I beg to move,
That this House
considers that the immediate economic damage, recent uncertainty and the projected long-term damage to business and trade from the UK leaving the European Union has disproven the perceived benefits of leaving the European Union;
notes that the Scottish economy, specifically fishing, small businesses and manufacturing, are particularly vulnerable to market disruption;
further notes that the failure of the UK Government to remain in mutually beneficial education schemes such as Erasmus+ is to the detriment of education and cultural exchange for people in Scotland and the rest of the UK;
shows serious concern at the loss of EU funding and its replacement with the Shared Prosperity Fund;
affirms the positive role immigration plays in society;
and regrets the impact leaving the EU will have on those who wish to live, study and work in the UK.
The Brexit process has lurched from bourach to shambles to chaos—a lesson in incompetence and hubris. We are assured that, after the next hurdle, things will get better and that we will start to see all the Brexit dividends that we have been promised. So, where are we now? Less than three months after the transition period ended, the UK is facing legal action and the possibility of trade sanctions. The Office for Budget Responsibility said in its response to the Budget that the Brexit trade deal will see
“a long-run loss of productivity of around 4 per cent compared with remaining in the EU.”
Businesses that have struggled through the uncertainty of snap general elections, exit day deadlines coming and going, a rushed last-minute withdrawal deal, and a year of covid-19 now face the possibility of tariffs along with the added paperwork brought by being out of the single market. That comes hot on the heels of a record-breaking drop in trade between the UK and EU in January. The Office for National Statistics said that, after the Brexit transition period ended, UK goods exports to the EU fell 40.7% in the month and imports dropped 28.8%. Those are the largest declines since records began over 20 years ago.
The hardest hit export to the EU was food products—a growth industry in Scotland and a sector world-famous for its quality. Food and drink exports decreased by 63.6% in January this year. Seafood Scotland says that fish and shellfish exports were down 83% in January. That is devastating for the sector, which has relied on the swift movement of goods across borders. Donna Fordyce, the chief executive of Seafood Scotland, has spoken of the reputational damage this is causing, the market share being lost to countries such as Norway and the additional time and cost of processing all the bureaucracy. In evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, she said that firms were having to spend around £250,000 to £500,000 extra per year on paperwork. Seafood Scotland has talked of a “one-way trade border” that
“chokes UK exporters, but ushers in EU imports with open arms.”
That is the reality of the shoddy deal that the UK Government negotiated on Scotland’s behalf.
There was a 56.6% decline in exports in the chemical sector ahead of the UK falling out of the EU’s chemicals regulations, and manufacturing output decreased 2.3%, which the ONS directly attributed not to covid-19 but to a fall in exports caused by Brexit. Brexit has also particularly affected an export that my constituency is blessed with: an abundance of live music. Those working in creative industries are being denied the access to the EU that previous generations have enjoyed. They are being denied access to work and access to promoting Scotland and our culture abroad. We on the SNP Benches have been clear that creative professionals and those who support them must be entitled to visa-free travel.
Even for those who simply want to play music, there are barriers. My constituent Richard Traynor recently purchased a musical instrument from a German supplier with which he has dealt for many years. When it was delivered, the keyboard had warped, he suspects due to being held in sub-zero conditions at customs holding stations for a lengthy period. He had to pay customs fees to the UK Government approaching £100 for the instrument and its subsequent replacement, in addition to courier fees for a keyboard that cost £180—a real barrier to trade. Mr Traynor told me that
“the fees charged part of this has indeed been very difficult to swallow, but it does not compare to the empty hollow feeling this particular Brexit experience has left me with. I cannot believe I will no longer be able to buy from the many really nice folk I’ve traded with over the years from various places across Europe. I cannot imagine the damage this must be doing to small retailers such as folks who run small independent record labels or who run specialist shops...I guess this list could go on and on and on.”
There is growing evidence that companies in the EU are declining to send their goods to UK customers. The UK Government may not consider that a significant issue, but as my constituent points out, in so many ways, this chilling effect diminishes not just our trade but our way of life.
Visa-free travel is something that we have all taken for granted for some time. The loss of Erasmus+ and research funding has been a devastating blow to our universities, which already stand to lose so much from Brexit. The Scottish Government said from the outset that we wanted to remain a part of the scheme, and even Jackson Carlaw MSP, the former Conservative leader in Scotland, agreed. He said in the Scottish Parliament in May 2018 that
“it is not acceptable to me if the outcome of our exit from the European Union means that we can no longer participate in the Erasmus+ programme. It is perfectly clear that the direction that the UK Government is taking means that we will continue to participate.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report,
Of course, we know that that did not come to pass. I do not know whether that is a reflection of the relative influence of Conservative MSPs or whether they were also being led up the garden path by their Westminster bosses.
Mon cher collègue, my hon. Friend Alyn Smith, described the removal of the scheme as “economic vandalism” against the higher education sector. On research funding, the Wellcome Trust has said this week that the UK’s ambitions to be a science superpower
“are meaningless if they’re not backed up with funding.”
There were brutal cuts to international research this week, and we still have no clarity on the £1 billion hole in Horizon Europe. But the damage goes further than this.
Has the hon. Lady had sight of the London School of Economics report earlier this year which said that Scottish independence would be three times more costly than Brexit? Could she comment on that?
Independence will give us many options. It will give us the opportunity to take our future into our own hands and not be reliant on the incompetence of those on the Government Benches.
Young people in my constituency—many from low-income families—and many new Scots are now being denied access to not just an experience but a European identity that previous generations of Scots have benefited from. More than 2,000 students from Scotland—the highest per head of population in the UK—take part in Erasmus+ each year.
My constituent and good friend Declan Blench is a translator working in European languages. He says that he and his colleagues are now cut off from not only our markets, because trade in services is so hamstrung by this deal, but the culture they have cultivated links with and come to love. Declan says that
“most of us learned our languages in adolescence to adulthood, precisely thanks to EU links, we didn’t all grow up in multilingual households. I was brought up by a single mum in an English-only household in a mining town—how on earth could I ever have done what I’ve done, if not for Erasmus? It is not just heartbreaking but galling—sacrificing these things for the sake of unrealistic notions of imperial grandeur, the ultimate symbol of post-imperial stress disorder that Britain suffers from so acutely.”
I could not have put it better.
I know that many across the House have benefited from studying and working abroad. It is wholly unacceptable for Tory Members to pull the ladder up behind them. Andrew Bowie recently admitted as much on the BBC “Debate Night” show. He said to a young person who asked a question:
“You and everybody else coming through right now will not have the benefits that I had through Erasmus, work, study abroad…But am I going to sit here and say that Brexit is perfect and your generation is going to reap the benefits? No I’m not. Because you’re not frankly at the minute. And I can see that.”
A moment of honesty from the Tories, but what a statement that is—that young people are not going to benefit in the way that people on the Tory Benches did; that they will take that away from the generations yet to come.
