminster. Why were all these projects outstanding? Why did they have to be funded by European money? Because Westminster was not taking account of Scotland’s needs.
On the shared prosperity fund, as the hon. Gentleman said, we have no clarity. It says it all that responsibility for the shared prosperity fund lies with the Minister for English local government, so, clearly, it will not take into account the needs of Scotland. It is going to be tailored towards local communities in England. We will get some money and be told to be grateful and thankful—“Take your money and on you go.” It is not working anymore and the people in Scotland understand that.
We have heard today that this is the most successful political union in the world, and they tell us how lucky we are to have such a powerful devolved Parliament—the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world apparently. And yet, if we look across the Irish sea to Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Assembly has powers over welfare, pensions and an independent civil service, for example, which the Scottish Parliament does not have. Wallonia in Belgium scuppered the EU-Canada trade deal, so there are some other examples of Parliaments that have much greater power and responsibility than the Scottish Parliament. Most federal states in the United States have more powers than the Scottish Parliament, so this myth that it is the most powerful Parliament in the world does not wash. Of course it has done good for the Scottish people. Of course it is much better than direct rule from Westminster, but do not pretend that it is the most powerful Parliament in the world.
The real truth of the matter in terms of Unionist condescension is that they do not even believe that the people of Scotland should choose their own future. We have heard it today—“You had your referendum in 2014. The people voted in 2014 to stay in the UK, so shut your mouths and get on with it.” That does not wash either. The opinion polls show consistently at the moment support for independence at 54%. It ill becomes these people to say, “You’re not getting another referendum.”
The hon. Gentleman just mentioned opinion polls. Does he not agree that on 10 and
I thank the hon. Gentleman for another wonderful insight from afar. Yes, there was one opinion poll and yes, it did excite us, but it was only one opinion poll; all the other opinion polls showed that no was going to win, so I do not understand his point. It is clear that the opinion polls have moved and now consistently show record support for independence.
It is clear from some of the observations from Conservative Members that they do not understand what the Scottish population are thinking and how they feel. Their denial just beggars belief. They can talk in this Chamber about denying Scotland another referendum, but they cannot deny the will of the people in the long run. I assure them that independence is coming, it is coming soon, and then we will rejoin the EU and be an outward-looking, ambitious nation.
Order. As I said in reply to the point of order from Pete Wishart, I have let the debate run and put no restriction on time because it has been a very robust debate and I think it has benefited from everyone being able to take a lot of interventions rather than being constrained by a time limit. I hope not to have to introduce a time limit, because we have plenty of time for this extremely important debate, but I would appreciate it now if hon. Members would please hold the floor for around eight minutes. Eight minutes is quite a long time. That time will be reduced later in the debate, but if everybody takes around eight minutes for the time being, everyone who has indicated that they would like to speak will have an opportunity to do so, and that would be fair.
I welcome the Minister’s comments about the importance of sticking to the deadline and our promise to the British people. The Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, of which I am a member, received evidence relating to the effect of covid-19 on the negotiations. The negotiations are progressing and intensifying, but no amount of extra time will resolve the sticking points. The European Union is refusing to follow its own precedent and incorporate terms that it has accepted in other trade deals. The Select Committee’s report spoke of the possibility that covid-19
“may focus minds on arriving at a timely deal.”
I hope that causes the EU to recognise that its position is unreasonable and accept its need to compromise.
The report also highlighted the importance of giving certainty to business. The SNP’s motion would only give way to months more of uncertainty. It is reckless and acts as a thin veil for the party’s desire to cancel the decision taken by the United Kingdom in 2016.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that really important point. We have moved on now, and there is no more time for dither and delay. We need to move on.
It is hardly surprising that the SNP called this debate, given its form for disregarding referendum results. Fifty-seven per cent. of the people of Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale voted to leave the European Union. I was proud to campaign for a truly global Britain to take back control from Brussels and reclaim our independent trade policy. During the last general election, the spectre of the Brexit party risked splitting the leave vote and allowing the Labour party to hold the seat. Imagine my relief when my Labour opponents, in their infinite wisdom, published election leaflets branding me as the Prime Minister’s chum and a no-deal Brexiteer. I would like to thank the Labour party for its gleaming endorsement, without which I probably would not be standing here today. I believe in giving credit where credit is due. The fact that the Labour party thought those leaflets would hinder my chances rather than endear me to the electorate just shows how out of touch it is.
I echo my hon. Friend Jacob Young in asking where Labour Members are today. Where are they? Looking at the sparse Labour Benches, there is little sign that anything has changed. It is deeply worrying that the Opposition could muster only one Back-Bench Member to speak in this debate—[Interruption.] And I am not sure where Sarah Jones is. I want to offer Labour Members—who are, hopefully, watching or listening in their offices—some genuine advice: listen to the British people and accept the result of the referendum and the enormous benefits of being an outward-looking nation. They should unanimously oppose this motion. By doing so, perhaps they would get a little bit closer to reconnecting with their traditional voters.
I must confess that I am not, in fact, a no-deal Brexiteer. That is not to say that we should be fearful of a no-deal Brexit, given adequate preparation. However, I am optimistic that the Government will secure a deal that works for the whole United Kingdom. They are on track to deliver a deal that protects our legal autonomy and takes us out of the single market and the customs union. We will then be able to secure the vast boons of trade deals with countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Japan. My constituents have no desire to dither and delay, and nor do I. I will be opposing the motion with a spring in my step.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford for securing this debate, and it is a pleasure to follow Mark Eastwood. I noted his use of the term “take back control”, which I might use as well, but possibly running in a different direction. I would also like to inform the House that our Senedd in Wales is today holding the first ever debate on annibyniaeth—independence. In the light of the fact that we are also holding this debate here, and of the tenor in which it is being conducted, it is fair to say that the scaffolding of the UK is being strained to breaking by the unprecedented circumstances in which we find ourselves.
One of the dominant themes of our public debate since the 2016 EU referendum has been that power should lie closer to the people. The campaign was largely won on the emotional appeal of autonomy and control. “Vote leave and take back control” was the mantra that was repeated ad nauseam in debates inside this House and elsewhere. There was, and there remains, a clear emotional appeal to that message, and while I regretted Wales’s decision to vote to leave, back in 2016, I recognise that that vote reflected a genuine and justified dissatisfaction with our distance from where decisions are taken in our politics. Therefore, 2016 should have been a turning point and the beginning of a new process of truly bringing power closer to the people. We should have seen more devolution, not only to our national Parliaments but to local authority level. That vote should have started a process of bringing disengaged voters back into the democratic process, and of giving people real control over the decisions affecting their real lives.
“As the powers to make these rules are repatriated to the UK from the EU, we have an opportunity to determine the level best placed to make new laws and policies on these issues, ensuring power sits closer to the people of the UK than ever before.”
Instead, what we have had is a centralisation of power—centralisation to these corridors here in Whitehall, standing in the way of powers that should have been in transit from Europe to our national Parliaments rather than empowering Whitehall further. If this were a true Union of equals, these former EU powers would have gone equally, naturally, to all our Parliaments. The process started with the EU withdrawal Act, which ensures that the only Parliament that will take back control is the one most removed from the lives of the ordinary people who many of us in the Opposition represent.
The UK internal market Bill threatens our powers further, by allowing Westminster to dictate trade, environmental, food and animal welfare standards and provisions and by giving Westminster control over state aid—a clear breach of devolution in spirit and actuality.
Westminster once again undermines our nations when it comes to an extension of the transition. The Welsh Government, as well as the Scottish Government, last month called for the transition period to be extended. They were ignored.
In these extraordinary circumstances, I will agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am deeply disappointed that where Labour are in power and when they have made a clear statement to an effect that is relevant to the title of this debate, they do not have people here to push that argument.
I turn back to the UK internal market Bill and beyond. The Westminster Government, in this matter and others, not only disregarded the approaches from the Scottish and Welsh Governments, but did not consult them when they gave official notice to extend the transition.
Now, of course, the coronavirus has affected every nation badly, Wales among them. A recent Office for National Statistics survey found that 46% of Welsh businesses have six months or less of cash reserves—the highest percentage among the UK nations. In just five months’ time, businesses that export to the EU will be subject to customs declarations regardless of whether or not a deal is struck, adding increased costs and immense red tape to businesses that are already struggling.
In 2018, HMRC estimated that each customs declaration form would cost an average of £32.50 to complete. The Government expect that about 400 million additional customs declarations a year will have to be made from next year. The 46% of Welsh businesses that do not have the cash reserves to see them beyond this year will simply be unable to afford the added costs, and we fear that Welsh exports will be deeply affected, even to the point of collapse.
Thousands of job losses have already been announced in Wales: in aerospace, manufacturing, media, and—most recently, today, with the announcement that 80 full-time jobs and 70 casual workers’ jobs are at risk—at the Urdd. The Urdd is a 90-year-old organisation that runs the largest youth festival in Europe. It is critical to Welsh cultural survival, and we have heard today that there is that threat to 150 jobs out of 320. That is deeply concerning.
The right hon. Lady mentioned the Urdd Eisteddfod, an important celebration of our Welsh language and culture. Another such example is the Royal Welsh Show, which has not yet received any support from the Welsh Government, despite the additional funding that the UK Government made available. Does she agree that it also deserves support?
These cultural events are critical for us in Wales, but this year’s National Eisteddfod has been of course cancelled. Referring back, the Urdd is also one of the organisations that encourages our young people not just to learn Welsh at school, but to use it with each other and to have fun through the medium of Welsh. That support for the language is critical.
For a Government to be actively walking towards further disruption in January is reckless in the extreme, and I fear that it is all part of a plan. The disaster capitalists—those who profit from disaster—are now in charge, and they are gambling that the combined shocks caused by covid-19 and a destructive Brexit will allow them to reassemble the broken pieces into a radically different economic system. I urge the other Welsh Member here—I had to think ex tempore there—to consider the impact that a crash in January, on top of the covid-19 recession, will have on our constituencies and to consider the effect of the collapse in confidence on our fragile rural and tourism-dependent economies. We need that confidence, yet we see no confidence coming our way.
Plaid Cymru tabled a motion that gained the support of many Members on
Here we go again: another SNP debate, another debate on Brexit. I rise today, surprisingly enough, to oppose the motion in the name of Ian Blackford, but I do so in a particularly generous and forgiving mood. It was Oscar Wilde who said, “We should always forgive our opponents, because nothing annoys them so much.” So I forgive the Scottish National party for bringing before the House today this motion on, frankly, a false and flawed assumption: that the covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the Government’s negotiations with the European Union to the point that businesses will be left, as the Scottish Government argue in the document described in the motion, with less time to prepare than previously anticipated. That is quite simply not the case. The process has continued throughout the pandemic, with civil servants working from home and the negotiations taking place virtually.
SNP Members are not the only people to be worried about the efficiency or the productivity of people working from home, but if they truly believe that it is impossible to conduct effective negotiations remotely, that does prompt the question why they were so insistent that we could function effectively as MPs under the virtual Parliament arrangements, which the SNP fought so hard to keep. Indeed, on
Of course, it is unfortunate that we do not have remote participation, because far more SNP Members would have wanted to take part in this debate if they had been able to contribute via the remote screens. If Brexit is heading towards being such a success, as the hon. Gentleman claims, can he explain the opinion polls showing that people in Scotland are moving towards independence by a substantial majority? Are the polls wrong? Are the people misguided? Or is it actually that the misguiding principles are coming from the Conservative Benches?
I would happily stand and debate opinion polls and their trajectory, but there is only one poll that truly matters, and that is when people get to the ballot box. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that the SNP only managed to get 45% of the vote in December. That is a fantastic total and a very strong result, but it shows that 55% of the Scottish population voted for parties that want to remain in the United Kingdom—a United Kingdom that is, I am afraid, because we believe in democracy, leaving the European Union this year.
Throughout the Brexit debate, there has been a false assumption that the status quo was one of the options that remained available to us. That was never true and has never been less true that it is today. The European Union has been hit just as hard by the pandemic as the UK has, and it will have to make difficult decisions about how to respond to the economic effects, exactly as we will. Our staying in the transitional arrangements with the EU, when the EU is rightly not factoring British interests into its plans for recovery, does not make sense. We need all the flexibility available to us to respond to the economic damage caused by the pandemic, and staying inside the EU’s one-size-fits-all framework is simply not conducive to that.
We have had this debate over and over again for the past three to four years. What this country, and businesses in this country, needs is certainty, not more dither and delay. It is disappointing and of serious detriment to the interests of the people of Scotland that the SNP has not yet learned how negotiations work. If the past four years have taught us anything, it is that without firm deadlines, negotiations grind to a halt. That is precisely why deadlines exist—to ensure that important tasks are completed in a timely fashion. I am sure that Opposition Members visit schools in their constituencies from time to time, as I do. The next time they visit I invite them to ask teachers how likely it is that their students’ coursework would materialise were endless extensions on offer.
The leader of the Scottish National party in this place, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, spoke today about the importance of economic certainty and putting the economy first. My goodness me! It was a bigger conversion than Paul on the road to Damascus to finally hear the leader of the SNP making our arguments for us. Surely it means that the SNP has finally accepted our argument against breaking up the United Kingdom, given the huge economic cost that would bring. If the economy comes before all other concerns, the case for Scottish independence is as dead as a dodo.
Parking the politics for a moment, in all honesty does the hon. Gentleman not share my concern that our part of the United Kingdom, which we both are elected to represent, is due to be the hardest hit of the entirety of the United Kingdom as a result of Brexit? Does he not have any concerns about that whatever?
The hon. Member knows that I share concerns about the economic prospects of our part of the country, which we are both proud to represent, and that is why I, unlike him, welcomed the huge stimulus announced last week by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so much of which will be going to support Scottish businesses.
I thank the hon. Member for giving way and giving me another opportunity to reflect on the package last week, which he knows was devoid of any support whatever for Scotland’s oil and gas sector in terms of an oil and gas sector deal. I see his head go down, because he has just walked into that one, knowing exactly what I was going to say. I go back to my initial point. Does he not in all honesty have concerns that our part of Scotland will be detrimentally impacted by Brexit? Just say it.
I may have walked right into that, but that is because last week Oil & Gas UK welcomed the package of support unveiled by the Chancellor. It was very welcoming of the furlough scheme that we put up and it is looking forward to working with us as we develop the oil and gas sector deal. By the way, that deal and support would not come if Scotland was not in our wider United Kingdom.
I have to say something to the hon. Member and any SNP Members. If, heaven forbid, a second independence referendum took place and, heaven forbid, the result went in their favour, we would respect the result because, after all, we are democrats. I doubt we would see SNP politicians coming back here asking for an extension to any transition period that had been agreed, but the untangling of the Union that we are going through now is nothing compared with what it would be like to untangle an economic, political and military Union that has existed for more than 300 years.
The SNP looks both ways when it comes to leaving Unions. They will find any excuse to drag out the Brexit process for as long as possible, but when it comes to independence, it is full steam ahead—no plan, no timetable, no currency, no mandate, no way. They are simply Euro-Unionists. [Interruption.] Patricia Gibson mentions the side of a bus. Earlier, we heard the leader of the Scottish National party talk about what the SNP campaigned on during the December election. Its campaign was solely about “Stop Brexit”; it was not about another Scottish independence referendum. Independence was not even mentioned for the duration of the campaign, so toxic was it to the Scottish National party’s platform. On the side of the SNP bus, in black and yellow, was “Stop Brexit”. It failed, we are leaving the European Union at the end of the year, and we will make a success of it.
I will not because I have already taken two interventions—not even for the hon. Gentleman. SNP Members know that I campaigned and voted to remain in the European Union, but there is a certain thing called democracy, and we must abide by the results. Otherwise, everything that we stand for in this place, and out in the wider country, falls flat on its face. We fought the referendum. My side lost, the leave side won, and we must respect that, just as one day—hopefully—the Scottish National party will respect the fact that it lost in 2014, and that Scotland is staying as part of the United Kingdom.
At least the Scottish National party is consistent, and has a position on Brexit and the transition agreement, and I am sure we will debate the issue again in the months to come. Sadly, that is more than can be said for the Labour party, which is all but invisible today. I say in all candour to my friends on the Opposition Benches that it does not look likely, with the sort of actions demonstrated today, that they will get back to the position in which they need to be if they are to become a force in Scottish politics again, let alone in UK politics.
I am conscious of what you said earlier Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will draw my remarks to a close as I know that plenty of people wish to speak. This motion is not about covid, the economy, or people’s livelihoods; this motion is about the Scottish National party and its obsession with stymying the democratic role of the British people. We should be proud of voting it down this evening.
It is, for a change, a pleasure to follow Andrew Bowie, and I am glad to see him doing better. His more measured approach to this debate has been noted on the SNP Benches, and I wish him well—although, as usual, he was talking guff.
We are in the middle of a health crisis that stretches not just across borders—whether or not the Prime Minister recognises them—but across continents. At least 600,000 people around the world are dead from coronavirus, and many millions more will contract the virus in the future. That situation requires an international response, yet sadly, and predictably, the UK has gone further into its Brexit bunker, and decided to try and opt out of the world.
We have heard repeatedly about how Ministers want the UK to remain close friends with our EU allies, but what sort of friend insists on diverting the resources of the EU and its member states away from dealing with the most serious health emergency in modern history, and to negotiating with an obstinate and childish ex-member that seems to use a “Dad’s Army” script as its terms of reference? The EU has made clear time after time that, as my hon. Friend Alyn Smith said, it would be more than amenable to an extension to the negotiations, to allow it and the UK the space and time that is needed to deal with the public health emergency consuming us all. The response from the UK? “No thanks. I’m all right Jack.” What sort of relationship does it think will emerge on the other side?
Scotland is being dragged into a bombastic mix of exceptionalism, isolationism, and outright self-destruction. Ministers and Conservative Members have said that we voted as a Union, but people in Scotland have heard that before. People in Scotland also know that our democratic wish to work alongside our longstanding partners and allies has been torn up and chucked in the Brexit bin. Again, we are seeing that the British state is fundamentally incapable of good governance for Scotland or the rest of the UK. A clique of self-congratulatory Oxbridge graduates would steer their own country on to the rocks in the name of Brexit if they even knew where the steering wheel was. Instead, they have allowed their country to drift over the decades, taking the rest of us with them.
Scotland has never endorsed this self-immolation. For all that Ruth Davidson was lauded to the heavens by her high-profile supporters in the press, her crowning triumph was 28% of the vote in 2017—a figure that dropped two years later. The Tory record at election after election has been an unbroken streak of dismal failure for decades, yet our entire society and economy has been reshaped and allowed to wither on the vine, because that same Tory party has governed the UK for nearly 28 out of my 40 years. Now they expect us to keep silent and meekly go along with their back-of-a-fag-packet Brexit.
As I have said a few times in this place in the past few weeks, my constituency is facing the biggest challenge to our economy for decades. Rolls-Royce, Glasgow airport, easyJet, British Airways, Menzies Aviation and Swissport—I could go on to list company after company, and sector after sector—are in the process of collectively laying off thousands of my constituents. I have asked time after time what the UK Government plan to do to support constituencies such as mine, which are staring economic disaster in the face, but there has been no answer and no sign of a plan. But EU countries do have plans and they are implementing them now. They want to save jobs and key industries, and they have their levers and powers to do that. The Danish Government do not have to send missives to the Germans asking permission to have an industrial or macroeconomic policy. The French Government are implementing their plan for aviation now, yet there is no plan in the UK—none. Aerospace and aviation are left to rot; there is no sectoral support and no sign of any.
Businesses face a double whammy of coronavirus and Brexit, both accentuated by UK Government incompetence, ideology and arrogance. The exporters in my constituency still do not know what and where they will be able to export to the EU in the new year. Our manufacturers still do not know whether they will be massively disadvantaged by trade barriers that their EU competitors regard as fit only for the history books. The service industries still do not know what access, if any, they will have to the single market after
This is history repeating itself. Our country lived through decades of de-industrialisation as asset-strippers and spivs were allowed to run riot and destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs in the name of ideology—the UK Government sat back and let it happen. Emigration from Scotland ran into the hundreds of thousands as families moved anywhere and everywhere they could to find a skilled job—the UK Government sat back and let it happen. Our towns and cities became victims of the post-industrial economy—the UK Government sat back and let it happen.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the uncertainty that many businesses in his constituency face, but surely that uncertainty would drag on if we were to extend the transition deadline today. Surely it would be far better to focus on getting a deal and providing greater certainty through a clear framework of where we are going to be in the years ahead, rather than extending and pushing it down the road.
I am very grateful for that intervention, but I have just listed all the things where businesses do not know what is going to happen after
The UK has shown itself unfit and unwilling to govern Scotland properly, with, more often than not, zero democratic mandate to do so. I know that an independent Scotland, with its governance, capability and capacity, could plot a better course than the one we are locked into. I know that we could take our place back in the EU alongside the other small independent countries that make up the majority of its members. Do the Government want to carry on telling the people of Scotland that somehow we, on our own, are an economic basket case propped up by the largesse of the Treasury, as has been indicated? That is their concern, but I urge them not to be hypocritical; they should deliver that message to the people of Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Portugal, Austria, Finland, Luxembourg, Slovenia and all the other nations, self-governing, sovereign and independent, that make up the EU. The UK Government should pop up in the national news programmes of those countries telling the electorate that they are doing it wrong. They should be firing out press releases and extending the Prime Minister’s role as Minister for the Union to cover all these countries, Britsplaining their way across the continent. But they will not find a receptive audience and they do not find one in Scotland. More and more the rot at the heart of the UK is laid bare for all to see and people are saying enough is enough—enough of jingoism, isolationism and palling up with Trump; enough of watching the poorest in society being punished by a welfare state that is meant to help them; enough of rhetoric towards our friends in the EU that, until very recently, was the sole preserve of the Daily Mail letters page.
We want a Scotland that protects our citizens and works to protect others. We want a Scotland that values Europe and the benefits we bring each other when working in partnership. The Minister for the Union and his colleagues should realise now that to block the democratic will of the people to achieve these goals would be another nail in the coffin for the UK and another example for the Scottish people of how the UK works against our interests, not for them.
Scotland belongs in Europe and the people of Scotland will make that happen sooner rather than later. The Government, despite what they may think, cannot stop democracy, and they cannot and will not stop the people of Scotland choosing their own future.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. There have been relatively few opportunities for me, as a new MP, to debate the current negotiations with the EU during this Session, so I welcome this debate. It is timely because, after several years of bluster since 2016, this week we have finally started to see some more details of what Brexit will mean in practice.
On Monday, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster set out the £705 million cost of new border infrastructure and a new comms plan, which has been reported to cost £93 million on top of last year’s £100 million defunct Get Ready for Brexit campaign. On Tuesday, the Government confirmed that some 250 million customs declarations will be required every year, at a cost of £13 billion per annum.
Some of us in this Chamber are old enough to remember that the current Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster promised that if we voted leave, the NHS would receive £350 million a week. We were told that leaving the EU would be easy and frictionless, but now this Vote Leave Government are spending, on my calculations, around £250 million a week to prepare us for the realities of Brexit, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. These were preparatory measures; we have no idea what the exact cost of our exit will be. There will be tariffs; the question is on what scale, and we now know that that means a deterioration in our terms of trade. It means higher costs for business, and ultimately it will mean a rise in the cost of living, which will hit the poorest in this country hardest.
I acknowledge that that means that, in many cases, those who voted for Brexit will be hit hardest, but this is not the Brexit that they were promised—all at a time when the country faces unprecedented economic disaster and the greatest public health crisis this century. This is not Project Fear; the Government’s announcements, slowly though they may have come, have continually confirmed that this is Project Reality. Members on the Government Benches might criticise me for talking Britain down, but as I highlighted in my question to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster earlier this week, the current actual financial opportunities identified by the Government equate to absolutely zero.
Back in 2016, we were told that Britain would be welcomed, as we left the EU, with open arms by the international community. Despite lots of rhetoric around trade discussions, that welcome is far from certain. That rhetoric of leaving one Union to be welcomed by a host of nations is also used by Scottish National party Members, and that is not the only parallel between the campaign to leave the union in Europe and that to leave the Union of these four nations.
I have to question the consistency of advocating, on the one hand, that Brexit is doing a great deal of damage —with which I agree; so much, in fact, that delay is required—while failing to acknowledge that leaving the UK would be even more fiscally damaging. The UK has many similarities to the EU. The UK has a single market—one which, I acknowledge, is currently being undermined by our EU departure; a customs union; and a single currency. We share a currency and other far closer and deeper economic and social ties.
Britain carries out 40% of its trade with the European Union, and I agree with the SNP that leaving that institution is having, and will continue to have, profound economic shocks, but Scotland does over 60% of its trade with Wales, England and Northern Ireland, and impacting that would be cataclysmic.
The current crisis has been a clear indicator of the fact that working together can achieve better outcomes. It is likely that we will hear that, had Scotland voted for independence in 2014, with the obvious difficulties of separating from a 300-year-old Union, coupled with a likely currency crisis, it would potentially be in a very precarious place at this time, as it dealt with covid.
Earlier, I mentioned consistency. If the pandemic had struck in a world in which Scotland had voted for independence and was in a period of transition out of the UK, do we really think the Scottish Government would have been pressing for an extension to the date of Scotland’s departure due to covid? I do not think so; it is very likely that the SNP would be ploughing on. They would probably have had the same thinking as the current UK Government: given the scale of the crisis, no one will notice a bit more chaos, and if they do, we can point to the crisis. And why? Because they, like those on the Government Benches, do not acknowledge the costs of their beliefs.
Andrew Bowie stated that the SNP looks both ways on Unions. So do those on the Government Benches. If the argument is that coronavirus has such an impact on the UK that an extension to Brexit is required, why is the SNP continuing to push for a referendum on Scottish independence?
The First Minister claims that anyone who says anything contrary to the Scottish Government at present is being a political opportunist, but, too often, her party is happy to foster the politics of grievance. Last week, the Finance Cabinet Secretary, Kate Forbes, dismissed the financial support that went directly from the UK Treasury to Scottish people and businesses as if it did not exist. We have also talked about the Barnett formula today, and one of the benefits of the support that has been delivered directly by the UK Treasury is that it has not been subject to Barnett consequentials and has been absolutely based on the needs of UK businesses and employees.
I fear that responsible politics are in short supply these days, not least at the top of the UK Government. I mentioned a commitment made by the Prime Minister back in 2016, and he made another one almost a year ago on the steps of Downing Street, when he promised he would govern as a one nation leader. If that is the Prime Minister’s intention, he makes it very difficult to recognise it in his actions and those of his Government. In relation to the pandemic, what started as a four-nations approach with movement in lockstep—I have heard this on the Scottish Affairs Committee—quickly degenerated into acrimonious briefings and a breakdown in communications.
We have heard frequently in this Chamber from those on the Government Benches about the precious Union, but for me, the terminology “Union” and “Unionist” rings hollow. If the way the Government have handled relations with Scotland and the other devolved nations during the pandemic is Unionist, I am certainly something different. I am a Liberal. I am a federalist. I am an internationalist; I believe not in erecting borders but in dismantling them, and I do not think the politics of nationalism—on either side of this House—the politics of grievance and, ultimately, the politics of division are any way in which to conduct truly progressive politics. I am proud to stand here representing a constituency that voted both to remain in the UK and to remain in the EU.
As the Government look towards the end of this year, I urge them to remember that two constituent parts of the UK voted decisively to remain in the EU. The failure to properly take that into account in negotiations weakens the bonds of the UK. The pandemic has shown that devolution can deliver financial support, while nations and regions make different choices on their social and public health responses. On Brexit, it is incumbent on the Government be a Government for all four parts of the country, not just England.
We have clearly missed the opportunity of an extension, so now the Government must do all they can to seek a deal that will give us the closest possible relationship to the EU and minimise the impact of our departure during the covid crisis.
I want to start by talking about the catalogue of demonstrated Brexit costs, which grows almost unceasingly. I continue to be told by constituents of how it will cause massive damage to their businesses, and I am going to highlight just one of the most recent examples.
Leith and Edinburgh have a long association with the European wine trade—back as far as the 13th century—and it continues today. Raeburn Fine Wines, with premises in Leith, Edinburgh and London, has been telling me about the effects of the Brexit proposal on the wine trade. Perhaps surprisingly, the UK accounts for a large share of the world trade in fine wines, but that is under threat. Import certificates for EU wines will add business costs and near impossible bureaucracy to the uphill challenge of surviving the covid recession.
Wine is not the only high-quality sector facing an uncertain future. The recent announcement of the membership of the Trade and Agriculture Commission showed that the Government intend to break their promise to farmers to protect food standards post Brexit. The financial services sector also features heavily in my constituency, and it faces being locked out of EU markets or migrating to EU nations to protect its access. Universities face losing research cash. The health service faces losing access to essential supplies, including any new vaccine for the virus causing the current pandemic. Our fishing industry is about to be sold out by this Government, who will be handing out quotas with abandon. The list goes on and on.
Brexit was already a damaging prospect. Add the global pandemic, the trade negotiations going worse than anyone predicted and the OBR forecast of one in eight soon being out of work, and it is not clear to me and many others why anyone other than the blindest zealot would plough on unthinkingly. Now those zealots want to tie an unwilling Scotland to the handcart on the road to hell, with an internal market that once again renders the wellbeing of the people of Scotland secondary to the financial considerations of the south-east of England. No room for nuance or subtlety in the brave, new Brexit; no room for devolution in the sunny uplands of broken Britain.
The Government are so frightened of debate that the Minister for the Cabinet Office is in hiding and they have sent expendable cannon fodder instead. That points to the fact that Government Ministers do not seem to understand the four nations. Some of them famously think that there is no border. They think that wisdom rests in Whitehall and all must comply. They have lost even the limited vision that once embraced England’s northern powerhouse—that, too, will be ground down in the new Tory version of Mao’s long march. No dissent will be tolerated, no differentiation accepted. At a time when the best economic solutions for Scotland, Wales and for huge parts of England diverge hugely from the solutions offered in Parliament, uniformity will be enforced. Four legs shall be good and two legs shall be bad.
The proposed UK internal market is an infernal insult to nations that need different frameworks and support; to the people who will suffer the aftermath of the pandemic; and to those who aspire to something better than the fag end of British imperialism and exceptionalism. What has become breathtakingly clear during the coronavirus pandemic is that the UK Government are dysfunctional and incompetent. I shall give a few examples. Ministers and Spads who went roaming around England in flagrant abuse of the rules remain in post; confusing and inconsistent messages are sent out; financial help for those affected was provided at first, then withdrawn; figures on testing capacity have been massaged until they are meaningless.
It is a shambolic mess, much like the Government’s Brexit negotiations and trade talks. Failure mounts upon failure’s shoulders until the combined weight is too much to bear. The bluster and bravado is no substitute for clear thinking and proper action. The confusion and dither, the stumbling up cul-de-sacs and falling over kerbstones are not statesmanship—they are just bluster and bombast. It is a sad and embarrassing caricature of a Government who talk populism and serve elitism.