The UK Government’s replacement is a pale shadow of Erasmus+. There has been no meaningful consultation with devolved Governments on the Turing scheme, which seems to have been cobbled together at the last minute, with all the due consideration one would expect from this inept UK Tory Government. It will not pay tuition costs for students. Living costs have been cut to a fifth of what they would have previously been. It does not encompass youth work, culture, sport and vocational schemes, which are a huge part of the Erasmus+ scheme and very important to people in Scotland. We also now know that it will not cover apprentices or trainees not affiliated with further education colleges, and it will not cover teachers, youth workers, volunteers and many more who would previously have been eligible. LEAP Sports in my constituency, which works with LGBTI people, found Erasmus+ invaluable and forged international links, which helped to build the confidence and the skills of the people they support. For example, the three-year Outsport project on preventing violence and discrimination in sport based on sexual orientation and gender identity is vital work as we seek to challenge prejudice and make sport more inclusive for everyone.
Scotland’s economy has its own specific needs that are not being met by this Eton mess of a Government. We have an ageing population. Without inward migration, our population would be in decline, with more deaths than births. Scotland’s Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop announced “A Scotland for the Future” this week, which examines the significant population challenges our country faces.
The hon. Gentleman does not even want us to get to that point, so I am not even going to engage with his arguments. [Interruption.] He is not interested because he is not interested in independence. I would rather talk right now about immigration policy, and the damage that his policies are causing to people in my constituency.
We have the worst possible immigration policy. We have arbitrary targets, a hostile environment and cruelty built into every stage of the system. People who come to live and work in Scotland tend to be highly skilled and are net contributors in both productivity and Government revenue. I have seen how non-EU nationals have been treated, causing misery and hardship, unthinkable poverty and deprivation—all of that serving absolutely no economic purpose. It costs more to treat people so abysmally, and the UK Government do it anyway.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about immigration policy. Does she agree that it is ironic that earlier the Tories were trying to complain about the projected figures and the shortage of doctors, when they are the ones who are imposing this horrific immigration policy on Scotland?
Indeed. There are very many aspects of immigration policy that cause significant damage, including loss of skills and the general hostility, which causes people to feel that they are not welcome in their own homes. It touches me every time that someone at my surgery asks me, “Why would they do this to me? Why would they make me so unwelcome? Can I go back to my country, to the war-torn conflict that I have come from? I would feel better there than I do here, under this Government.” Every time that I can, I say to somebody, “This is your home. Glasgow can be your home and you are welcome here.” I do not hear that nearly enough from the Tory Benches. This Tory Government now seek to extend the hostile environment to EU nationals. They do not do so in our name—ever.
The Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population has estimated that the impact of post-Brexit immigration policy will be a 50% to 80% reduction in net EU migration to Scotland after 2020, and an overall reduction in overseas net migration of 30% to 50%. It has found that very few jobs in key sectors in Scotland will meet the arbitrary salary threshold this Government have imposed. The Home Secretary is aware of these issues and has done absolutely nothing to address them. There are currently no plans to include a route to jobs below the skills threshold, and the UK Government have rejected the possibility of any regional variation in the salary threshold. There has been no clarity on whether the Scottish shortage occupation list will continue to operate. This is a disaster for our remote communities, who depend on migration to counter depopulation. It is a disaster for businesses, who rely on that pool of talent to gain a competitive advantage in an increasingly global market. It is a disaster for our universities, who face a reduction in international staff and students and the experience and richness they bring. And it is a disaster for Scotland’s cities, whose wonderful cultural offerings are ever-enhanced by our migrant communities.
There are few starker examples than Brexit of how a Westminster Government are willing to sideline Scotland’s interests for their own cheap political gain. A differentiated approach to migration works well in Canada and Australia, and there is no sound economic reasoning not to do it, but the UK Government would rather put Scotland’s future at risk to appease the worst excesses of the Tory party.
Many people are beginning to realise that Brexit was a pig in a poke and the much-vaunted schemes that have followed it are merely a mirage. I spoke recently about the shared prosperity fund, the UK Government’s replacement for EU structural funds. It is almost unbelievable that we are now five years since the Brexit vote and still awaiting detail on how this scheme will operate. What we are certain of, however, is that this scheme will, due to the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and the power grab, bypass Holyrood entirely. This UK Government have made sure that decisions are taken out of the hands of the people of Scotland and restored to the backrooms and corridors of Whitehall.
When we have the choice in Scotland, we invest in projects that meet the needs of our population. The Scottish Government built the stunning Queensferry crossing—toll-free and clearly adored by Douglas Ross as he delivered his keynote speech to the Tory party conference in front of it.
The hon. Gentleman says that, but actually it is a bridge designed to cope with the extremes of Scottish weather. [Interruption.] It is not always shut, and I want to take this head on. The previous Forth bridge was far more subject to the weather and to diversions, and the UK Government did absolutely heehaw about it. The Scottish Government built a bridge; it is a good bridge—it is a brilliant bridge—and the hon. Gentleman loves it so much that he stands in front of it and lets the cars drive through his ears on the telly.
There is also the Kessock bridge, and the £90 million of projects in the Outer Hebrides over the past 25 years for ferry terminals, bridges and causeways, the bulk of which came from European Union funds, and which nobody on the Conservative Benches would ever have thought to fund. By contrast, the UK Government built that bridge over troubled waters, the Skye bridge, and it cost the then Scottish Executive more to buy out the private finance initiative contract than the actual cost of the bridge. And now they want to chuck money at a £20 billion bridge over the Irish sea. I have with me my second-year high school geography project, which might give the Tories an idea as to why disturbing the second world war munitions dump at Beaufort’s dyke might be problematic.
The shared prosperity fund has been described as “a direct attack” on devolution by the Labour-run Welsh Government. This cannot be dismissed as grievance politics or anything remotely like it; it is a real erosion of the hard-won rights of all those in the devolved nations of the UK. Be under no illusion: it is a power grab by the Tories, who never wanted devolution in the first place. The Prime Minister has gone as far as to call it a disaster and Tony Blair’s worst mistake—I am sure we can think of other mistakes, but I will leave that for the Minister.
I am much more confident now than ever before that the people of Scotland see through the lies and spin of this Tory Government. Brexit has been a wake-up call for so many, and I welcome them all to Scotland’s cause. We need policies which meet Scotland’s needs, not an insular little Britain driven by the whims of the Tories and their crony pals. Alasdair Gray argued that a truly independent Scotland will only ever exist when people in every home, school, croft, farm, workshop, factory, island, glen, town and city feel that they, too, are at the centre of the world. This is what we seek. An increasing number of people are seeing their role in that world, and looking forward to the day when they decide to take their future into their own hands, and to take our place in the world and Scotland’s place as part of the European family of nations. I cannae wait.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to end and add
“welcomes the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and recognises the enormous opportunities for Scotland’s economy.”.
Forty-eight years ago, the UK joined the European Economic Community, a concept built by giants. Its founding vision was based on peace and economic prosperity and much good came of it—economic, social and political—but over the years it evolved into something altogether different. Those who campaigned for Brexit did not do so because they objected to the benefits of being in the EU—the free flow of goods, shared security co-operation, ease of travel or reciprocal benefits. What they objected to was the price of those things.