This debate has nothing to do with covid or the negotiations with the EU. It has more to do with the Opposition once again refusing to accept democracy. Of course, Opposition parties have form in refusing to accept the democratic will of the people. Let us remind ourselves that we voted to leave as the United Kingdom—not as Northern Ireland, not as Scotland, not as Wales, not as England. Look at the Conservatives—we are the 109s, and we are here because of the Opposition’s reluctance to accept democracy. Most of us are from leave constituencies, and we were voted in because of the Opposition. That is a fact.
No, I will not. The Opposition cannot tell us that we will suffer, lose our jobs and homes if we do not listen to them. We have suffered in the past, we have lost jobs, seen our area decline and be ignored, but we are fighters in Ashfield and we are coming back stronger. For the first time in decades we have hope, we know we can make a success of things, and we know that Ashfield can once again become a force to be reckoned with in a UK that is not controlled by the EU. But four years later, the Brexit blockers—
No, I am not giving way.
But four years later, the Brexit blockers are still at it. The majority of people in Ashfield and the first-time voters are not happy with them. Even the remain voters are not happy with them. We are all democrats and we should respect that. My voters were not happy with the Labour party last December when the people of Ashfield voted me in, and many of my colleagues across the midlands and the north. Just after the election, Labour started knocking on doors in Ashfield to ask why its voters had left it. I was sort of hoping that there would be more Labour MPs here today, but perhaps they have some extra guidelines on social distancing—that is probably why they are not here. Imagine ignoring your core voters for four years and then telling them that they did not know what they were voting for, or that we should have a confirmatory second vote, and then telling them that no one voted for a hard Brexit, a no-deal Brexit or any other type of Brexit. The people of Ashfield voted for Brexit, deal or no deal. The fact that the SNP is now using covid as another excuse to prolong the agony just shows how low it is prepared to sink. But we still do not know what the Labour party’s policy is on this—perhaps in a couple of years’ time Captain Hindsight will tell us all.
The good news is that I have some oven-ready advice for the Labour party. It needs to start knocking on doors before an election and actually asking people what they want rather than telling them what they should want. It was easy for me: I asked the voters, “What do you want?”, and they answered, “Get Brexit done.” I promised to get it done, they voted for me, and here I am, eight months later, after decades—
No, I am not giving way.
Here I am, after decades of Labour MPs in Ashfield and after four years of Labour telling the people of Ashfield they did not know what they were voting for. Yes, I am here, and I am sticking up for people in Ashfield. The same Opposition parties keep ignoring my people, but that will not go on for much longer. The Labour party still does not get it. It does not understand its own voters in the midlands and in the north. The SNP is a bit smarter than the Labour party: it does not really want to be a part of the EU, but sees continued membership as a way of forcing independence and splitting up the Union. But have no fear—I will be waving my Union Jack at midnight on
I must say to Lee Anderson that I think that is highly unlikely.
It is clear that the path being steered by the UK Government is compounding the economic uncertainty caused by covid, and is at odds with the interests and the wishes of the people in Scotland. It is certainly at odds with the interests and the wishes of the people in my constituency, who rejected Brexit by three to one. I am really confident that as an independent country Scotland would not be on this path. People in Scotland see through the spin, the bluster and the deceit that are at the core of this Government and the strategy they are pursuing.
Scotland’s Government are taking a considered and cautious approach to getting us out from under this dreadful pandemic. There is no way the same could be said of the UK Government’s response. That is not a party political point: 70% of Scots who voted Labour or Conservative in 2019 approve of the Scottish Government’s handling of the pandemic. With the full powers of independence, we could have made different choices reflecting our different circumstances. It is notable that across the UK fewer than half the people think that the UK Government have handled the pandemic well—a figure that bumps along the bottom of international rankings alongside their pal Trump’s shambolic Administration. This lack of planning and structure bodes very poorly for Brexit.
This is as much about the way that the UK Government consider the needs of all our communities. To borrow a phrase, “lions led by donkeys” is a not unreasonable description of the relationship between the UK’s Government and its citizens. Ironically, the donkeys of yesteryear and those of today, some of whom sometimes lounge on the Government Front Benches, share a remarkably similar outlook: dismissive yet underprepared, and uninterested in experts but well-schooled in Latin soundbites—not of much practical use given the circumstances we are dealing with.
Why would anyone think that this Government—a Government who are all over the place on this pandemic and whose mismanagement of it has affected all four nations of the UK—are capable of rebuilding the economy in a sustainable and fairer way, while they say nothing at all on issues such as child poverty? Why would anyone think that that kind of Government are capable of negotiating an exit from the EU other than by crashing us out, which many on the Government Benches appear to want to do, no matter the harm it does?
It may be late in the day, but it is not too late to do the right thing by delaying the end of the transition. The problem is that leading members of this Government and their advisers have no interest or track record in doing the right thing. It is not just in their dealings with the EU that that is the approach. Inability to negotiate is often associated with a domineering culture. That is how the UK Government conduct their relationship with the devolved Administrations. Having failed to get their way through the four-nation approach to the pandemic, the UK Government simply wandered away down a path of U-turn and confusion. In typical domineering style, their solution is not to improve their ability to work with others, but planning to use the powers of this place to undermine those they should be working with.
Brexit, as it is now appearing from under the desk of Dominic Cummings, will not come quietly. The devolved Administrations tried to work with the UK Government on a post-Brexit settlement that respected the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But when the UK Government’s proposals emerge, they will represent a power grab on the devolved Administrations on a grand scale. Having seen the chaos that this Government have presided over in recent months, few voters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will welcome these proposals.
The best recruiting sergeants for the cause of Scottish independence are those who are wilfully charging on with their plans for Brexit and riding roughshod over our votes in Scotland once again, while the rest of the world watches in disbelief as they put at risk the wellbeing and economic future of their citizens. My message to the UK Government is clear, as they set about pushing down this road that Scotland expressly voted to avoid: as you set out to shake the Union to its foundations, do not be surprised if it is not left standing when you are finished.
This debate purports to examine the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on negotiations for a future UK-EU relationship. In fact, it has become clear that the Scottish National party, with the Labour party in hock, is still pushing the agenda of frustrating Brexit by calling on the Government to accept the EU’s offer of an extension to the transition period.
It should be abundantly clear to the SNP-Labour axis that after all these years the people of the United Kingdom are tired of endless delay and remain subterfuge. The British people voted for Brexit four years ago, yet they are still waiting for us to fully extricate ourselves from the EU’s stranglehold. We hear those on the SNP Benches ask, “Where are Labour?” I agree—where are Labour? The fact that they cannot even be bothered to turn up to the debate shows that they support this rather than oppose it. They are happy to not make up their minds, and they are happy to support this ludicrous motion to try to stop Brexit. That says it all about the Labour party.
The results of the 2016 referendum and December’s election made it clear what the mission of this House must be: to fully leave at the end of the year, come what may. It is critical to the health of our democracy that people have faith in our political system and know that the results of elections and referendums are obeyed, including ones on independence for Scotland. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, now more than ever we need the certainty of exiting the transition period for a number of reasons.
Is the hon. Member firmly in the camp which says that we had the referendum in 2014 in Scotland and that is it—we never get the chance to have another referendum, and people do not get to change their mind in a democracy? Is that what he is saying?
I am saying that we voted in a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-generation referendum, and we cannot keep going back and asking the same question again and again. Nothing is more undemocratic than asking the same question again. In fact, one organisation that kept going back and asking countries to vote again and again was the European Union. Time and again, it asked countries to vote again because it did not like a decision. We are democrats: we must stand up for democracy. Even when we do not like democracy, we have to support it; otherwise, the mandate of every single one of us in this House is null and void, because we can go back again and again. For Members to argue for another referendum on Scottish independence now is for them to argue for their own position in this House not being secure—to argue that the people who elected all of us do not know what they voted for. If they do that, they have no authority to call for a referendum. It is a bizarre argument for the SNP to make.
Let me turn back to what this debate should be about: the EU and coronavirus. We need to leave for numerous reasons: business investors need confidence and stability; we need to end the transition period so that we can get the Brexit dividends that will turbo-charge our economy; and, given the ongoing challenges presented by coronavirus and various geopolitical tensions, we must move forward from this Brexit paralysis.
The people of this country are tired of scaremongering and of this great country being talked down. Everyone on all sides of the debate just wants the best possible deal for Britain—or they should do. The Government are working hard to achieve exactly that: an ambitious, comprehensive, Canada-style free trade agreement with our European friends and allies, built on mutual respect and co-operation. We are making good progress in the negotiations and they are proceeding apace. In fact, the reason why we got rid of the virtual Parliament and came back was to get the legislation passed. The SNP was against our coming back to a physical Parliament—another of its delaying tactics that would have delayed Brexit even longer.
I remind the House that those on the Opposition Benches told us that we would not get a deal in respect of Northern Ireland, yet here we are today. We must not be distracted by the Labour and SNP naysayers who seek to talk down our nation down—[Interruption.] They are even chuntering to talk to our great nation down.
Regardless of what type of deal we agree with the EU, I am absolutely certain that Brexit will provide great opportunities for the whole of the UK. My priority is to protect jobs and livelihoods in the areas—such as my constituency of Rother Valley—that have been long forgotten and often left behind. Brexit offers us a chance to create many high-quality British jobs in all four corners of the nation and truly to level up. We can promote UK plc by exporting our skills and goods globally to whomever and wherever we please.
It is necessary to point out that all four nations of the United Kingdom will benefit from the Brexit boom. Our friends in the SNP offer little for the people of Scotland beyond shameless and insidious separatist rhetoric. They neglect to mention that the UK single market is worth over three times more to Scotland than the EU single market—[Interruption.] Does Gavin Newlands wish to intervene, or does he wish to chunter? I will happily take an intervention from a chuntering man.
The hon. Gentleman talks about rhetoric; has he listened to the first half of his own speech? It has been replete with rhetoric the entire time. He should really read his own speech before he finishes it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for intervening about rhetoric; after all, this debate is more about rhetoric. I was told it was about the European Union and Brexit, but all I am hearing about is Scottish separatism and Scottish nationalism from this nationalistic party. It is all about trying to bang the tartan drum and trying to get things back, but we had a referendum. Let us move forward and talk about the debate that matters: the Brexit boom that we are going to get and the things that this whole Government were elected to do. We will fulfil our mandate.
I remind the Scottish nationalists—the separatists on the other side of the House—that every single person in Scotland receives a dividend of £1,968 per year more. That is £2,000 per person; it is a great deal for the people of Scotland. However bad the SNP’s separatist rhetoric is, though, Labour’s position is even worse—its Members cannot be bothered to turn up to this debate. After years of flip-flopping and changing their mind on Brexit, they still do not support our exit from the EU. If they did, they would be here, arguing with Government Members against the nationalists, but they cannot be bothered to turn up. My constituents in Rother Valley know only too well that if Labour had won power—with the help of the SNP, because Labour would have been propped up by an SNP Government—Brexit would have been abandoned. That would have gone against the good, ordinary working people of my constituency.
In stark contrast, the Conservative party has kept its promise by taking the UK out of the EU on
Mr Deputy Speaker, you would think it would be a no-brainer for the Government to extend the timetable for our Brexit transition. Given the global crisis that has engulfed all of our lives, to do anything else would be ludicrous—it would be like someone driving 30 miles to test their eyesight.
Trade agreements are long and complex processes, and the transition period was already tight before the covid crisis put a spanner in the works. Now any decent deal is looking beyond reach and there is not enough parliamentary time to properly scrutinise whatever might be agreed. Yet we have a Government who do not care about doing decent deals in the full light of day and have set their face against the scrutiny of their actions. Nailing the detail on even far easier questions is not a strength of this Administration. On the covid-19 strategy, for example, you would have thought that they would have had an angle on what they actually wanted to achieve by now. Yet when I asked the Government whether elimination was part of their plan, I received a holding reply on
This is not a principled Government, but a reckless one. We know that they were reckless with public health advice: Dominic Cummings’ hazy drive to Durham during lockdown is testimony to that. Public anger over the hypocrisy was brushed off and we were told to move on. It was another case of, “Do as we say, not as we do”.
The signs do not look good for post-Brexit decision either. Refusal to negotiate sensibly with our European partners has locked the UK out of the successful Galileo satellite programme. The Government have recently gambled £500 million in a share of a bankrupt satellite company, OneWeb, hoping that they can tack navigation capabilities on to the wrong type of satellites. I say £500 million, because that is what has been reported in the media, but when I asked the question formally, I was told that the figure could not be disclosed as it was commercially sensitive. There is no public scrutiny, no business plan and no risk assessment published for this decision, which, by all accounts, goes against the better judgment of experts such as those in the UK Space Agency. With activities such as these, is it any wonder that many people question whether this Government can even tell their arse from their elbow?
“Devolution will kill Scottish nationalism stone dead.”
Here we are 25 years later, and the Scottish independence cause is very much alive and stronger than ever. Meanwhile, the uncompromising actions of British Brexiteers look like the actual move that will kill the Union stone dead. Devolution, albeit in its limited present form, has allowed the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to develop their own solutions, rather than toeing the line from the Tories. It has let people across these isles know that their voices matter and that we can aspire to more, instead of just simply taking what we are given.
With Scotland’s modern, transparent Parliament in Holyrood, people have elected a Government who better reflect their views, respect evidence, listen to experts and care about the poor, but this current Tory Administration cannot allow such a thing. They seek to put us back in our box. They will dismantle the democratic structures, which were so hard won by the people of Scotland. Lord Robertson may not have had the most honourable intentions in backing a Scottish Parliament, but there were many in the Labour party who recognised and cherished its role. We, in the SNP, were together with Labour at that time, and we must stand together again now as the institutions are disgracefully disrespected by the actions of this Government.
As recently as 2015, Gordon Brown was promising greater devolution and home rule. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the party of home rule has apparently forgotten its roots, and that is certainly shown by the fact that there are so few of them here today, which is a pity.
This is a Government who have torn up the respect agenda, which was at least given lip service by their predecessors. The growing culture of disrespect has been brought into sharp focus with Brexit. Scotland voted to stay in the European Union by a strong majority in every constituent part. The hostility displayed towards Europe by Brexiteers—there was a thinly veiled xenophobia from some—was as abhorrent to those on these Benches as it was to the people whom we represent.
After the Brexit vote, the Scottish Government tried to find the least damaging compromise, yet it was rejected. On devolved competences, this Government have seen no need to negotiate and reach agreement with the Scottish Parliament and they just press ahead regardless. Their actions have not gone unnoticed. Now is the time for Scotland to rejoin our European cousins as an equal independent nation.
It is a pleasure to follow Owen Thompson, with his wonderful accent, huge passion and interesting perspective.
After so much dilly-dally, dither and delay, the United Kingdom finally left the EU on
I have heard from many businesses in my part of the world about what they think—from people who voted to remain and those who voted to leave—and there is one common ground that unites sensible, forward-looking business people from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They want no more debate about in, out or shake it all about. They want certainty, and on
An independent, trading United Kingdom will look out to the world, instead of purely inward to Europe, hooking up to trade with the biggest and fastest-growing economies on the planet. I do not think even the most ardent remainer would argue that Europe is the place to be for economic growth, so it is right that, while we will continue to trade with Europe on mutually agreed terms, we will broaden our horizons with new and better trade deals with the US, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and others. Moreover, the potential for free ports is something that should be welcomed, across the UK and across the political divide, as an amazing opportunity to turbocharge our economy. But others will need to join the queue, because Teesside asked first. We are chomping at the bit and we are ready to roll.
The Government are delivering on the referendum result. We are taking back control of our borders, with a points-based system where people would be judged not on where they come from, but what they can contribute here to the UK. This is another opportunity to reach on up, with the best scientists, clinicians and entrepreneurs coming to play their part in a global Britain.
The naysayers and democracy-denying Brexit blockers who said that a vote to leave the EU would see confidence crash or that the sky would fall—many of them were on the wrong side in the single currency debate as well—do not know better than the 17.4 million people in the UK who voted to leave. We have left, and we are going to make a success of it. Some of the 17.4 million people live in Stockton South, some are represented by SNP Members and some elected Labour Members as well. I realise that Labour and the SNP seem to adopt a creative approach to referendums—keep asking until they get the answer they want—but it is time to move on.
It is time to move forwards together. Let us look forward to our shared future and make the most of trade opportunities that will unleash the UK’s potential. The Government are investing £705 million to fund new infrastructure, jobs and technology at the EU border, so we will be ready to take full advantage of our new sovereign status on day one. So let us talk up the UK. Our amazing, dedicated workforce and fantastic, innovative businesses are about to prove they can succeed on the world stage.
As we emerge from a health crisis, we are grappling with an economic crisis that could scarcely be more serious. To leave the EU in December with no extension to the Brexit transition period, something which the EU has offered, is complete madness. This oven-baked Brexit touted by the Prime Minister truly is half-baked. Those on the Conservative Benches have told us that we need to stick to this timetable to create certainty. The only thing that is certain is that we are heading for a no-deal Brexit, and that does not provide certainty for business or our constituents at all.
As for this myth about the broad shoulders that Scottish taxpayers have been subjected to out of the goodness of this Government’s heart, in Scotland we have actually received merely just over 4% of the entire borrowing of the UK. Given that we have 8.3% of the UK’s population, I would suggest that Scotland is being sold short, and that is before I even talk about the £30 billion that was announced last week, of which Scotland received 0.1%—far less than the 8.3% our population suggests we should have got. While we on the SNP Benches welcome the furlough scheme, it has to be said that there are more holes in it than a spaghetti strainer.
Unless the UK Government, wedded as they are to Brexit ideology, extend the transition period for leaving the EU, productivity in Scotland and indeed across the UK is seriously threatened. Unemployment in Scotland could conceivably reach 10%. If the Government head off this Brexit cliff, to which 63% of Scots are opposed, they will rob Scotland of jobs, opportunities and prosperity, and it is something the people of Scotland have rejected over and over again.
This so-called oven-ready Brexit continues to be, and always has been, a con. The much-vaunted easy trade deals we were promised are of course nowhere in sight. These fears are not just expressed by the SNP. The chorus of concern from the business world is deafening. And still the Government close their ears. Only days ago, Angela Merkel talked about the EU preparing for a no-deal Brexit, but rather than listen to these concerns, raised across the devolved nations, the Prime Minister has chosen to treat the leaders of the nations of the UK like disobedient children who will not take their medicine and sit quietly. While he drives the UK off the Brexit cliff—we remember the words about this being a Union of equals—we know that at the same time he is doing his best to dismantle the entire devolution settlement.
We know that the Tories have always been hostile to devolution, so much so that in 2016 the Tory party in Scotland was reduced to advertising in newspapers to find candidates—to find paid guns for hire; they could not find enough true believers in their cause. You can imagine, Mr Deputy Speaker, the quality of the candidates who applied and were eventually elected as a result. The Tory contempt for devolution is shown with the increasing attacks we have seen on the Parliament that belongs to the people of Scotland.
I will not give way; there is a shortage of time.
Clearly, the Government’s philosophy is: if they cannot win elections in the constituent parts of the UK, they simply seek to dismantle the institutions that they cannot control. If this Tory Government actually believe they can prevent Scotland from having the opportunity to choose her own future in this or any landscape, they are sadly deluded. They cannot stem the tide of independence, which they themselves have helped to strengthen and give rise to. We stood on a manifesto of Scotland deciding her own future—much as that may be uncomfortable for some Tories on the opposite Benches—and the Tories stood on a manifesto in Scotland of getting Brexit done. The result of that election tells us what the people of Scotland feel.
Democracy did not end in Scotland in 2014 and the reality is that the UK Government are now frightened of the inevitable referendum that is to come, because they know that support is growing as they ride roughshod over Scotland’s democratic wishes.
I am somewhat bemused by the motion today because on the very first page of the document to which it refers the Scottish Government say:
“This transition period is due to finish on December 31, but it can be extended… as long as that is agreed by the end of June. After that date, it will not be possible to extend under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement—and no other plausible route to an extension has been put forward.”
So I would be interested to hear from SNP Members what route they know of to extend and why they have not shared that with their colleagues in the Scottish Government.
Conservative Members believe that the whole United Kingdom is stronger when we work together and that the real threat to recovery would be the SNP’s policy of separating Scotland from the rest of the UK. We value this Union, this family of nations, which, formed more than 300 years ago, has been the most successful union in history. While 17% of Scottish exports go to the 27 member states of the EU, 60%—over three times more—of Scottish trade goes to the rest of the United Kingdom, and a similar value flows back over the border.
Fifty years ago, my mum and dad moved to the UK, leaving behind their families and friends, because the UK represented the values that meant so much to them and which mean so much to me as well—indeed, they are referenced in the Scottish document: human dignity, freedom, democracy and equality of opportunity. The UK does not just talk about those values; it embodies them. Recently, when Hong Kong’s freedoms were threatened, the UK stepped up to the plate, not just by raising concerns with China but by inviting up to 3 million British national overseas passport holders and their dependants with open arms to move to the UK.
As someone from an immigrant background, I can say that these islands represent hope and opportunity. This is a Union not just of nations but of people, and it is personal for me. My mother works in the NHS in England; my cousin works in the NHS in Scotland. The whole United Kingdom has opened its arms and become a home to my family, and for that I am very grateful.
The optimistic vision for Britain after
The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership provides the opportunity for a trade deal centred on the world’s fastest-growing region, covering a population of 495 million people—greater than that of the EU—and, crucially, opening up opportunities in the services sector, which constitutes 70% of the Scottish and, indeed, UK economies. Accession would be a key step in realising our ambition for 80% of UK trade to be covered by free trade agreements in the next three years.
Our vision means more control over our fisheries, ensuring more Scottish fish are caught by Scottish fishermen. It means an agriculture policy designed not for the needs of 27 diverse nations but by the Scottish Parliament for Scottish farmers. As my hon. Friend Matt Vickers mentioned, it means freeports, which I think would benefit many coastal communities in Scotland. And leaving on
I hope that we can continue to work together for our common future and to ensure the best possible recovery from the epidemic. The covid-19 recovery has highlighted the strength of our shared institutions, with the UK Government working with devolved Governments to ensure the best possible provision for our people; devolved Governments tailoring policies to local requirements; the NHS, formed across the UK, providing care on the basis of need; the British Army building hospitals and testing people across our four nations, and the Treasury using the financial firepower of our strong Union to ensure that money is distributed to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on the basis of need. Our resources are pooled and shared. The best hope for our recovery and the future of the British people is our continued co-operation—working together in a national effort to get the whole country back on its feet.
Crucially, even if it were possible to extend, I am not convinced that that would bear fruit. At the beginning of my career, I worked on a trading floor, and I had a frontline view as the Greek credit crisis unfolded. There are very few decisions that the EU has to bring its 27 countries to terms on to which the answer is more time. We saw last year that extensions do not change the fundamentals. There is no use hiding from the decisions that need to be taken. Perhaps someone should tell the Labour party that.
As a new Member, it has been all too apparent to me that one of the hallmarks of this Chamber is repetition. I am afraid that, as I am quite far down the call list, I will repeat some of the points that have already been made, very eloquently, by my colleagues on the SNP Benches.
However, before I get to that, I want to reflect on the fact that when the whole Brexit debacle was being debated last year, I was not here. I was one of the many millions who were sitting at home watching the chaos unfold—people leaving parties; votes not happening; votes happening and the Government being defeated, and then, obviously, a general election. As I watched all that unfold, I had a sense of overriding emotion; I was dismayed and disappointed, but I was also hopeful. I will come back to hopeful, but for now I will focus on dismayed and disappointed.
Aberdeen voted 61.1% to remain in the European Union. The people of Scotland voted 62% to remain in the European Union. The city that I represent is expected to be the hardest hit by Brexit—be that a hard Brexit, a soft Brexit or whatever machination of Boris Brexit comes back later this year—but our views are not being considered by this Government. The views of the people of Scotland are being flatly ignored. We have heard Conservative Members stating passionately that their constituencies voted to leave and we therefore need to leave the European Union. I say to them: show some respect for the fact that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain, and show some respect for the fact that my constituency is going to be absolutely hammered by Brexit, irrespective of which study we look at.
This cuts to the heart of the debate that we are having here today, in relation to the democratic deficit that exists on these islands. In 1997, when the Scottish Parliament was voted on by the Scottish people, devolution was created. The people of Scotland were able to vote for elected Members to sit in the Scottish Parliament, who would then vote on a raft of policy proposals that would impact the people of Scotland. Subsequently, in 2016, we voted to remain in the European Union, but our views have been completely ignored and we are going to be dragged out. The powers that sit within the European Union that directly relate to devolution are not going to come to the Scottish Parliament in their totality; they are going to come to this place, to a Government that we neither support nor voted for. Where is the democracy in that? From procurement to food standards to minimum unit pricing, the policies of Scotland are different from the policies of this United Kingdom. We have taken a different path on so many issues, and the powers that the UK Government seek to take back from the European Union will put all those positive changes at risk. Irrespective of the rhetoric from Conservative Members, those are the facts in front of us.
Looking towards the Scottish Parliament elections in 2021, if we want to have a discussion about what the role of the Scottish Parliament should be, I say to Scottish Conservative Members, bring it on. The views of the people of Scotland have changed. We have seen it in opinion polls. They want a Scottish Parliament that is empowered and emboldened. This UK Government do not want to deliver that, and the Scottish Conservatives do not want to deliver that. So we are going to have a discussion about the future of the Scottish Parliament. Let’s do it. Let’s see if we want a Scottish Parliament that has the same powers or fewer powers. Or let’s have a discussion about whether we want the Scottish Parliament to have the full powers of an independent nation—a nation able to make its own policy decisions. If this UK Government continue to ignore the democratic will of the people of Scotland in relation to their views on the European Union, they will be sleepwalking into the end of their precious Union.
It is a pleasure to follow Stephen Flynn. He speaks passionately for Aberdeen, and I commend him for that. I am grateful to the Scottish National party for tabling this motion to extend the transition period, as it allows me to remind my constituents why they voted for me last year. On
Until now, Redcar has never had a Tory MP, and neither have West Bromwich West, Heywood and Middleton, Dudley North and Rother Valley. I and many of my colleagues on the Government Benches are here because people trusted us to make their voice heard. They put their faith in the Prime Minister and a Conservative Government for the first time ever in our constituencies, because they felt let down by a Labour party that had ignored them for so long. I draw the attention of the House to the empty Labour Benches. Tonight, the Labour party looks set to ignore them once again. Here we are, nearly six months since we left, debating yet another motion aimed at extending the transition period, put forward again by those who refuse to accept the result simply because they did not want it.
It is no surprise to anyone on the Government Benches, or to the public at large, that those who still reject the result of the EU referendum are the very same ones who still refuse to acknowledge that the people of Scotland rejected independence in the 2014 referendum. It seems that the Scottish separatists simply cannot accept the result of any referendum. Well, we on the Conservative Benches trust the people of the United Kingdom, wherever they may be, to make the right choices for them. They put their trust in us to deliver on those choices.
As we count down the days towards the end of the transition period, all the motion would do is add yet more delay and betray that unprecedented trust. What we still do not know, however, is how Sir Keir will vote tonight. We know that he was the architect of Labour’s failed Brexit policy, a rigged second referendum between staying in the EU or staying in the EU without calling it that, but what is his position now? Will he jump on this delaying Brexit bandwagon, or will he respect the result of the referendum? Will he return to blocking, delaying, preventing and doing all he can to stop Brexit, or will he show true leadership and listen to the voice of the people who used to vote for his party?
There is no doubt that the Scottish independence party, the illiberal un-democrats and whatever is left of the Labour party are still hoping for Brexit to be reversed. They are still hoping that it will never properly happen. They do not trust the people of this country, just like the SNP still refuse to trust the people in Scotland in the 2014 referendum. The Opposition parties tonight are revealing their true colours and we must do everything in our power to stand strong while they turn their backs.
I am under no illusion that the principal reason I was elected in December was to get Brexit done for the people of Redcar and Cleveland, which is why I was so proud, as one of my first votes in Parliament, to vote Brexit through. It is why I will proudly walk through the Lobby tonight against any extension to the transition period. We want to reach an agreement with the EU by the end of December, based on a Canada-style free trade agreement. We can achieve that in the time ahead. We are not asking for anything that the EU has not already given to other countries, but if they do not want to extend that to us, we must do what is best for Britain and leave without.
Just a gentle reminder—I did not want to interrupt the full flow—but please do not refer to current sitting Members by their names. Thank you very much.
My constituency of Gordon in the north-east of Scotland is one which very emphatically did not vote to get Brexit done. In fact, the reason I stand here today is that I stood on a pledge saying that we needed two referendums: one for the putative withdrawal agreement; and, secondly, in light of all that the people of Scotland have experienced since 2014, a chance to reconsider the issue of Scottish independence. It is the very fact that the UK refused to consider the first of those that the second of those positions is now a near certainty.
Brexit is going to happen—I absolutely accept that—but my real disappointment is not so much in the result but the treatment handed out by the UK Government afterwards, when they confused 52% of the British people as if they spoke for 100%. The Scottish Government sought to find an accommodation that would have kept us in the single market and mitigated some of the very worst impacts of Brexit right across these islands. At every stage, they were met not with courtesy or accommodation, but instead with bone-headed obduracy, witless statements about red, white and blue Brexits or Brexit meaning Brexit, and hardline exceptionalist dogma.
When it comes to our current Prime Minister, it is very tempting to conclude that his place in history will be as the worst Prime Minister since the last one, but his culpability for the shambles we are in at this point goes far, far deeper than that as the architect, the clown prince and the front man of the Brexit campaign. Frankly, it speaks volumes for the sheer and utter desperation of the Conservative party towards the end of last year that the only reason it stumbled towards the withdrawal agreement was that it was prepared to scrap the sacred red line about the relationship between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. It replaced the backstop and took that red line and laid it down the Irish sea instead.
What, I ask, have we got in return? After four years of negotiations, we certainly do not have a deal, but what we know will happen, deal or not, is that the Government have managed to create that border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We are going to sacrifice the freedom of movement and the freedom we have come to take for granted over the past few decades of being able to live, work, love and study right across the continent, freely and without hindrance. We know that there is a threat to those parts of our economy where we have been blessed with immigrant labour to help us, and I am thinking particularly of the fish processing sector in the north-east of Scotland, the agricultural sector, the care sector and our NHS. We know that importers face increased costs, and we know that exporters will face huge delays.
We know that in Scotland and the devolved institutions, we are facing a power grab that will drive a coach and horses through the principle that that which is not reserved is explicitly devolved. We also face a race to the bottom on food standards, animal welfare and workers’ rights.
Is it any wonder that people in my constituency and right across Scotland are looking at the political shambles created by this Government and their predecessors and what they now represent and deciding, “This is not who we are. This is not who we wish to be. This is not how we wish to be represented. This is not how we wish to be seen in the world.”?