Some objected that the situation prevented developing deeper co-operation with other nations, or that it supported protectionism that held developing nations back, or that it facilitated misery and suffering for refugees and economics, or that it undermined NATO, or frustrated our service economy. Some resented our inability to control our own laws, our own immigration policies or further border controls. Some were concerned about being tied to the eurozone in any way or to the European Court, others about the immense costs of membership and the lack of accountability, political and fiscal. Some wanted us to have our own fishing, agriculture and environment policy, and to realise our ambitions to promote trade for a prosperous and peaceful world.
The negotiations that preceded us leaving the EU and in the run-up to the transition period ending were complex, but our aims can be summarised in three sentences. We wanted to keep the good bits. We wanted to lose the bad bits. We wanted to maximise the possible opportunities for every part of the UK. The post-negotiation scorecard shows that we did well. Under the deal reached with the EU, people in Scotland, as well as all UK nationals, will be able to benefit from a wide range of social security rights when travelling, working and living in the EU, including access to an uprated state pension and to reciprocal healthcare arrangements.
Has the right hon. Lady asked the fishermen and the seafood industry how they would mark the scorecard? Also, does she think it is acceptable that the Fisheries Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Victoria Prentis, said she did not read the details of the deal because she was involved in a nativity play at her local school? Surely as Fisheries Minister she should have known exactly what was in that deal?
If we are talking about scorecards, a policy of handing back coastal waters to Scottish fishermen will win every time over handing back their new quotas to the EU. I am very happy to be judged on that basis.
The trade and co-operation agreement allows the UK to take full advantage of the opportunities available to us as an independent trading nation and strike trade deals with other partners around the world. We have started to use those new-found freedoms. We now have a points-based immigration system, which is open to the whole world and the talent that is out there, and can be tailored to our needs. Following the comments from Alison Thewliss, I hope she will be supporting the Home Secretary’s initiative to establish safe routes for refugees fleeing conflict areas, rather than them having to rely on people traffickers.
The Agriculture Act 2020, which replaces the EU’s bureaucratic common agricultural policy, transforms how we support farmers. The Fisheries Act 2020 enables us to control who fishes in our waters. We have launched our new global human rights sanctions regime. There is the UK-Japan comprehensive economic partnership agreement, and we are replacing overly bureaucratic EU structural funds with the new UK shared prosperity fund.
Brexit was an event, but now there is a process. From outside the EU, we can develop, refine and build our relationship with the EU and its member states for the benefit of all our citizens. The noble Lord Frost and I, and all members of the Government, will be working day and night to address the remaining and future issues for businesses, and to listen to their needs and ambitions. We take those issues incredibly seriously. We will resolve the problems, some of which the hon. Lady touched on.
Was the Minister as amazed as I was by a complete absence from the rhetoric of the Scottish National party? It has been calling for the same special arrangements for Scotland that Northern Ireland has, but now that we have seen what the protocol actually means, no one actually wants it. May I encourage the Minister and Lord Frost to continue to push back on the protocol and repair the damage that has been done by it?
The hon. Gentleman has my assurances that we will continue discussions within the framework of the joint agreement. He knows that there is tremendous concern about and focus on those issues. But no, I was not surprised by some of the things that were missing from the Scottish National party’s opening remarks. I was not surprised that there was no offer to help the efforts to resolve these issues for business. Businesses in Scotland want their representatives to do that. They do not want political grandstanding about another referendum. They want the Scottish Government to focus on improving the situation and not to be distracted by scandal.
The right hon. Member is talking about asking the Scottish Government to help out in some way. The Scottish Government have put forward their proposals on many occasions, including “Scotland’s Place in Europe” and proposals on many other aspects of Brexit, but they have been roundly ignored on every single occasion. It is for the UK Government to take on the Scottish Government’s offers of help and assistance, rather than to shut the door in our face on every single occasion.
That is not the case. We have done a huge amount. I have been part of that engagement with Scottish Government Ministers and officials. It would be nice if Scottish National party Members would start talking up the opportunities for their businesses, goods and services, because there are many—from financial services to manufacturing to world-renowned Scottish products—that will remain protected in the EU through geographical indicators, as they were before the end of the transition period. The trade and co-operation agreement is only one of many agreements as the UK enters the global stage as a sovereign trading nation. We have already struck deals with countries including Canada, Japan and Singapore, with many more to come, and we will grow our GDP and increase our trade with the rest of the world, creating new opportunities for exporters, and delivering better choice and value for money for our consumers.
I thank the Minister, who is my county neighbour, for giving way. While she is extolling the virtues of the deal that is being delivered by this Government, does she agree there is a seeming inconsistency from SNP Members—that is, having voted against the deal at every stage during its the passage in this place, they would have ensured a no-deal exit from the European Union, which would have made more disruption for Scottish people?
That goes to the heart of it. I do not think that Scottish National party Members are interested in practical benefits for the people they represent. What they are interested in is causing division and chaos.
Let me turn briefly to the fishing sector. I have already spoken about securing the uplift in quota for Scotland. We also recognise the critical role that the Scottish fleet plays. It is for that reason that we have secured £14 million in the spending review to support Scotland’s domestic fishery priorities; that is in addition to the £100 million, and goes way beyond our manifesto commitment to maintain funding. This investment will modernise and rejuvenate the industry, and strengthen the long-term sustainability of the catching and processing sectors.
The hon. Member for Glasgow Central also mentioned Erasmus. We changed our negotiating position at the start to incorporate the asks of the devolved Administrations regarding Erasmus, and we fought very hard to get a good deal from the EU, but that was not on offer. Instead, we have developed the Turing scheme, which will benefit more students and students from a wider variety of backgrounds than previously enjoyed the Erasmus programme.
An SNP Opposition day debate does not happen every day, so the topic chosen and the content of the speeches tell us much about the focus of a particular political party. There is a clear theme to both debates today, and, alas, it has been a predictable one: to unpick democratic votes, and to ignore and undermine referendums. Nothing about business results; everything about overturning results. I look forward to seeing whether SNP speakers this afternoon offer one practical suggestion to any of the unresolved issues affecting businesses, or offer any help to persuade the EU of initiatives that will benefit all parties. The SNP, through its fanaticism and now its emerging conduct, is losing the fragments of credibility that it once may have held. Today, we have again seen its Members’ contempt for democracy.
I refer the hon. Lady to her opening remarks. I think the Scottish people deserve better than that. The real political heroes of the last few turbulent years, to which Neil Coyle referred, were not those who won referendums; they were those who lost referendums and adhered to the results. They were those who voted for an independent Scotland and accepted the result of that once-in-a-generation vote, and those who voted to remain in the EU but accepted the mandate to leave.
That faith in democracy, that respect for their fellow citizens, is the ultimate expression of mutuality—equality— in which we all share. It can be found in our NHS, in the vaccine programme, in our welfare safety nets, in every charity and voluntary organisation across the land, and in every gesture of good will and kindness towards a neighbour, including neighbours across borders. These deeply felt connections, responsibilities and care we have towards each other are at the heart of the Scottish nation, and they are at the heart of every nation—the four nations—of this United Kingdom. They are what makes those nations and our country great, and the SNP’s selfish, self-absorbed separatist rhetoric will never destroy that.