We are clearly approaching a constitutional endgame when it comes to Brexit and Scottish independence. I care very much indeed about having a stable, prosperous neighbour in the nations of the rest of the United Kingdom, but I am a democrat. If the rest of the UK is determined to go down this reckless path, I have to accept that there is nothing that I or any other Scottish MP or any other Scottish voter can do to halt that process. If the UK is determined to crash out of its closest European alliances in a state of dishevelment and disarray, that absolutely has to be respected, even if it does not have to be seen as the best future we can go for.
Frankly, an extension to the negotiations seems a no-brainer. It would give time to negotiate a stable landing point, but what cannot be ignored is that the Union that Scots were invited to vote for in 2014 no longer exists. That 55% opposition to independence has turned into 54% support in the most recent opinion polls. It is no longer acceptable for the UK Government to stand in the way of that support finding its expression at the ballot box and the Scottish people being able to choose their own future.
In June 2016, Ynys Môn voted to leave the European Union. Three and a half years later, I was elected as the first Conservative MP for the constituency for 32 years on a manifesto committed to delivering on the decision of those constituents. They wanted and still want a UK that sits outside the EU.
Over the past four months, we have seen our British community come together as a truly United Kingdom in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The people of the UK are intent on supporting British businesses to build back better. The UK Government are providing financial strategies to enable the country to recover successfully. What this nation does not need now is the uncertainty of a further delay to Brexit. We need to build. We need to build on the Union that has helped us through coronavirus. Businesses across the UK, whether in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, need to know where they are going. They need clear foundations and timescales on which to plan. Constantly redrawing a line in the sand offers only uncertainty and frustration.
We have seen and continue to see investment from the UK Government that is outside any support offered by the EU. Like Scotland, the devolved Government in Wales benefit from the direct support of the UK Government. The 2020 Budget saw the largest year-on-year increase in direct funding to Wales in a decade. The UK Government are investing across Wales, including £1.5 billion for our railway infrastructure, £120 million for the north Wales growth deal and £5 million for connected communities. The Welsh Government also received £2.8 billion through the Barnett formula from the UK Government to support individuals, businesses and public services through covid-19. More than 316,000 jobs in Wales were furloughed, and 100,000 self-employed people received financial support.
As central and devolved Governments, we need to focus now on helping businesses and individuals prepare for the opportunities available to us from
I conclude by putting on the record that I fully support the UK Government in their focus on achieving the best outcome for us as we leave the EU. I believe that an extension to the transition period would not be in the best interests of Ynys Môn, Wales, Scotland or the UK.
It is a pleasure to follow Virginia Crosbie, even from this slightly disconcerting and unusual location. That, however, has nothing to do with the fact that I have become increasingly frustrated on the Opposition Benches this afternoon. The debate has been more about political point-scoring than the interests of the people of Scotland, or any other part of the United Kingdom for that matter.
I find myself increasingly torn—torn between my belief that our Government really should have asked for an extension and my recognition that the time when it was possible has passed; between my belief in the European Union and my acceptance that that particular battle has been lost—we are leaving; and between actually supporting the SNP in this last-ditch attempt and turning my back on its frankly hypocritical self-serving, narrow, nationalist argument.
There is no good outcome to this debate for Scotland; the people of Scotland cannot gain anything from it. When I saw that it was a nationalist Opposition day debate, I expected that we would talk about the state of our oil industry, the pressure on our airlines and airports or the state of our health and education. No—we have another process debate aimed at independence. I am tired, so very tired, of listening to the nationalists claim to speak for the people of Scotland. The nationalists speak for fewer than half the people of Scotland. They do not speak for the majority; they speak for 45% at the last count. The people of Scotland deserve so much better than that.
I will not, thank you.
We have heard SNP Members claim today that tearing Scotland out of the European Union will be bad for its economy—and yes, I agree that it will be dreadful for its economy—but I am then astonished that they can keep a straight face and tell the people of Scotland that tearing Scotland out of the UK will not be just as bad, if not worse, for its economy. Please, give the people of Scotland the credit we deserve.
Brendan O’Hara had a lot to say about democracy, but what about the democratic decision in 2014? Did the nationalists not turn a deaf ear to those 55% of the people of Scotland —the same 55% who did not vote for them in 2019? There is a familiar ring to that: 45% and 55% against.
We have been warned from the SNP Benches about zealots with no thought for anything but the project, and I have to ask myself: which zealots are they talking about? Perhaps they are pointing in the wrong direction. I also have to ask myself about the amount of time that we are wasting in talking about process. I am tired of listening to this vision of British politics that has no Scots in it. There are Scots in the current Government and there were in the last Government, and there are Scots on the Opposition Benches and in Committees throughout this House. Can a party obsessed with Scottish history not stretch their minds back a decade to when a Scottish Prime Minister was standing at the Dispatch Box?
At the conclusion of this debate, I will in all probability —in fact, I shall—support the SNP in the Lobby, but not because of anything that they have said today: not a single word. It will be in spite of every word that they have said today. I believe that our Government should have asked for an extension, but I also believe that it will be in the best interests of every person in this country—I mean the United Kingdom, of which I will argue to my last breath for Scotland to remain part—that we put the argument behind us and move on to building a stronger economy, creating a better society and getting us through what we are told will be the worst recession in 300 years. Those of us north of the border will need all our friends in the south to help us through it together.
It is an honour to follow Christine Jardine. I absolutely agree that it is time we moved on from this debate, and that is what we Government Members want to do and promised our constituents.
I am pleased to be able to speak in this debate, because this Government have always made it clear that we need to get Brexit done. My constituents in Hyndburn and Haslingden made that crystal clear when they voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU and then, in the general election in December, elected a representative—I highlight that word—who respects their decision. The Opposition were out of touch, telling my constituents that they did not understand what they were voting for, and they are still—well, Labour Members are not here today, so I will move on from there. When speaking to businesses in December and since then, they told me that uncertainty worried them the most and that they needed clarity. That is exactly what this Conservative Government have given them: no more dither and no more delay.
We have passed the deadline for an extension to the transition period, and rather than looking backwards, we should be looking forwards to the possibilities. I support this Government’s pledge to forge new trade agreements with countries that are specific to our market and benefit our economy. These agreements will strengthen businesses and provide more job opportunities as the UK escapes the control of the EU.
The news that the Government are unwilling to extend the transition deadline should not come as a shock. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster set out the Government’s intentions to the First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in April and has reiterated that position many times. The Government remain committed to emphasising the opportunities presented to Scotland and all the devolved powers. They have also signalled benefits for the UK in taking back control of our borders and laws, with extensive powers already in the hands of the devolved Administrations. I am pleased that the Prime Minister reminded us today that the Scottish people voted to remain part of the UK and that the UK voted to leave the EU.
I stand firmly against the SNP proposal to extend the transition, and I stand here on behalf of my constituents as Hyndburn’s and Haslingden’s representative voice, because I listen to my constituents—something that they have not experienced since the referendum. I hope that all parts of the Union can work together to recover from the pandemic to action a green recovery and to contribute towards a future in which our United Kingdom prospers together.
It is a pleasure to follow Sara Britcliffe, although I suspect that I will disagree fundamentally with most of what she said. I will support the motion this evening. The debate has largely focused on the Scotland-UK relationship—I take no formal position on that other than to wish the people of Scotland well and to respect whatever choice they make down the line—but the transition period affects the entire UK, and it certainly deeply affects Northern Ireland.
Brexit, of course, is a great disrupter to the UK and, indeed, to our situation in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland only works on the basis of sharing and interdependence. The difficulty with Brexit is that it entails some degree of new divisions, barriers and friction, and that will create tension however those lines fall. Of course, the withdrawal agreement respects the principle of consent, and that will be an entirely different process, but none the less, it is important to acknowledge the challenges posed by Brexit to Northern Ireland’s future stability and operation. Northern Ireland did say no to Brexit, but once Brexit occurred, there was a need to protect the Good Friday agreement. The backstop was a better attempt at doing that, but the protocol is there as the next best alternative. However, it poses very significant challenges, and we are not ready yet for that to be properly implemented.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has voted on a majority basis to support an extension to Brexit. While we may be past the
One year was always going to be challenging in the best of circumstances, but with covid, we have the worst of circumstances. We are already facing up to a very significant economic hit on the back of the covid pandemic. Indeed, the OECD is predicting that the UK economy will be one of the economies around the world that suffers the greatest, so there is a sense of madness that we are proceeding with a further shock from the disruption of Brexit at that time.
We are told that with Brexit and the end of the transition, the Government can be better placed to address covid, but that belies the fact that the European Union, in many respects, is doing better in addressing the situation with the pandemic and in the way that it will potentially recover, not least in terms of the scale of investment that comes forward. The UK, in particular, will suffer if there is no free trade agreement in place at the end of the year, and even with an agreement in place, there will still be challenges, because whatever way we cut it, the UK is stepping back from its closest and nearest market. Whatever trade deals are done around the rest of the world, they will not replace the loss that comes from stepping back from the European Union. There is not a contest between the internal market of the UK and the European Union market. Until now, the two were complementary. In the same way, the UK could go out and cut more trade deals with the rest of the world through the European Union. The term “global Britain”, I fear, is a bit of a misnomer and we are missing the point in that respect.
In closing, I will focus particularly on the lack of preparation. There are five and a half months to go. It is only now that the UK Government are releasing information on the GB-EU interface and, even then, there are many questions that still need to be answered on investment in IT and infrastructure, but that can be phased in. Northern Ireland does not have that degree of luxury. The protocol will be in place from
Five and a half months out, there are many questions still to be addressed for Northern Ireland on IT, infrastructure, staffing and what will be required from declarations and costs. All those are important issues and, at this stage, businesses have been left in the lurch without transparency around that crucial information. Every day that goes past, that uncertainty is damaging the economy of Northern Ireland, so for all those reasons, I urge the Government to reconsider their position on the transition. There is no shame in reconsidering because it makes sense for the UK economy. Let us get this done correctly.
It is a pleasure to speak in today’s debate and to follow Stephen Farry, even if I disagree with almost everything he said. I thank Opposition Members for giving us the opportunity not only to praise the Union, which we on the Government side of the House always welcome the chance to do, but to reconfirm to the millions of people up and down the country—including more than 1 million people in Scotland and a clear majority of people in my constituency—that when they voted to leave the European Union, we will still deliver on that commitment.
We entered the European Union as one United Kingdom, and we exited the European Union as one United Kingdom—England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—because together we are stronger. The covid-19 pandemic has shown exactly that. Scotland has been able to benefit from over £13 billion of support from this Government—a Government of the Conservative and Unionist party that is protecting jobs, businesses and livelihoods across every part of our Union.
Despite all that support, SNP Members still believe in tearing themselves away from their most important trading partner. As they know, the UK single market is more than three times more important to Scotland than the EU single market. Ripping that up would be the real act of economic self-harm. However, if SNP Members are saying in this debate that they have seen the light and now value the economic certainty and financial protection they get from being part of the Union, all of us on the Government Benches would be delighted, and we could finally wave goodbye to their divisive separatist agenda.
SNP Members are right that businesses need certainty, and that is exactly what we have provided since I was privileged enough to come to this House in December. Businesses in every part of the UK now know that on
The covid-19 pandemic has created great challenges around the world, but we have risen to them and we have adapted. People are working from home. Businesses are using new technology, and our negotiators have done the same. As a member of the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, I know that the impact of covid has been a key topic of our discussions, and we addressed it last month, in the interim report that was unanimously agreed by the Committee, including by SNP Members opposite. As part of that report, we took evidence from Mr Frost, Mr Barnier, trade experts and others. That evidence highlighted the fact that, while the pandemic has disrupted negotiations, they have slipped by only a matter of weeks. They are still taking place virtually—and now face to face—and they have been intensified. There is a real impetus to get a deal done.
Whatever the outcome, things will change at the border. As a result of this Government’s announcements, those changes are known and already being prepared for by businesses across the country. Those on the SNP Benches should therefore be transparent about their motives. This is not about the UK leaving the EU. This is about their separatist agenda. Even if it was about the transitional period, they know as well as anyone else in the House that it sometimes does not matter how long negotiations last: if positions remain diametrically opposed, no amount of stalling will result in an agreement. I for one will not break the promise I made to my constituents because of EU intransigence—as the Committee’s report also made clear, the EU needs to change its mandate if an agreement is to be reached.
On a final point, we must address the elephant in the room—or, rather, those not in the room—and that is the Labour party. Looking through the list of speakers, I was, like most of my colleagues, perplexed to see that no one from the Labour Back Benches put in to speak. I considered why that might be. On the Union, Brexit and covid, no one had anything to say. Could it be that their position on Brexit has flip-flopped so many times that none of them knows what to say? Or is it that they, like the Scottish nationalists opposite, believe that democratic decisions taken by referendum should just be ignored? Either way, they appear out of step with the country, with the Leader of the Opposition missing in action.
Covid-19 has absolutely affected every walk of life. It is my belief that no person in this nation has been untouched by it, and the first words in the debate title are“covid-19”. There are those who grieve the loss of good people—upstanding members of our communities and families—and people we have been unable to grieve appropriately. As we move into a closer approximation of normal, that loss of life is felt more keenly.
I want to speak about covid-19, and then comment on where we—or rather I—stand. We have lost businesses and jobs. I have a big hospitality business in my area that is in the resort game. It has invested £150,000 of its money, and it is at a loss at the moment to find a way forward. I am very aware of its circumstances, which may be only the tip of the job loss iceberg. The action of the Government has prevented a crash for a great many business—that is true—but we will undoubtedly be fighting economically for many years to come; indeed, our grandchildren may feel the pinch in their working life if we do not get this right.
Just in my small office of six members of staff and myself, one member of staff lost her sister at the end of March to coronavirus. She was unable to bid her a final goodbye and is deeply hurting. Another member of staff was due to be married in Italy at the end of June, but she has seen her plans decimated and brought to nothing. Another staff member is originally from Australia but now lives in Northern Ireland. She heard sad news of her sister in Australia who is in an intensive care unit, but again she could not visit her family or speak to them. I have another staff member whose mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but again, they were not able to do anything about that. My parliamentary aide has two wee daughters, one of whom has uncontrolled asthma. She has been shielding for 16 weeks, and will be until the end of August.
I say those things because, as with my staff members and many others across this great nation, people’s quality of life and mental health has been massively affected by coronavirus. I say that to put a human aspect into this debate, and to underline what the cost has been to normal, everyday people. The negotiations that we are now doing must be carried out with less grandstanding, and by sorting these problems out.
I cannot create jobs out of nothing for those who have lost businesses. I do not have that ability, but this Government can, the Northern Ireland Assembly can, the Scottish Parliament can, and the Welsh Assembly can. I can, however, be part of the solution in this House when making decisions to promote employment, and ensure that the Government do their best for Northern Ireland. I cannot undo the mental trauma that has affected my nation, but I can be a positive force for a bright future, and that is what I wish to highlight today.
I am very fond of my Gaelic cousins on the SNP Benches, and I genuinely mean that in all honesty. However, I am so divorced from their point of view given what they have said—that is respectful to them all, and they know that—that this is one cousin who will not be voting for their proposal tonight. I do not want this to be a sniping opportunity to rehash the old “deal or no deal” arguments that we can all repeat in our sleep; I believe our role as MPs is to think sensibly and create hope, and having the same old arguments about the pros and cons of the European Union does not give hope for our future. Instead, constructive dialogue about a sensible way to carry out the wishes of the people is the way to do that.
In the 2016 referendum, my constituency of Strangford voted by 56% to 44% to leave—that is unlike the constituency of the hon. Gentleman Stephen Farry, where it was very marginal at 50.1%. That is all it was.
Can we take a moment to consider what we hope to achieve in today’s debate? My desire is simple: it is to say on behalf of Strangford, let us stop the tearing down and start the building up. Let us work for our agrifood sector—I look to the Government to ensure that happens—and for our fishing villages in Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel. Let us put pride and confidence back into the fishing community, grow that economy, and create jobs. We can do that after Brexit. We can do that when we leave—I very much believe that in my heart, and boy do I look forward to that day.
Let us work together in this place to present a united front to Europe to say—possibly for the first time—that although we want the best for our country, that does not mean that the European Union has to be the loser. If we think and work sensibly together, and build up trading partnerships that are beneficial, we all can win—that is everybody; all regions together—and help our economies and constituents who have been ravaged by this unseen enemy. As my mother would say, today we should say, “Enough of the messing and more of the achieving!” Where there is a will there is a way. We should respect the will of our people, who made it very clear in June 2016. We must get the best possible future in place, with sensible dialogue and the end of senseless rhetoric. We all voted together in that referendum, and we voted to leave.
Can I finally say congratulations, Mr Deputy Speaker? You are where you belong and I am glad to see you there.
We are here all over again. The ability of SNP Members to focus on their narrow-minded, party interests at a time of national importance is becoming legendary. If there was ever a sight that shows why we must protect the Union, it was the vision of a Labour party that could not be bothered to show up, with SNP Members behind those Benches. If the Labour party ever has the opportunity to form the next Government, it will be at the price of a referendum on independence to get the SNP onside. Conservative Members do not back that at all.
The SNP has not changed much in not respecting referendum results. It lost the 2014 referendum, and yet it pursues that agenda, with no thought to getting on with the day job in Scotland. SNP Members lost the 2016 referendum, but they are now trying by any means necessary to thwart the will of the British people. This debate is once again a thinly disguised attempt by SNP Members to undermine democracy—nothing else. The irony of that is not lost on me. If they voted for a deal when they were offered one—three times—we would not be here today. Knowing them, however, we probably would be.
Like any good Unionist, I read the newspapers north of the border. In these difficult times, we all have to spend a few more hours at home, and humour plays an increasingly important role in making sure that we can all get by, so you can imagine my reaction, Mr Deputy Speaker, when browsing The National, I found Dr Whitford was quoted as saying that Scottish taxpayers were “footing the bill” as the UK prepared to leave the EU. Indeed, without a hint of irony, SNP Members are trying to claim that they would somehow save money by being out of the Union and part of the EU, when we know that public spending in Scotland is 17% higher than the UK average. Treasury figures, verified by the House of Commons Library, show that per head of population, Scotland receives £11,200; England, £9,200; and my constituents in Eastleigh, £8,600.
I will always lobby for resources for my constituency, but I accept that that difference is the price that my constituents pay because we are stronger together—and we are stronger together as one United Kingdom. We are stronger together culturally, with our shared history, and we are stronger together economically. It was this Government who introduced the coronavirus job retention scheme, which has protected the income of 630,000 people in Scotland. It was the Government of the United Kingdom who have supported 146,000 self-employed people through the self-employment support scheme, and it was this Government—the United Kingdom Government—who have provided over £2.7 billion to the Scottish Government for rates relief, small business grants and grants for businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector.
We need to ensure that we are prepared for Brexit and that our borders are fit for purpose. That investment will help us to maximise the opportunity created by Brexit as we continue to trade with our European partners and to forge new and exciting trade deals across the world. While the SNP like to reject referendum results—Pete Wishart said that it was a narrow gap, but I do not think that 10% is a narrow gap—I take the expression of my constituents’ will seriously. It is a shame that the SNP do not do that for their constituents. My constituents in Eastleigh voted to leave the European Union, and I will support the Government as we make good on our promise to leave the EU and seize the opportunities presented by global Britain. The SNP should focus on the day job to fix the lack of educational attainment that harms Scottish children; to fix their dire record in government and public service; and to stop the political gimmicks. We deliver; they delay. It is time to get Brexit done, and I will vote against the motion this evening.
I would say that it is a great pleasure to take part in the debate, but many of my colleagues have touched on the meaningless rhetoric that we have heard from some Opposition Members. However, I want to say at the outset that I agreed with pretty much everything said by Christine Jardine—sadly, she is not in her place. In true Liberal Democrat fashion, I agreed with everything that she said, but she U-turned at the end of her speech and is going to vote with the SNP, so she has let me down on that score.
I want to talk about the strength of the Union and reflect on the strength of democracy in this country. There was a referendum on independence—that has been an undertone of the debate. Our democracy and this Parliament had that referendum; we voted for the legislation that created the referendum, which we honoured. Something that is often missed is the strength of this Parliament and this democracy, which is such that we can ask the fundamental question, “Do you still want to be part of the Union?” SNP Members, however, campaigned over and over on the basis that it was a once-in-a-generation opportunity. I do not know about generations in Scotland, but we have a bit further to go in Wales before our generation is over.
I think it is worth reflecting in this debate on the strength of our Union in the response to covid-19. In my constituency—a Welsh constituency: fellow Celts please pay attention—11,000 jobs have been saved by a furlough scheme. That is above and beyond the billions that have been given to our partners in the Welsh Government. I really woke up to the meaninglessness of today’s debate when the Welsh Labour Government issued a statement saying that they supported the motion—that is what got me on my feet. However, on many aspects of covid-19, they have done a good job—not on everything. Just like the UK Government, they have done a good job and they are partners, but they have been underwritten in that. It has been incredibly important to our response to covid-19 to be a member of the United Kingdom, with that strong support and the deep pockets that we can call on all to support the economy at this time. That will be more important than ever in the coming months.
I caution SNP Members, who are riding high and taking huge comfort from polls at the moment, that I fought in the 2017 election on the back of a very successful polling organisation, and it was not that successful for me. So I caution them about polls and their independence. I also caution them about the prism of any future referendums. In at least a generation, of course, any referendum would be in terms of rejoining the European Union, because we are leaving, and are on course, and have left legally. It would be on rejoining the European Union, presumably for Scotland, and leaving a Union that is 60% of its trade valued at £51 billion, and on joining a union, whatever that looks like then, which would mean adopting the euro instead of the pound. It would mean working with partners such as Spain. I know that SNP Members hold the European Commission in high regard—mainly, I should imagine, because of the seriousness with which it takes referendums; repeating referendums until it gets the right answer—but let us look at the European Commission’s relationship with Catalonia and the questions in Spain. It goes back to my opening remarks about the strengths of this place, and the strength of our democracy, that enables us to ask these serious questions. We can campaign robustly but seek those answers.
I speak in this debate as a fellow Celt, a Welsh Member of Parliament, who has valued no end the UK Government’s support for my constituents’ businesses and my nation of Wales. Underlying that is the fact that the UK and our relationship with the outside world is more important to my constituents than the UK-EU relationship that we currently have. That is ending, and we move on. While I always take heart from taking to my feet and waxing lyrical in his marvellous Chamber, I wish we were talking about something more relevant to my constituents.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Craig Williams, who, in his usual manner, gives sage words and even sager advice.
The first thing I would say, without fear of repetition, is where are the official Opposition? Last week, when we were talking about educational opportunities for deprived children, they were absent. They sit there and they carp and they virtue-signal. I represent a community where the majority of kids would fall into that category. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, many of whom represent similar seats, were here, and we were having those arguments. The official Opposition were silent, and it is an utter disgrace.
I commend the Scottish National party because it has done the job of an Opposition party. SNP Members have probed; they have debated; they have turned up. I would say to Pete Wishart—[Interruption.] They do not want to leave. He might well shimmy over to the Opposition Front Bench, because he would probably be more suitable there.
I want to talk about some of the words we have heard today, particularly the descriptions of people who voted to leave the European Union, as 70% of my constituents did. Some of the words that came to me in conversations on the doorstep were, “I am being called thick”; “I am being told that this decision should not be given to me”; “I am being told that I don’t know what I am talking about.” We have heard that today as well, with words such as “xenophobia” and “cannon fodder”. It is absolutely disgusting. My constituents are not xenophobes. The constituents of my hon. Friends from the Black Country and more widely are not xenophobes. We welcome people from all parts of the world. We built our industrial heritage off welcoming people here, and I take real exception when Opposition Members accuse my constituents of being xenophobic and racist—they are absolutely not. What they are is proud of where they come from. They are proud of the fact that this United Kingdom is a country where—I will say it again—a lad from a council house can sit in this Chamber as a Member of Parliament. Where on earth can we see that? There are few examples. I stand by those values, because it is those values that made me.
I lived for a time in Wales. I taught myself Welsh and can speak it reasonably, conversationally. I was interested by the contributions from Liz Saville Roberts and my hon. Friend Fay Jones. They are right—there is a cultural history that sometimes gets forgotten. I have long advocated that, as a Union, we need to share the diverse culture that we have internally. Kids in England should be learning about the “Mabinogi” and Welsh history and culture, just like kids in Scotland should. Equally, kids in Tipton should learn about the history of Scotland and come to understand that shared culture and heritage, because that is where we have gone wrong. We have built internal borders, and rather than focus on bringing them down, we have the rhetoric back and forth that has been highlighted today.
As I said, 70% of my constituents voted to leave the European Union. They have waited four years for it, and they have waited 50 years to be liberated from the Labour party. We see it constantly. We see it locally, with the fourth leader of Sandwell Council in about the same number of years and the revolving door leadership that sees my communities shafted. When I was canvassing, I saw grown men breaking down in tears because they realised that everything they had been brought up to believe was a lie. The people who had basically told them their life view, which was ingrained in their blood, had stabbed them in their back and said, “You don’t count any more.” That is what we have heard from the rhetoric today—“You don’t count. We don’t care.” An extension would just reinforce that. We have to get this done, because that is what my communities in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton deserve.
When I knocked on doorsteps at the end of last year, the overwhelming view was, “Just get on with it.” That is what this Government are determined to do. I was not surprised to see the SNP table this motion, but I am surprised to see the First Minister of Wales support this revisionist exercise. It shows not just his lack of awareness and his ignorance of the election results, but his lack of influence, because the First Minister of Wales—the leader of Welsh Labour—was not able to persuade one Member on the Labour Back Benches to turn up in support of this cause.
Our future relationship with the European Union is of great interest to my constituents in Brecon and Radnorshire, but I wholeheartedly endorse the comments of the Paymaster General—why are we even having this debate? In the thick of a global pandemic, when we could be talking about economic recovery, jobs, green growth and food standards, we are talking about Brexit yet again.
The coronavirus pandemic has understandably posed a challenge to the negotiation timetable. Unlike the Opposition, rather than occupy ourselves with causing further uncertainty and yet more delay, this Government have been steadfast in ensuring that, as we move towards the end of the transition period, the whole United Kingdom is prepared. I hear more and more often how local businesses and those in the farming sector are eager to see the UK being opened up to new markets across the world, while maintaining a close relationship with our European neighbours. It has been greatly reassuring that, despite the challenges presented by covid, five rounds of negotiations between the UK and the EU have already been completed.
Although there are those who seek to test it, the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the strength of our Union. The unprecedented amount of support made available by the UK Government has reached around the entire UK. Just like 11,000 of my constituents, across Scotland more than 600,000 people have benefited from the UK Government’s job retention scheme. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has boosted Scotland’s budget by £4.6 billion through various support schemes, which is yet more evidence that we are far stronger as one United Kingdom in the face of this crisis and as we exit the transition period into a new and prosperous chapter.
The EU is the single largest market for Welsh lamb, and I know it is also a huge market for Scottish produce. There is no room for the uncertainty and small-minded approach that the Opposition call for in again flirting with an extension. My local farmers do not want to be involved in a party political scaremongering tactic, with the worry that accompanies this kind of discussion. They want to be able to take advantage of the ambitious Canada-style deals that this Government are working hard to secure. I am sure that the same excitement felt by Welsh sheep farmers is felt by Scottish fishermen. Rather than continue to demand yet more delay, this Government want all UK fishermen to be able to fish in our sovereign waters. With our promise to take back control, they have every right to be excited. The rising tide that will accompany the end of the transition period will no doubt raise all Scottish fishing boats. Yesterday I received a letter from Wales for Europe urging me to call for an extension, because Wales already lags
“at the bottom of economic league tables”.
After 22 years of Labour running Wales, it is not an extension we need, but a Conservative Government in Cardiff.
This debate is all about our borders. I represent a border constituency, and our economy is being held back by the decisions of the Welsh Labour Government, who see jobs, growth and economic prosperity as an inconvenience. Dan Yr Ogof caves in my constituency are a hugely popular visitor attraction, but they are prevented from reopening today by the Welsh Government, despite their own guidelines saying that they are allowed to do so, simply because the caves are underground. Forty jobs have already been lost and today the owner told me, “We have survived two world wars, depressions, recessions, the foot and mouth epidemic, but at this rate we are not going to survive Welsh Labour.”
I am proud to support the UK’s Government’s resolve. In continuing the negotiations during this international pandemic, it is the strength and power of our United Kingdom that will ensure we prosper, and for that there can be no delay.
Dear oh dear oh dear, it is groundhog day again. We are back to discussing Brexit. I feel almost nostalgic; it is the 2017 Parliament arguments all over again. Why should we delay? What more excuses can we find to hold up Brexit? How can we make working-class communities in Bolsover wrong again? To be honest, I am not so keen on this groundhog day. The people have spoken. We need to deliver Brexit. The argument that we have a pandemic and we need to extend because that will create more certainty is nonsense. It is the wrong end of the lens. The only way in which we can give our businesses and our nation certainty is by sticking to the deadlines we have set out, and I am so proud that this Government are holding firm.
It is an unusual experience to agree with a director general of the CBI, after so many years in which have disagreed with them, but in this instance it is a delight to agree.
However much I disagree with SNP Members on almost everything, I do at least give them credit for turning up. As I cast my eyes over the Opposition Benches, it is an unusual experience to see only the same number of Members on those Benches as there are in my fan club; they usually way outnumber me on that front. The Labour party has once again abandoned the pitch. Its Members have straddled for so long, trying to keep their true feelings on Brexit hidden. [Hon. Members: “They are hiding.”] They are indeed hiding. Here we are today with three hon. Members sat on the Labour Benches. I feel sorry for Paul Blomfield, who is sitting at the Dispatch Box; I cannot help but feel he will have to summarise all the various Labour opinions that have been expressed today and make them seem like an eloquent argument.
That may be my favourite intervention of the day so far.
The interesting thing is that the Labour party is desperately hoping we forget that its new leader was the architect of its previous policy. We have not forgotten. The people of Bolsover have not forgotten. We remember the stupendous ways that Labour Members weaved through the various ins and outs of Brexit to make it seem they were supportive, but not really—but then where did they end up? On the wrong side of the argument and on the wrong side of the last general election. I am one of many hon. Members speaking from the Government Benches today who would not be here without Labour’s help, so thank you very much for that.
The Opposition’s policy kind of resembles a well-known Swedish furniture store, in my opinion: the instructions from the unions are almost impossible to follow; the policy is taking forever to assemble; they are missing a few nuts and bolts; and there is a very clear pro-European design. Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition will be better known as Sir Ikea Starmer from now on. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is the architect of the situation we find ourselves in. At least his predecessor would always make sure that the Labour party put up a fight; the Labour party is not even doing that, now.
In conclusion, today is a wasted day. However nostalgic we feel, the Brexit argument is done: we will be leaving this year. Whether we have a deal or not is to be determined. The European Union needs to create greater flexibility in its negotiating stance—that is the biggest barrier that we have—and this Government need to get on with levelling up all parts of our country. They should start in Bolsover.