Before I call Ian Murray, I will just point out that we will start with Back-Bench contributions of four minutes. I have no doubt whatsoever that that will move down to three minutes later in the debate so that more Members can get in. If you are participating remotely, please keep an eye on the clock that should be on the bottom right-hand side of the device that you are using. Please do not exceed the time limit, because you will be stopped by the Chair. For those participating in the Chamber, the time limit will be shown in the usual fashion.
May I start by paying tribute to Alison Thewliss, who set out the severe impacts that this Brexit proposition is having on the Scottish economy? It is a shame; the title of the debate is “Leaving the EU: Impact on the UK”, but I think we will need more than one debate to go through all the impacts. She ran very quickly through a lot of the impacts that are affecting Scottish business.
May I take Members back to Christmas eve? I am sure we can all just about remember that. We were all turning our attention to our family Christmas traditions. We were putting on our Christmas jumpers, double-checking we had everything for Christmas day, cutting sellotape with our teeth, examining the TV guide to see when we could watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and perhaps even thinking about a small libation or two. I am sure our thoughts would have been turning to family and friends who were unable to celebrate Christmas with us due to the lockdown. Then, out of the mulled wine haze appears not Santa Claus but the Prime Minister, sitting in front of the Downing Street Christmas tree delivering an “all I want for Christmas is as an EU trade deal” address to the nation.
The Prime Minister gleefully proclaimed that the UK and the EU had come to a last-minute trade and co-operation agreement, there would be no tariffs on goods, the Northern Ireland protocol would be maintained so the Government would not break international law, and, rather surprisingly,
“there will be no non-tariff barriers”.
I hope Santa was listening very clearly, as he really should not be delivering gifts to those who do not tell the truth. Going all the way back to the day after the EU referendum, it was always going to be the case that the cold reality of Brexit would one day disinfect all those undeliverable Tory promises given to the British people at the time and since, and that is exactly what has happened.
The bare-bones Brexit deal that was so lauded by the Prime Minister falls way short of what was promised and what was needed. It is not “get Brexit done”, as the Minister said; it is “get done by Brexit”. With our country facing one of the biggest economic recessions of any developed nation and with our businesses under increasing strain from the pandemic, they have to try to navigate new trading rules with the UK’s largest trading partner that have reduced exporting output by 60%. What will happen when the EU economies start to reopen fully? That is when the deal will truly be tested. It is holding back British businesses with reams of new red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy. Businesses were promised no non-tariff barriers, but the Government’s lack of leadership and clarity and their constant dither and delay mean that businesses are facing challenges that they certainly were not prepared for.
It did not have to be this way. The Government, instead of sticking their head in the sand, could have worked with industry to get ready. They could have focused on practical action to support businesses—measures such as recruiting and training the promised 50,000-plus customs agents we knew were needed to get the checks done. They could have used the transition period for what it was designed for—transitioning to the new arrangements. Instead, they wasted that period on negotiating the deal.
The Government think that the deal they got on Christmas eve is the end of the matter, but sectors of the economy know that this is just the beginning of huge difficulties and challenges, and for some it is unfortunately the beginning of the end for their business. It is certainly the beginning of the end for many that export, none more so than the Scottish fishing industry. That the Brexit deal is neither what Scotland’s fishing sector needed nor what it was promised will not surprise anyone. The devastating delays that the sector is facing were entirely predictable. There is anger and frustration from our fishers, who have been very badly let down. Elspeth Macdonald, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive—I am glad I was not drinking at lunch time, Mr Deputy Speaker; that was my impression of Sean Connery as well—was scathing:
“This deal falls very far short of the commitments and promises that were made to the fishing industry by those at the highest level of government.”
It is a pattern, isn’t it?
What about Scottish agriculture? There has been nothing positive for farmers in leaving the EU with this deal. They are happy that no deal was avoided, but where are the sunny uplands they were promised? They, too, see something familiar. The Prime Minister is getting a reputation not just for overpromising and underdelivering, but for overpromising and then delivering nothing.
I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland for giving way. He has spoken a lot about the deal—the deal that he voted for in this House in December—but his new Scottish party leader in Holyrood voted against it. Who is right—the leader of Scottish Labour or the Labour shadow Secretary of State?
That was a boring and predictable intervention. The hon. Gentleman knows that we voted for the deal to avoid the very no-deal that his Government were threatening. He also knows—he is just about to rejoin the Scottish Parliament, assuming he wins his seat, and I hope he gets the rules in train before he does so—that that is not what the debate was about in the Scottish Parliament. It was about something completely different, not whether Members there accepted or did not accept the deal. The hon. Gentleman knows that not to be the case. [Interruption.] Rather than chuntering, it would be much better for the hon. Gentleman to give some reassurance to the fishing industry and the Scottish farming industry. This is what they are saying to us. It is what they are putting on the record. I am not making this up. It might be a good starting point to give them some reassurance and to work together to resolve some of the problems.
The trade deal leaves a huge amount of uncertainty and falls short of what is needed and what was promised. Scottish farmers are clear that they will not stand by and see a weakening of import standards for food and allow Scottish and British produce to be undercut by others. We need concrete guarantees that food and farming standards will remain at least as high as they are now.
What about services? The financial services sector in Scotland maintains 162,000 jobs and accounts for nearly 10% of GDP. Across the UK, the financial services sector contributed £75.6 billion to the Treasury in the year before covid. There is nothing in the agreement for the 80% of our economy that supports millions of jobs and livelihoods. I hope the Minister can tell us that the EU-UK memorandum of understanding with the financial services sector that is due to be signed by the end of March will give the sector what it was promised. The Government need to secure long-term agreement with the EU on financial services equivalence and to improve access to EU markets for the wider professional services industry, so that the UK and Scotland can remain global hubs for financial services.
I have mentioned just three sectors—the hon. Member for Glasgow Central mentioned others—that have been disadvantaged by this deal, but we could have talked about so many others, including chemicals, petrochemicals and energy. The list is endless. No wonder there is frustration, as it transpires that deals could have been done that would have made things easier for people. We could have stayed in the Erasmus programme. While I welcome aspects of the new Turing scheme, the Government could have done both. That would have been a truly global Britain—stay in Erasmus+ and do the Turing scheme for non-EU countries.
We could have had a deal for our performers and production tours—it was on offer, but it was turned down. Why? Government policy seems to be to cut off our nose to spite our face. I hope that a solution can be found, or it will be more damage to another jewel in the UK’s crown—our creative industries. Those issues do not need Government platitudes. We want not more promises to be broken, but action and resolution now. The Brexit reality includes everything from shellfish rotting on a motorway to stopping our musicians touring Europe. The sunny uplands that we were promised mean a 4% hit to GDP—the equivalent of £3,600 for every household in the UK, according to the House of Commons Library. It is a shame that we do not have time to deal with the Northern Ireland protocol and the effects on the Good Friday agreement.
It is worth coming on to the SNP’s approach to the EU, as the party has initiated this debate in the Chamber. We have heard time and again, in the Chamber and elsewhere, that the UK has left the EU so Scotland needs to leave the UK. The former Labour MP and Europe Minister, Douglas Alexander, said this week in an article in The New European:
“Independence for Scotland would represent a reckless ‘hold my beer’ response to Brexit”.