It is an enormous pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mark Fletcher.
It is obvious to absolutely everybody that this debate has absolutely nothing to do with covid and its impact on any EU negotiations and everything to do with the SNP which, true to form, just wants to do everything to stop Brexit happening. It must be galling for all Labour voters in Dudley and beyond to see not a single Labour Back-Bench MP stand up to speak on this matter. Not even the current Labour leader, one of the main architects of Labour’s remain stance, is present.
He is indeed hiding.
As a new Member of Parliament, I have watched this place tear itself apart. I have watched it become an object of derision and despair. I have watched it lose the most fundamental element that differentiates our democracy from other Governments: this place acts on the will of its people.
Some Opposition Members might have more in common with people like the MEP Guy Verhofstadt. Just a couple of days ago he tweeted, with a delicate irony that so distinguishes his style and his deprecation of anything democratic:
“In 1988, Margaret Thatcher proudly declared that the barriers to trade in Europe were coming down”,
but, he thinks, with our leaving the EU, that the Conservative party—my party—
“is putting the barriers back up.”
So let us educate Mr Verhofstadt, shall we? We are quite happy to have a free trade agreement with the EU, just as the EU has with other non-EU member countries, and consequently there will be no border checks if that were to happen. However, we all know that the truth is that he, his European colleagues—and, it would seem, Opposition colleagues—want to make it as difficult as possible for us to leave and respect the democratic will of our people. He knows the truth, Mr Verhofstadt does, but he can’t handle the truth. As we forge free trade agreements worldwide, trade barriers will only continue to fall, whatever other patronising statements he might decide to make.
I should probably refer to the effect of covid on the negotiations, even though we know that that is nothing to do with the real merits of this debate. If we are to react quickly to the economic downturn caused by this pandemic, we must keep as much regulatory freedom as possible. We need to turbo-charge our free trade agreements and we need the ability to deliver services at pace. Adopting the so-called level playing field, or even continuing with the European Court’s jurisdiction in the UK, would put the brakes on our recovery as well as being utterly unacceptable, from a democratic perspective, to the people who voted. The people in my constituency of Dudley North overwhelmingly voted to leave the European Union. The general election in December last year proved yet again, at the fourth time of asking, that the United Kingdom wants to leave. Leave we shall, whatever agreement is reached, so let us just get on with it.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Marco Longhi, and indeed, before that, my hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher) and for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones). I thought it was supposed to be an Opposition day debate, but here we are with the last hour taken up by speeches from the Conservative Benches, mostly from new MPs—and MPs who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover pointed out, took seats from the Opposition.
But I do thank the SNP for putting on this debate. Naively, I assumed that we would be talking about the European Union’s openness to extend the transition period for negotiations, but it seems that most of the day has instead been spent talking about Scottish independence—plus ça change. To be fair to SNP Members, I enjoy debating with them because they believe in something: they know where they stand. They know where they stand on Brexit and they know where they stand on Scottish independence. They will not let a referendum get in the way of that, but it is an honest position. Whereas, as many colleagues have said, where are Labour Members? I acknowledge that Paul Blomfield is there on the Opposition Front Bench. In fact, he made a good point when he informed the SNP, with regard to today’s motion, that that ship has sailed, as indeed it has. There is no possibility of extending the transition period under the terms that were available because we chose not to do that, because, as the Paymaster General said, we enshrined in law our intention to leave on
Covid makes it even more important that we get things sorted out and leave on
That brings me to my next point about the tactics for negotiation and why this motion is fundamentally misconceived. We saw again and again in the previous Parliament the consequences of Parliament trying to usurp the Executive’s authority to negotiate, and what an awful mess that made. We allowed a situation to develop where the EU chose to pursue parallel negotiations with other Members, including the new Leader of the Opposition. Where is he on this?
We are still looking not just for him but for his position. We all remember him standing up at the Labour party conference going against his leader at the time and inserting a line in his speech about an option to remain. We will not forget, and neither will the voters of Newcastle-under-Lyme.
I have never been a no-dealer—I would much rather we get a positive relationship with the EU going forward, and I would like a comprehensive free trade agreement—but I will support leaving without one if one cannot be negotiated. It takes two to tango, but we will have to leave on
As we all know, whether we have been Members here for a long time or only for six months, EU deals happen at the 11th hour. What is the point of creating a new 11th hour six months down the line, and then perhaps another one six months down the line after that? That way lies more and more uncertainty. It is resolution we seek, and it is resolution that the Opposition are trying to avoid for the purposes of trying to bind us closer to Europe, even as the people of this country have had their say again and again.
I represent Newcastle-under-Lyme and 63% of the constituency voted to leave, but the areas that people would characterise as left behind—the former mining communities in places such as Silverdale, Knutton and Chesterton—voted even more heavily to leave. They used to be Labour areas and they voted for me in December. I am sure it was partly my campaign, but it was mostly the fact that they felt so disrespected by everything that had gone on since the vote.
We voted to leave in June 2016, more than four years ago—SNP Members would call that at least a generation. The good people of Newcastle-under-Lyme have put up with endless delay, wrecking tactics and, regrettably, a Government who were not able to pursue their agenda, partly because of the tactics employed by people on the Opposition side and, regrettably, by the internal opposition on this side. No more: they put up with this with great good humour, but no more.
We will vote against this motion today. I assume SNP Members will divide the House. I am glad to go through the No Lobby. I am sure they will be glad to go through the Aye Lobby. I have no idea what the Labour party is going to do. I cannot wait to find out.
I must admit that I thought we had left this sort of debate behind in the previous Parliament. It has been very refreshing, actually, sitting here through most of this afternoon and feeling a bit like the old experienced hand. For those of us who went through the previous Parliament—the late-night, knife-edge votes, really not knowing what was happening and the whole uncertainty—it has been refreshing to sit here and listen to the new intake of Conservative MPs who have been elected speak with such clarity, passion and commitment to deliver on what the people of this country voted for both in the referendum and in the recent general election. So I commend everyone who has contributed to what has actually been a proper debate. We have not been able to have enough of these proper debates, given the way Parliament is currently operating. Let us hope that, when we return after the summer recess, we can get back to something more like normality and have proper debates again.
I must admit that, although I really hoped we had left these debates behind, it was not a great surprise to see the SNP put forward this motion, because it does have a consistent reputation of wanting to overturn referendum results. It just seems that whatever people vote for in a referendum, the SNP is going to disagree with it and try to reverse it. Let us not pretend this is anything other than once again trying to delay Brexit in order to serve the SNP’s own political agenda, rather than doing what is right for our country. This Government were elected just over six months ago with a very clear mandate to get Brexit done and to deliver on that referendum result, and with a very firm commitment to not delay the transition period and not extend negotiations any further. I believe I owe it to my constituents and we owe it to the British people to keep our promise and deliver on that very firm commitment.
One thing that I know is absolutely clear is that the last thing we need in these negotiations is more time. I guarantee that, if we extended for another year, six months before the next deadline, we would be in exactly this same position and having exactly the same discussions. It is not more time that is needed; it is political will that is needed to get a deal done and to come to some mutually beneficial agreement with the European Union on the terms of what our future relationship will be. Let us be clear. We often seem to forget that we actually left the European Union six months ago. We have left the European Union. This debate is not about whether or not we are leaving the European Union. That has been settled. The only thing up for discussion with the EU is what it will agree with us in terms of our future relationship. That is absolutely clear.
Interestingly, many of those—in fact, I would say most of those—in the last Parliament who chose to try to undermine the democratic decision of the British people and to thwart, delay and muddy the waters of Brexit are no longer here. They paid a heavy price when they came face to face with the British electorate. One thing that the last referendum clearly showed is that the British people have a very clear sense of fair play. They expect that, when they vote for something, it gets done. That is true of the 2016 referendum and it is true of the last general election. They elected this Government to deliver on that promise, to not delay any further, to get Brexit done and to make sure that we leave on time.
We have heard it said a few times that we should handle only one crisis at a time. I do not quite understand that, because I see Brexit not as a crisis, but as a huge opportunity to deliver for the British people. But we are in the middle of a public health and an economic crisis and I respectfully say to SNP Members: if they think that we can handle only one crisis at the time, why are they trying to create another one by taking Scotland out of the Union and creating further uncertainty and disruption? What we need to do is pull together to deal with the challenges that we are currently facing.
It is quite clear that, over the past few months, the Union has been part of our strength in handling this crisis, and we need to continue that. Scotland has benefited hugely, to the tune of billions and billions of pounds from the UK Government supporting its economy. We need to stick together and we need to get Brexit done.
It is a pleasure to follow all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in this debate. It is perhaps unsurprising that we have heard from one—or perhaps no—Labour Member in what has been a very important debate. Perhaps this highlights to the whole House, to the country and to the hard-working people in Keighley and Ilkley that, once again, we are seeing, just as we have seen over many months and years, a real lack of decisiveness, a real lack of any decision making and a real lack of any leadership from Her Majesty’s Opposition. I could say lost in action, but there has been no action—so just lost.
I know that Labour Members would rather sit on the fence and see how the wind blows before taking any real stance, so it will be interesting to see how they vote this evening. Will they sit on the coat-tails of the SNP Members, or will they be bold and decisive and back this Conservative Government, who are determined to deliver on the will of the people? Ruling out extending the transition period gives businesses the certainty that they need to crack on. Time and again, people right across my constituency have been telling me that it is even more important now that we get this delivered.
I note that Stephen Flynn, who is no longer in his place, said that there has been much repetition in this debate, and he is absolutely right. Listening to SNP Members is like listening to a broken record going on about independence. I say to the SNP that, rather than just pressing the case for another extension, for more frustration and for more uncertainty for British businesses through seeking more dither and delay through an enhanced extension period, it should look a little closer to home and focus its efforts on the great failures that its leader and its party seem to be completely incapable of addressing.
It is clear from listening to SNP Members that their party seems to be more interested in promoting the fear factor of exiting the EU, along with its continued insistence on independence, rather than tackling head-on the improvements that are so desperately needed to the education system in Scotland. In fact, one could conclude that the SNP is so obsessed with pursuing independence—to which, I remind SNP Members, people in Scotland said no—that it would rather put this ahead of any young child growing up in Scotland who wants to get on and get the best education in order to go on and thrive.
It gets worse. It is inexcusable that SNP Members here, along with their colleagues in Scotland, cannot even bring themselves to acknowledge that there is a problem with education in Scotland. Time and again we see stats, reports and information highlighting the SNP’s failure to tackle the downward spiral in the Scottish education system. Just earlier this year, reports showed that the number of school leavers who had at least one pass at higher level dropped from 62% in 2017-18 to 60% last year. The figures also dropped for advanced highers, and the attainment gap between the richest and poorest students in Scotland is growing again in certain areas.
The SNP has already pulled one education Bill, and on its watch there are far fewer teachers. The results by students in science and maths are down. New ideas and fresh thinking by the SNP are noted for their absence, and the suspicion lingers that, for all its rhetoric, the SNP is still reluctant to accept the true scale of the problem. So I say to the Scottish First Minister and her Education Secretary, and to every hon. Member on the SNP Benches here, that they should get a grip of the situation, because right now they are failing the young people of Scotland, and Scotland deserves much better.
What a pleasure it is to follow my hon. Friend Robbie Moore and a whole host of wise, well-mannered and intelligent contributions from these Benches. This debate is primarily about three things: what is best for our economy; broken promises and what is best for our politics; and what is best for our country. Let us talk about the economy. It is undoubtedly true that our economy has been and will continue to be affected by the covid-19 crisis. Peterborough’s economy has been hit by the crisis. Jobs have been lost, and the Social Market Foundation has said that Peterborough is at risk of long-term economic disruption.
But I am fed up of bogus surveys and of people talking down my city. Peterborough is a city on the up. We have a new university coming to Peterborough, which will bring research, innovation and new jobs. We have DALROD, a company that is celebrating 35 years in the fantastic city of Peterborough, creating more jobs. We have new jobs being created by Waitrose, by Aldi and by the homeware retailer URBN. Peterborough is on the A1, and it is 50 minutes from London. Peterborough is a city on the up, and the last thing we need is more uncertainty caused by further Brexit delay and dither. I am afraid that, if we extend the transition agreement, we will be back in this place in just a year or two’s time.
This is also about broken promises and what is best for our politics. My journey to this House came with a bump in the road, and it was called the Peterborough by-election in 2019. I understand what the destination will be if we do not keep our promises, and unfortunately it will be to come third in a by-election behind Nigel Farage. I do not want to be there again, and that is why I am proud that this Government will keep our promises. The people of Bretton, the people of Paston, the people of Werrington, the people of Westwood—the people of Peterborough—are fed up with being called uneducated, thick and unsophisticated because they believed in their country, believed in Brexit and voted to leave.
This is also about what is good for our country. I live in a country called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That is a country that includes England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland—equal partners in this Union. Do you know something, Mr Deputy Speaker? I speak regularly to Scottish people who have moved to my city, Peterborough, and they weep for the politics of the nationalists on the SNP Benches. They weep for their divisive nature and they weep about what they are doing to them in this great country. It is the strength of this Union that will get us through this covid-19 crisis and power us on.
I almost feel sorry for the Labour party and its activists in my constituency—but the key word is “almost”. I know what the Labour social media trolls will do when they see this video of me talking passionately about my city. They will talk about why their economic policies are best for this country and why they need investment. But where are they? Where is the Labour party? Labour Members may have abandoned the playing field and they may think people are not watching, but I will make sure that the people of Peterborough know that the Labour party has abandoned them when it comes to Brexit.
It is a great pleasure to follow so many of my colleagues, including my hon. Friend Paul Bristow, but that is as nothing compared with my enormous pleasure at seeing the empty Labour Benches, which is the perfect visual metaphor for the party’s absence of a policy on Europe.
Let me turn to the motion and talk about the economy. This week, the Office for Budget Responsibility predicted that covid-19 could, and probably will, cause the biggest slump in the UK economy for 300 years. In these difficult times, we need to provide business with as much certainty as possible and do everything we can to help the Scottish economy bounce back after the effects of the pandemic. That includes the enormous generosity of the UK Exchequer, which has stretched to largesse of £13 billion across the job retention scheme, bounce-back loans, kick-start, the VAT cut and eat out to help out, funded by the most successful economic union in history.
But more than anything else, Scotland needs an economy that is confident and outward looking. Although I personally have no doubts about the individual commitment of SNP Members to parliamentary democracy, it is a matter of great concern that the activists behind the anti-English, xenophobic and illegal demonstrations say that they took their inspiration from senior SNP figures.
Ian Blackford himself has been reported as having tweeted an image, with an expletive, to the effect that Scotland was shut and that visitors should perform a less polite version of going away. He has slunk away from the debate; perhaps Pete Wishart will tell us the truth about whether any of those involved in setting up those illegal roadblocks were members of his party. Will he give the House a commitment that, if that does turn out to be the case, anyone involved will be expelled?
As a direct result of the SNP’s delay in condemning that behaviour at the border, businesses in the tourism sector, one of the largest parts of the Scottish economy, are receiving cancellations of bookings over concerns about whether Scotland will be open and welcoming to them. The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber has returned to his place, but I have to say that, at a time when nationalism globally is on the rise, that is not a good look for his party at all. SNP Members claim to be worried about adding to the costs of covid-19, but they themselves are compounding the damage to the Scottish economy.