All of us who campaigned to stay in the EU and strained every sinew to ensure that the case was made are disappointed. Of course we are angry. Many are still grieving after leaving the EU, but if the response is ripping Scotland out of the UK that would add catastrophically to that position.
The UK has left its largest trading partner, the EU. Of course that is bad, and we will hear that throughout the debate. Scotland leaving its largest trading partner, the UK, would be immeasurably worse. We need a remedy for Brexit, not a hugely damaging “I told you so” moment from Scotland. I did not vote remain for my vote to be misappropriated—
We hear a lot about the fact that England is our biggest trading partner—that is true—but does the hon. Gentleman accept that 62% of goods manufactured in Scotland go to the EU, so it is our biggest trader in manufactured goods?
The London School of Economics report—the LSE used to be lauded by the First Minister—said that Scottish independence would be three times worse than Brexit. Everything that the hon. Member for Glasgow Central said has to be multiplied by at least three. Then we can see the impact of what would happen—[Interruption.] Here we go again. I am trying to shine light on the facts of what would happen. I am trying to shine light from the LSE, an organisation that used to be lauded and cited in the Chamber every single day by Scottish National party Members, and all we get is, “Are we better together?” We need answers to those questions. That is what people are crying out for—they want people to be honest and answer those questions.
I did not vote in the EU referendum for my vote to be misappropriated by the nationalists to break up the UK. It is not their vote to do that with. I wonder whether the no-deal SNP regrets spending less on the EU referendum than it did chasing a few thousand votes in its failed bid to win the Scottish parliamentary by-election for Shetland.
The most extraordinary aspect of the debate in Scotland is the SNP’s promising a seamless transition back into the EU if the public vote for a separated Scotland. That is another in a long line of assertions that are not based on fact and not backed by any satisfactory answers. Indeed, we heard Douglas Ross ask the SNP’s finance spokesperson what the currency would be. There was no answer. Can the House imagine the shadow Chancellor or the Chancellor standing at the Dispatch Box unable to tell the country what its currency would be? They would be laughed out of the Chamber. They would have to resign before they reached the Speaker’s Chair.
One thing is for sure: Brexit shows us that breaking up is incredibly hard to do, and I am disappointed again that the SNP has introduced a debate on the EU but not taken any time at all to set out how, why or whether it can get a hypothetically independent Scotland back into the EU. Perhaps it will answer some key questions, as its separation strategy seems to be very similar to the strategy of Nigel Farage and the Brexiteers. It wants to cherry-pick the best bits of the EU, but not take the bits that it knows the public would find unpalatable.
The SNP’s proposition is that Scotland would seamlessly rejoin the EU as an independent nation, but not take the euro, or sign up to Schengen, or meet the deficit and debt requirements, or have its own currency, or meet the exchange rate mechanism rules, or re-enter the common fisheries policy. The sterlingisation plan excludes it from entering the exchange rate mechanism.
Most astonishingly, the Scottish Health Secretary said on “Question Time” last month that Scotland would not need to sign up to the very trade and co-operation agreement that we are debating today between the EU and the UK, which I and the SNP are rallying against in this debate. How is that even possible? Scotland would become an independent nation and would seamlessly go back into the European Union, and then would not even have to implement at the border at Berwick the trade and co-operation agreement that was signed between the UK and the EU? That is just implausible.
We know that the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK, in the hypothetical event that Scotland was ripped out of the UK, would be determined by the very trade and co-operation agreement that was signed on Christmas eve by the Prime Minister. All the problems that are being faced by Scottish industries such as fishing, manufacturing, agriculture, exports and financial services that we might hear about this evening would increase fivefold or more, as the rest of the UK is far and away the largest market for Scottish goods and services. This just does not make sense, and it is about time the SNP faced up to those key questions and was straight with the Scottish public. That is all I ask: be straight with the Scottish public and answer the questions.
Scotland has two Governments making promises to the Scottish people that they cannot deliver, and making promises to the people and businesses of Scotland that they have no intention of delivering. The problem is that the UK Government see the relationship achieved with the limited last-minute deal between the UK and the EU as the ceiling of their ambition—we heard that tonight from the Minister—but we do not. We see it as being the floor from which to build. We need to work hand in hand with industry, business, our trade unions and our European partners and friends to achieve practical solutions so that we can face the challenges thrown up by this deal with the EU and grab those future opportunities.
This deal must be built on; it must be the start, not the end. We have to live in the reality, and while we would not have taken us to this position, that is where we are. The deal has to be about a deeper, mutually beneficial relationship that means businesses can thrive. That means repairing the tattered relationship with our EU partners. It means putting aside the ideological nationalist agenda from both Governments and working in the national interest. Now more than ever, we need what the Scottish public are crying out for, which is both Governments, Scottish and UK, working together to mitigate aspects and disadvantages of covid and Brexit, but I fear that I should not hold my breath.
I listened very carefully to the opening remarks of Alison Thewliss. What I find quite extraordinary about the SNP is its ability to hold to two completely incompatible and inconsistent policies at the same time. We recently concluded the SNP’s first debate of this afternoon, in which it argued that Scotland should be separate from the rest of the United Kingdom. It has now introduced a debate to complain about the economic impact of the UK leaving the European Union. A total of 60% of Scotland’s trade is with the rest of the UK, worth more than £50 billion, against £16.6 billion in exports to the EU, yet the SNP wants to rip Scotland out of that United Kingdom economic union. More than half a million Scottish jobs are linked to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom, yet the SNP continues to obsess about taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom.
It is not surprising that so many people are baffled when, on the one hand, the nationalists argue for Scotland’s separation from that political and economic union, yet, on the other, they want even closer ties with another political and economic union—separation from the UK, but yet closer ties to Brussels and the EU.
I do not need to remind the House that the SNP tried to impose an economic shock on Scotland by recklessly voting for a no-deal Brexit at the end of the transition period with the EU. The EU-UK trade deal is worth £653 per person over a no-deal Brexit, according to the Scottish Government’s own analysis, yet SNP MPs trooped into the Lobby to vote for a no-deal Brexit. They voted for a no-deal Brexit and all the economic challenges that that would undoubtedly have brought. They voted for a no-deal Brexit in spite of the financial hardship that would bring to families in Scotland. They also voted for a no-deal Brexit despite the Federation of Small Businesses, the Confederation of British Industry, the British Chambers of Commerce, the National Farmers Union of Scotland, the National Sheep Association and many other organisations, as well as our constituents, urging MPs in Parliament to back the UK-EU trade deal. So it is a bit rich to hear them squealing today about the impact of Brexit when they voted for a no-deal Brexit.
We should not be surprised that SNP Members voted against the UK-EU trade deal or that they supported a no-deal Brexit. In fact, they have a track record of voting against trade deals, even those from which we benefited as members of the European Union, some of which this Government have rolled over for the benefit of the UK and Scotland. SNP Members complain about our exit from the EU, yet they failed to support or abstain on countless trade deals that we have secured. They voted against trade deals with Canada, South Africa and Korea and abstained on trade deals with Japan and Singapore. I would welcome an intervention from one of the SNP Members here today to tell us which single trade deal the SNP has supported in the past 15 years. No? Nothing. They are not favour of trade or of jobs; they are not in favour of all the families and people we represent who are dependent on trade in Scotland. They are against trade and against the jobs that are supported by trade—[Interruption.] I will be happy to take an intervention from Alan Brown if he wishes to tell me which trade deal he supports. No? I didn’t think so.
We are already witnessing the profound economic benefits that Scottish industry is having from our new international trading relationships, and I very much welcome that. It is clear that SNP Members are not in favour of independence; they want closer ties with Brussels. They want to take Scottish fishermen back into the hated fisheries policy and to take farmers back into the common agricultural policy. They do not want independence; they just want closer ties with Brussels.
Happy St Patrick’s day, Mr Deputy Speaker. Latha Fhèill Pàdraig sona dhut. That completes the triple crown of senior languages of these islands here today. I believe that Welsh and Irish Gaelic have already been used. I just thought I would make that remark, given that St Patrick, celebrated and publicised by Ireland around the world, is the world’s most famous Scotsman. I note that today was a day when the House of Commons celebrated independent Ireland at the same time as it decried the chance for Scotland to be independent. I have to wonder what it is about the people who go to the House of Commons and respect independent countries while talking down the countries that remain in the UK. There might be a lesson for Scotland in that.
These two debates today, on independence and Brexit, work hand in hand. They are perhaps either side of the same coin, and it is important that they should both be looked at and discussed. It is good that we have this second one on Brexit, which more of us can participate in than managed to get into the oversubscribed earlier debate, such is the keenness to talk about independence—particularly, I noted, among Tory MPs. Perhaps that is a sign of things to come. There will be a lot more talk on independence as time goes on.
I want to reflect on what is really happening with Brexit. I noted Douglas Ross condemning the idea of independence at this moment. Independence at this moment would, of course, be the escape from the Brexit that he foisted on us in the middle of a pandemic—a pandemic that he used as a pretext for not launching the lifeboat in Scotland, which is something that we need to do with great urgency. It would be far better being in the club of 28 equal nations than being talked down to at Westminster in the way we were today, but such is life. I say to the hon. Member for Moray: let the people choose, and if his party wins the election in May, we will accept that the Scottish people do not want independence, but if we win the election in May, I hope he will have the democratic grace to realise that, with an SNP victory, that is exactly what the people have in mind.
We know where we are at the moment. We have no new trade deals adding to GDP, and we have a Brexit that is going to take away 4.9% of UK GDP over the next 10 years. The trade deals that have been signed are merely roll-over trade deals. On this St Patrick’s day, it is interesting to look at where Ireland was at one time. In 1940, 90% of Irish trade went to the UK. Now, 11% of Irish trade goes to the UK. It has not that Ireland has stopped trading with the UK; it is just that it has discovered the rest of the world, through independence and through being part of the European Union. In fact, there are more jobs in the UK dependent on Ireland than ever there were when Ireland was part of the UK. That goes to show not only the benefits that independence have brought to Ireland, but those it is bringing to people in the UK who are finding that their own jobs and prosperity are dependent on a successful neighbour next door. When we make Scotland independent and as successful as Ireland, there will be even more jobs in England dependent on that success of Scotland, so it will be a win-win situation. Ireland’s GDP was once 80% of the UK’s, and now it is 172% of the UK’s.
In my constituency, we are seeing the problems with Brexit. Salmon going to Austria is getting returned. Shellfish problems are legion, as we all know. From islands, ferries have to leave earlier and the admin costs are going up. Arts organisations such as Ceòlas in Uist, which had European structural funds, are unsure if they are going to get UK prosperity funds. The reality is that there are difficulties every step of the way.
In truth, Scotland, in the referendum of 2014, said that we will stay in the UK if it is in the EU—that was supported by 55%—but in 2016, 62% of Scotland went for the EU alone. The EU is more popular than the UK. Let us have our next say, and let Scotland decide which way it is going.
Happy St Patrick’s Day to you, Angus, and I know where we would have been celebrating later on this evening, had these been normal times, but they are not.
I have declared my business interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I welcome the opportunity to debate the many opportunities that Brexit presents. It was always the case that, once we had achieved Brexit, the Government needed to use the freedoms it brings to promote the greater health and prosperity of United Kingdom citizens. We meet today with a success already as a result of these freedoms. The United Kingdom Government decided last year not to join the common vaccine procurement system of the European Union. They went their own way. They had confidence in British science and in British medicine, and they had confidence in great companies based in the United Kingdom and in our great universities.
It is tremendous news that, as a result, the United Kingdom helped pioneer one of the first successful vaccines. The United Kingdom pre-ordered a very large number of vaccines for United Kingdom people on the basis that some of these vaccines would be good and would be available for use, and that put the United Kingdom in the position to vaccinate much earlier, saving more lives than those countries can that were not in the happy position of having early supplies of vaccine. Even our regulators were quicker and more agile. Our regulators gave regulatory approval to the first vaccines some weeks before the European regulator, though the European regulator came to the same view in due course.
I think this is a model for how we can use our freedoms more widely to promote our health and better prosperity. I would draw the Government’s attention to a very important policy initiative from President Biden. They may find it surprising to see me recommending something from a Democrat President, but I think his
The Biden initiative starts with a very rapid—100-day —attempt to fix the need for the United States of America to have a much bigger presence in pharmaceuticals, batteries, rare earths and minerals, and semiconductors. There is then an annual programme, involving all the relevant Departments of Government, of going through the supply chains and asking what can be done to use innovation funding, Government procurement and Government regulation to encourage more onshoring and more exciting technical developments. Of course, a country needs to have strong competition law and not to abuse state aids, but many good things can be done with the massive procurement programmes of the British Government, like those of the American Government, to encourage competitive responses in the United Kingdom and to encourage that increasing capacity.
I hope the Government will do more on both the Northern Ireland border issue, where I think we need to be firm—and I support their recent action—and on the fishing industry, where I think we need more rapid progress to build up our fleet and to take back control of more of our fish. That was the promise and that is clearly the intended journey, but I wish the Government would be firmer, because I do not think that at the moment we have the right deal to promote that industry. If we wish to develop our green policies, as we do, we need to do more at home, cut the food miles, cut the fish miles and have more value added in the United Kingdom.
My Irish surname is from ancestors who arrived from Ireland in Bellshill in Scotland before only later moving to England. That is not just a tenuous way of explaining why, as a central London MP, I am joining today’s debate. I am joining it because I share a lot of the anger over Brexit. I voted with SNP Members so many times to oppose it, including against triggering article 50. I share concerns about Brexit and how we got here. My constituents, like Scotland, voted massively to remain and rejected the atrocious lies of Dominic Cummings’ campaign in 2016, like saying it would be “the easiest deal in human history”, now so brutally exposed for exporters and importers alike, despite the Minister’s claims about opportunities opening up. All those lies included the £350 million a week extra for the NHS when nurses have been slapped in the face and given a pay cut after their heroic efforts against covid.