SNP Members talk about a power grab from Edinburgh to London. I have much sympathy for the position of a people feeling disenfranchised by decisions taken in a capital hundreds of miles away, but that is why I celebrate the 2016 referendum verdict and am keen to put it into practice with as much haste as possible. Powers held today in Brussels, over which the right hon. Member has no influence, are being returned to Westminster and to the devolved Assembly. Scotland will have over 100 additional powers that it does not currently enjoy. Talk about an erosion of the powers of the Scottish Parliament is fallacious given that that Parliament did not exist until 1999. and our membership of the European Union far predates that.
It is not too late. It is never too late for the SNP to turn around, to be on the side of democracy and to join us on the Government side of the House, seizing back our independence, seizing back control and making a success of global Britain in the world.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend Andrew Griffith. Let me be clear that it is because of our United Kingdom that, by the end of June, nearly 900,000 jobs across Scotland had been protected by the UK Government’s unprecedented support, and the Scottish Government have been allocated an extra £4.6 billion for coronavirus funding.
However, today’s debate is really about revisiting two questions that have been answered: Scotland leaving the UK, which was rejected in 2014, to join, if allowed, the European Union, which the UK collectively voted to leave in 2016. Both referendums were once-in-a-generation votes, and it is our duty to respect the people’s voices. The nationalist obsession with separating themselves from our United Kingdom risks at least half a million jobs, throwing Scottish business into chaos with dither and delay while they wait to see whether they are allowed into the protectionist racket, and the opportunity to export the best of Scotland around the world could be lost. The SNP is desperate to rejoin the European Union and would do so at the cost of its own workers and industries, and fishermen and women are a prime example. Remaining in the common fisheries policy would be detrimental to the health and success of the Scottish fishing industry, and we know that the European Union’s oppressive one-size-fits-all approach simply does not work.
The SNP could have talked about topics that are more pressing to the people of Scotland. In January this year, Scotland had the joint biggest fall in the social and economic wellbeing index. Why the decline? Education is one major part of the fall. Since 2006, PISA—the programme for international student assessment—shows that Scotland has dropped from 11th to 23rd in reading, 11th to 24th in maths, and 10th to 19th in science. Teacher numbers are lower today than when the SNP took power.
However, it is not just PISA that points out the failure of the nationalists in Holyrood. A survey on literacy and numeracy, which the SNP set up, came out with damning figures about what is happening, so what was the First Minister’s response? It was to close it down, dismiss it, and tell the professional statisticians they were wrong. Instead of a data-driven approach, they asked teachers what they thought about every pupil relative to a test that may have been taken at any point in the year. That does not allow proper moderation and applies unfair pressure on teachers, causing impartiality to be thrown into doubt. The SNP choose to play party politics over helping to improve the educational outcomes and destinations of the youth in Scotland.
However, before the SNP tells me that positive destinations have increased, let me point out that it happened because the Scottish Government chose to include zero-hour contracts in their figures—a system that SNP Members regularly lambast. The Scottish Government will also praise their flagship curriculum for excellence, but it is to be investigated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development—failure after failure after failure. Let us talk about these issues instead, rather than revisiting the same old arguments that the public of the United Kingdom wish to move on from.
On top of educational failure, let us not forget the new children’s hospital in Edinburgh that was meant to be delivered in 2012 and is now mothballed for the remainder of 2020, costing the taxpayer £1.4 million a month. Let us not forget the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, which tragically saw two children die due to water contamination in 2017, and which saw NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde placed into special measures. Scotland is also now the worst place in Europe for drug deaths, after the highest ever rise in fatalities following an 80% reduction in rehabilitation beds since the SNP came to power.
Let me offer something that Members from the Scottish National party and we on the Government Benches can agree on: where is the Labour party? Rather than showing that it has learned the lessons of December 2019, its Members are hiding. Dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge—they try to avoid discussing Brexit, because in private they want to stop it. It is one of the many reasons that people of Stoke-on-Trent North, of Kidsgrove and of Talke rejected them at the ballot box. My constituents overwhelmingly asked to leave the EU in 2016, but they were ignored time and again by the Labour party.
Let us not forget that Keir Starmer, the architect of Labour’s disastrous Brexit policy, said to Labour members in Dudley in March that he wants to campaign to go back in. Then he told the media in May that he wants to stay out of the EU, yet he cannot walk through the Division Lobbies with us this evening to reject an extension. Time and again, Labour is failing the people of Stoke-on-Trent and the United Kingdom. [Interruption.]
What can one say? It has been an absolutely fascinating debate. We have learned so much about where we are with the Government’s chaotic and tortuous Brexit. I think we have also learned a little more about what Conservative Members feel and believe about Scotland. [Interruption.] Take it easy. Relax. I say to those Members that Scotland is watching this debate. Scotland is observing all the insults, all the disparaging remarks, all the putdowns and all the attempts to take our powers. They have no idea how that comes across in Scotland. They can bawl, scream, shout and disparage. They can shout us down and ignore us, but do they know what it does? I will tell them exactly what it does: it drives support for independence sky-high.
Let me tell them a couple of things in case they have missed them, both to help them a little bit and to help diplomatic relations, because this has all gone badly wrong for them. We in Scotland are now at 54% support for Scottish independence. Let me tell them what else has happened this year. Every opinion poll since the turn of the year has suggested that we are now at majority support. For the first time ever in the history of Scottish independence, we are in the position where there is sustained majority support for the proposition. That has never happened before.
After today, that support is only going to go up. We do not need to do anything in this place. I do not need to get to my feet and make a speech. All we need to do is to show the contributions made by Conservative Members to the people of Scotland. My main job, as a supporter of Scottish independence, is just to get them to make speeches like that, and then show them back to the Scottish people. The thing is it does not matter; they will keep on doing it.
A couple of things are going to happen in the next year. We have a Scottish parliamentary election in less than 10 months. If Conservative Members think that support for independence is bad for them, wait until they hear how well the Scottish National party is doing in opinion polls. Do they know where we are? We are at 55% support. Do the Conservatives want to know where they stand for the next election? They are at 20%. [Interruption.] They say, “Wait for the day.” Absolutely. We will take nothing for granted, and that is why I am getting all the little clips of all those speeches and making sure that they are transmitted to the Scottish people, because support for the Scottish National party will then just go further up.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am intrigued to know about the opinion polls in Scotland—they are great—but would he care to answer any of the points that my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis made about the record of the Scottish Government?
Let me tell the hon. Gentleman something about the record of the Scottish Government, because it will come as a bigger disappointment to him. Not only is support for Scottish independence at 54% and not only is support for the Scottish National party at 55%, but does he want to know the satisfaction rating for the Scottish Government? He does not want to know, but I will tell him anyway. It is 74%. That is the satisfaction rating for the Scottish Government. We are a popular Government doing things on behalf of the Scottish people that the Scottish people overwhelmingly approve of.
I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman as he took half an hour, sorry.
This is where we are in Scotland, and I thank Conservative Members from the bottom of my heart for helping me in my ambition and quest to deliver independence for Scotland.
It is so unnecessary. There are a couple of ways that we could do these things. We could have a separation of the ways peacefully and amicably, respecting each other, or Conservative Members could do the thing of shouting us down, disparaging us and trying to take the powers of the Scottish Parliament. I suggest this to the hon. Gentleman and hon. Ladies on the Conservative Benches: why don’t we do it the friendly way? I will tell them something. They won their Brexit; have it. Please have it. If that is what England wants, please have it. I will be the first person to applaud them, cheer them and wish them all the best. We do not want it. We don’t want it—that is the simple thing. Why can we not both have what we both want? Why can’t they have their Brexit, have their splendid isolation and have their fantastic trade deals that they have in the bag? What we will do is reflect on what the Scottish people want, which is to be an independent nation within the European Union.
I am here to sum up today’s proceedings, so let us see if I can make a little bit of a job just about that. There have been some fantastic contributions. Looking around, even the Tories, with their disparaging remarks about Scotland, have been pretty interesting. [Interruption.] They have been great. They have been fantastic for us and we are so looking forward to putting a compendium together.
The opening speech by my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford was a trademark tour de force accurately summarising the situation in and condition of Scotland: talking about the power grab, the threat to the Scottish Parliament in terms of the devolution settlement, talking about where the Scottish people are in relation to Brexit, and saying why it is necessary to have an extension to Brexit. That is what he laid down so very effectively in his speech today.
We then had some fantastic speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara), for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), for Stirling (Alyn Smith), for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). From Glasgow to Aberdeenshire to Lothian, there were fantastic speeches from my hon. Friends. “They do not speak for Scotland.” I do not know which one of the disparaging remarks that was from. But my hon. Friends speak on behalf of nearly every single community in Scotland. We have 80% of the Members representing Scotland in this House. From Ayrshire to Argyll to Aberdeenshire to everywhere, we have SNP Members who will put the views of their constituents. On no issue do they speak on behalf of those people more than on Brexit. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to reject Brexit. Every single constituency in Scotland voted to remain in the EU. What my hon. Friends did here today was to stand up for their community, represent their views, and make sure that they were properly represented and that their voice was heard. They did a fantastic job of that today.
Then, of course, there were the Conservative speeches. I am not going to say any more about them, because that was just great. But there is something I have observed—[Hon. Members: “More!”] Okay. They are saying, “More.” How about this, then? I have been in this House for 20 years and I have never observed a Conservative party quite like it: the new model Conservatives, the red wall Tories, the Commons commandos—how about that one? That is the way to describe them, or Boris’s Brexit bombardiers! How about that one? I cannot tell them apart. They are all the same. They are nearly all male and they are all standing there. They all beat the Labour party and they are all really thrilled about that. Well done. Gosh, we tanked the Labour party 10 years ago! It is not a big deal or a big feat.
The poor hon. Gentleman, Paul Blomfield, sitting there having to take all this. I actually feel sorry for him. The Labour party could not even be bothered to turn up. It was just appalling. For goodness’ sake, they must have something to say about Brexit. Even if they turned up and just asked to open the window or something, at least they would have been on the record, but they could not be bothered to even do that. Does he want to say something? I’ll give way to him.
Does it surprise the hon. Gentleman, as it has me, that, according to what I hear, the Labour party are actually on a one-line Whip? Does that not show that although we come from opposing sides of the argument, the Labour party do not take the future of Scotland seriously?
Well, they never really have. They are no longer a force in Scottish politics—they been well beaten into third place. But we do not really bother about the Labour party in Scotland, just as we are increasingly not bothering about the Conservative party, who we are now beginning to trounce once again.
Then there are the Liberals, none of whom have turned up. [Interruption.] No—Christine Jardine may have turned up to make a speech, but she is not here for the wind-ups—which is rather discourteous, Madam Deputy Speaker, though I say so myself. She is not here, and neither are the other Scottish Liberals who made speeches today.
Order. May I clarify? Due to social distancing restrictions, people are not always required to be here, as previously. I know that the hon. Gentleman would not want to cast any aspersions.
I note that, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I apologise. But there are empty seats; if any of them want to come down, they will still find a few seats where they could sit down and participate in this debate.
The curious thing about the Liberal Democrats and their speeches is that they were not congratulated by these Benches but cheered on by the Tories. They made better Unionist speeches than you Tories! Probably the most thorough Unionists in the whole of Scotland just now are Liberal Democrats. Again, it is no wonder that they are down to God knows how many Members.
Back to the Conservative speeches. There is one that I have to single out, by John Lamont. It was absolutely and utterly appalling. He tried to suggest that a constitutional political party that has done nothing other than promote our cause civically and democratically is somehow anti-English and racist. That was an appalling slur, for which he should apologise. He is not here, but I tell him something—[Interruption.]
I will tell the hon. Gentleman something about condemning things. I condemned what happened on the border a couple of weeks ago within an hour. I will condemn any of that type of activity: whether it is Unionists and loyalists protesting in Glasgow’s George Square, or whether it is activists on the border, I will condemn them. I invite the Scottish Conservatives to condemn those other protests too.
We all have great fun observing what is happening with the “negotiations”—these things that the Government turn up to with the EU. We in Scotland, I suppose, are just a bit more dispassionate about these things. We observe what is happening.
On the one side, we see the EU negotiating team, briefed to the eyeballs, with intimate knowledge of every detail of the withdrawal agreement and political declaration, negotiating in good faith and determined to protect the integrity of the single market and the institutions that have built up over the decades. Then the UK team turn up, and before they have even had the chance to lace up their clown shoes, the EU are running all over them.
The UK team are clueless—no idea what they want, constantly shifting the goal posts. I will tell the House what it is like: it is like the Scotland team of the 2020s out there on the field against the Brazil team of the 1970s. It is that one-sided. It is no wonder that the Europeans are running circles around them just now. It might all just be a clever ploy: perhaps the Government are setting things up to fail so that they get their coveted no deal, which is exactly what they are after. Nobody could be negotiating as badly and poorly as the UK team just now.
Scotland is making up its mind. A majority of people in Scotland now want it to be an independent nation; we have now reached sustained majority support. The thing is that we are doing well in not just the traditional communities—middle Scotland is joining us now. Do Members know who the most passionate supporters of Scottish independence are now? They are “no” voting remainers, who are flooding to our cause. I thank them for being the biggest recruiting sergeants for Scottish independence that we could possibly get. I thank them for driving many more people to the cause of Scottish independence.
Will my hon. Friend join me in giving some friendly advice to the Government? Devolution has been around for only 20 years—it is a relatively short time in our history. We are proud of our Parliament, and we want it to be independent. People have a real sense of pride, right across Scotland, in what our Parliament has achieved. I have to say in friendly terms to the Government that tomorrow they will introduce a White Paper—we know more about that now, and crucially, in that White Paper, they set up an unelected body that will determine whether or not the Acts of the Scottish Parliament are competent within the new framework that the UK is establishing. It is really quite remarkable—
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right and spot on to be absolutely furious about what is planned for Scotland. Let me tell Government Members something. They are all bawling and screaming. Put the cameras on them—we want Scotland to see them screaming at us. We want to see them screaming at us—that builds support for us. [Interruption.] Keep on doing it.
I will not give way, as I have heard enough screaming. Can I say one word to my hon. colleagues over there: super-state?
The hon. Gentleman says the EU. The super-state has arrived, and people will not find it in Brussels—they will find it in Whitehall, because the unelected body that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber described is coming Scotland’s way. Remember unelected bureaucrats? Remember that one? We have found their offices. They are not in Brussels, Frankfurt or Paris. They are sitting in Whitehall. An unelected advisory body will determine what type of Scottish parliamentary legislation will or will not be introduced. The super-state has arrived; unelected bureaucrats have arrived. That super-state is not dressed in gold stars on a blue background. It is coming to Scotland, presented in a Union Jack—that will be the arrival of the super-state for Scotland—and God help them trying to get it through the Scottish Parliament.
We have made it clear that we are not going to participate in that. We are going to do everything in our power to thwart it. No longer will they impose their view on Scotland, which has rejected them and their Brexit. Those days are passing. They are leaving—they are in the departure lounge. Scotland is deciding that it wants an entirely different future from the one that they want to project on us. We are going to make up our mind and Scotland will become an independent nation in the next year. Again, I appeal to them—work with us to do this. We could do it two ways. We could do it easily, conveniently and democratically in participation and partnership. We could do that—we could arrange a referendum to make sure Scottish people have a choice, or they can dig in for a process of attrition that will not serve either of our nations and countries. It will end up the same way. Whatever they decide to do, we win. You cannot beat sustained majority support. It is all over. Why do they not work with us to deliver and achieve that result for Scotland, which the Scottish people want?
I have thoroughly enjoyed myself—I think you can tell, Madam Deputy Speaker—and I am absolutely going to sit down. All that I can say to Government Members is, keep going. Every disparaging put-down is a badge of honour for SNP Members here. Every time you talk down Scotland and try to deprive us of our powers, our support builds. I say one thing to you: keep going.