But those who attack the dishonesty in campaigns by prominent Conservatives should also reflect on the fact that the last referendum campaign in Scotland was based on the dishonesty that staying in the EU was possible. The irony is that the SNP could have taken Scotland out of the EU before John Redwood and others were having wet dreams about the whole of the UK leaving. Let us not double down on that previous deceit or pretend that independence is the solution to today’s problems. My constituents in Bermondsey face the same problems today as those in Bellshill. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs admits that businesses face £7.5 billion in extra costs this year because of the Government’s pitiful trade deal—a deal that has already led to an export slump of £5.6 billion. I am seeing two more businesses from my constituency affected this week—Selfmade Candle and Gisela Graham Ltd, who just this year have already seen new costs of 20 grand between them as a result of this deal. What will not help them, though, is what the SNP offers, because they know that the answer to Brexit and the devastation of trade barriers with the EU is not the further devastation of Scexit and more barriers for people and businesses within the UK.
I share the SNP’s concern at the petty nationalism that has taken over the Tory party, cannibalised by UKIP, and I share everyone’s concern that Tories have become scared of their own members—scared to the extent that they are no longer a genuinely Unionist party, and no longer working in the UK national or security interest, as this horrendous deal has exposed. But I do not know how the SNP has reached the idea that the solution to all those problems is to be more like Dominic Cummings and more like the Tory party. The solution to division is not more division. The solution to toxic nationalism is not more toxic nationalism. The solution to economic destruction is not more damage, job losses and heartache. Our shared solution to this petty, populist, Trumpesque Tory party is not to enable it or ape it—it is to beat it, together, with our more positive vision of what the UK can be and what our shared values are. I hope we can work on that, stronger and better together, going forward in the interests of all the people across the United Kingdom to fix the damage that this Government’s downgraded betrayal of a deal has done to our international standing, to our security, to our economy and to people’s opportunities.
I would like to make an offer to Alison Thewliss, because in my intervention on her she said that I was not interested in the SNP’s currency plans. Well, I am interested, and the people of Scotland are interested, so I am willing to give up all of my time for the hon. Lady, the SNP’s self-declared shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, to stand up and explain to me, and explain to the people of Scotland, in simple terms, what the SNP’s currency would be in an independent Scotland. I give up the remainder of my time to the hon. Lady. [Interruption.] I cannot believe that the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer for the SNP will not take an opportunity to tell this House this—to tell the people of Scotland what independence would mean for them, just in terms of their currency. That is all I am asking for, but in two debates today, with multiple opportunities, the SNP has refused to tell us. It wants people in Scotland to vote for independence but will not tell them what that will mean. That is unacceptable.
My disappointment was only reinforced when I did as you asked me to, Mr Deputy Speaker, and looked at the voting records from the earlier Divisions that we had. It has now been confirmed by Parliament—by the Vote Office—that every single SNP MP today voted to say that they do not agree that
“the priority of the Scottish people is to recover from the effects of the covid-19 pandemic, and that it would be irresponsible to hold a referendum at this time.”
That is all that SNP MPs were asked to support, but every single one, all 47 of them, and the one independent suspended SNP Member, voted against that. I hope they go back to their constituencies in Scotland and explain to the people they are supposed to represent and to the whole of Scotland, on behalf of their party, why they do not think that our priority during this pandemic should be recovery rather than another irresponsible referendum.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain to me what “at this time” means? Nobody is proposing that we hold an independence referendum at half-past 5 on a Wednesday night.
The SNP has allocated £600,000 to hold a referendum and campaign for one this year. The hon. Lady’s leader in this place, Ian Blackford, has said that the referendum should be in 2021. In the earlier debate, Tommy Sheppard said it will happen in the next 12 months—whether it is in December or January of next year, it will be within a year. While we are still struggling to fight this pandemic, while we are still seeing lives lost and livelihoods on the line, the SNP priority is, as always, separation. That is their mandate and all they are interested in.
We also have had no comment from the SNP today, in a debate about Brexit and the EU, on the EU’s roll-out of the vaccination programme and how we in Scotland have benefited from decisions taken by the UK Government, led by the Prime Minister, to procure and develop vaccines right at the start of the pandemic. These vaccines are protecting people in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. How does our vaccine roll-out in this country compare with that in the rest of the EU, which the hon. Lady would like to take us straight back into?
The hon. Lady also spoke about all the great infrastructure that has been built and developed in Scotland during the SNP terms in office. I tried to intervene on that point, because I would be interested to know what she thinks of the actions of one of her party colleagues, an SNP Cabinet Minister in the Scottish Government, Fergus Ewing, writing to his own Government asking their Transport Secretary to give his constituency some good news ahead of purdah—ahead of the period in which the Scottish Government are not allowed to make any further announcements. SNP MPs know that their 14 years are coming back to haunt them: their inability to get ferries into the water and to get hospitals open to take patients. It has been a litany of failure over the past 14 years and it has come to the extent that SNP Ministers have to ask their own Government to try to sneak out some more information because they have let down so many communities.
I would just like to update the House by saying that the success of the vaccine programme in Scotland has meant that a third of the eligible population have been vaccinated, whereas the figure in France is just under 8%.
The Minister outlines the figures excellently. I know that my own parents have benefited—they have been vaccinated in the Fiona Elcock centre in Elgin. People across Moray and across Scotland have benefited because of the vaccine roll-out in the UK and in Scotland. I want to reiterate that the two debates from the SNP today have been all about division and arguments about the past, with no positive vision for the future. The Scottish Conservatives are determined over the next seven weeks that we focus on Scotland’s recovery and on building back better than before this pandemic struck. We will be supporting jobs and livelihoods and communities right across Scotland. The SNP just want more division and I think that people across Scotland are beginning to realise that after 14 years of failure we can do so much better than that.
Order. I would like to try to get as many people in as possible, so after the next speaker I will take the time limit down to three minutes.
It is a genuine privilege to follow the contribution from Douglas Ross, because I believe that in the six minutes or so he spoke for he did not once mention Brexit, nor did he once recognise the difficulties caused by Brexit. We can conclude only that the Tories do not care about the damage that Brexit has caused.
Let me start by asking: what do we know about Brexit? It was ill conceived and poorly executed, it was an act of political panic and it has turned into an act of economic self-harm. It was driven by a sense of jingoistic exceptionalism that was never going to stand any scrutiny, and all the rhetoric of bright sunlit uplands has wilted under the reality of the problems—all foreseen—that have subsequently emerged.
It was reported in February that Scotland’s salmon farmers had incurred losses of £11 million as a direct result of Brexit—unmentioned by the hon. Member for Moray. On
“cheaper for retailers to write off the cost of the goods than dealing with it all, either abandoning or potentially burning them.”
Research from Make UK showed that 74% of the 200 major industrial firms it surveyed were facing delays with EU imports and exports, and 24 of the largest City of London firms have moved or plan to move assets worth an estimated £1.3 trillion out of the UK due to Brexit. That barely scrapes the surface of the problems.
It is not as if the Tories were not warned. Every pre-referendum economic forecast—certainly the serious ones—predicted a loss of GDP in the minus 2% to minus 7% range. The Treasury said that a free trade agreement could see a loss of GDP growth of around 6.2%, and that was not even the worst of its estimates at that time. In 2018, the cross-Whitehall analysis said that GDP could be 7.7% lower in 15 years under a smooth WTO mitigated arrangement. The one thing we can say about the deal we have with the European Union is that it certainly is not smooth—even the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has belatedly conceded that. Finally, the UK Government’s November 2018 long-term economic assessment suggested a GDP fall of 4.9% on a modelled FTA, which worsened to a 6.7% fall, with net zero inflows of European economic area workers, which, of course, for many Tory Brexiteers was all this was really ever about.
The question is, how do we proceed? We should back the motion because, self-evidently, we should regret the damage Brexit has done and that Brexit ever happened at all, but we need to move forward and work out how to improve this situation. Time is too limited for me to give any prognosis in the next 12 seconds, but in short, it is time for the Government to stop the pretence that we have an “excellent deal”, fully recognise the scale of the problems, show some humility and start to fix them.
If the Opposition had been correct about Brexit, the sky would have fallen in by now and dementors sporting EU flags would be swooping around our heads. If we had listened to Opposition Members of all political colours, we would currently be stuck in a perpetual cycle of referendums, while they ignore the results until they get one that suits them. I never expected the EU-UK divorce to be easy after 40 years; a long career in family law taught me that. I have a word of caution for our Scottish friends in the House: if they think this is tough, can they imagine what it will be like if they destroy a 300-year relationship? Scotland voted no, and we are better together.
We have seen how agile the UK can be outside the EU with the successful vaccine programme. While the EU politics and sows doubt about the Oxford vaccine, knowing full well that this could cause deaths, we are arranging vaccines for people in their 50s. Sadly, through family connections, I know that some people in their 70s in Europe are still waiting for their vaccination. We all benefit from the world being safe from this awful virus, so I hope the European Commission will urgently stop being daft and dangerous with people’s health.
I turn back to the Opposition in front of me. I cannot stand the anti-UK rhetoric. The sky has not fallen in, and we delivered the Brexit deal as promised. There have been immediate positives in connection with the most crucial thing that we needed for this country right now: the vaccine. But there are undoubtedly problems that need to be resolved. I have been writing to Government on behalf of my constituents and I really want to see us taking a lead on proposals to fix issues arising since the end of transition period. Lord Frost continuing to be in charge of the ongoing decisions with the EU is a good thing. It provides consistency and he knows exactly who said what and who offered what.
In my view, the “who said what” and blame game needs to stop in relation to the issues regarding musicians’ and entertainers’ visas. Stroud is a really creative place packed with artists of all types. I have received a number of emails about the impact and the loss of income and creative opportunities. These are incredibly talented men and women who are very much in demand for their skills. I also think about my EU-facing innovators in Stroud. They are self-sufficient self-starters, but those such as The Beeswax Wrap Co., which is based in Nailsworth, have had stunning growth and they are now facing problems with deliveries, demand and confidence that goods will arrive, and the orders are driving up.
I have confidence in this country, I have confidence that these things can be fixed, and I have confidence in Stroud. I wish that Opposition Members felt the same.
I have a lot of sympathy for this motion, partly because it does not mention independence. It sets out the predictable disaster that Brexit has been, which has been made so much worse by an appalling Tory deal. I am acutely aware of the strange irony of having nationalists against nationalism, both in the case of the SNP, which opposed Brexit, yet want to break up Britain—I suppose that it will be breaking up Scotland next—and that of the Tory nationalists, who wanted to break away from the EU but do not want to break away from Scotland. I am an internationalist and want to see us together as one Union and in closer alignment with the EU.
The simple fact is that the Budget confirms—as the Office for Budget Responsibility said—that the appalling Brexit that has been negotiated will cut our economy by some 4%, which equates to about 1.4 million jobs lost according to the Office for National Statistics. That will cost everybody in this country about £1,300, so it will cost a family of four about £5,000. That is not as much as would be lost by Scottish independence, as confirmed by the London School of Economics, but we are here to talk about Brexit.
The people who voted for Brexit, many of whom I represent, presented good ideas of wanting more jobs, more money and more control. That is what they were promised. There is nothing wrong with wanting those things. The problem is that they did not get them. They were promised an “oven-ready” Brexit, but the oven was turned off during lockdown and the pandemic. The Welsh and Scottish First Ministers both wrote to the Prime Minister in June and September to say, “Why do we not extend the transition period, because we will lose preparedness and negotiation time? And if we are Brexiting, let’s get the best Brexit.” Stupidly, of course—the Welsh First Minister recently said he was “baffled” by this—the Government and the Prime Minister decided that they would go ahead, and look where we have ended up. We have massive reductions in our exports. There will be impairments to our imports from April, so instead, the Prime Minister delivered a half-filled sack on Christmas eve with no services inside, despite the fact that 42% of our exports to the EU are services. We have ended up just saying, “Let’s have more deals under the comprehensive and progressive trans-Pacific partnership”, but the Japanese one is worth £1.6 billion when it would have been worth £2.6 billion through the EU.
In summary, I am a man who wants to see us as four nations, in closer alignment to the EU, and the Government not to hide the problems of Brexit through covid, and, incidentally, not to stop people marching—if they do eventually want to resume membership—through the awful Bill banning protest yesterday. Let’s stay together.
I am genuinely sorry to make Members sit through two speeches from me today, but I must point out that this is the second Opposition day debate that has continued to highlight the strange contradictions and paradoxical policies of the Scottish National party. We have had a debate in which the SNP extolled the virtues of independence, yet in this debate it is wishing to submit to the whims and diktats of the EU. May I politely remind Alison Thewliss that she and her party voted against the deal that this Government provided? Without that deal, the Scottish people would have had a no-deal exit, which would have meant even more of the disruption to UK services that she so complains about from the SNP Front Bench.
The SNP extols the virtues of European Union ties, but the SNP and the Labour party were major proponents of the EU vaccine scheme. The Scottish National party’s Constitution Secretary—the very person responsible for devising the arrangements for Scottish separation—was promoting the EU scheme and insisted that the UK’s decision not to join the EU vaccination scheme was an “idiotic refusal”. However, thanks to our vaccine scheme, doses per 100 people are three times higher in Scotland than the European Union average—37.5 doses per 100 people, compared with 11.1 doses per 100 people in the EU. The Scottish Housing Minister called the UK Government “ideological, inept and irresponsible”. In light of these facts and the decisions that this Government took to ensure that the people of Scotland could access lifesaving vaccines, I rather think those comments would be better directed at the party of the hon. Member for Glasgow Central, whose ideological desire to break up the Union would leave Scotland in a much worse position.
I am also alarmed at the impact the SNP position would have on Scotland’s fishermen. For the first time in a generation, our fishermen will have access to our fish, and the proportion will rise from half to two thirds over time.
The economic support provided throughout this pandemic has shown that we are stronger as a Union, and it has helped Scotland enormously. Almost 1 million jobs in Scotland have been protected through the United Kingdom’s furlough scheme.
Without a hint of irony, Scottish National party Members stand up in front of us and try to claim that our departure from the EU will create unprecedented economic damage but that our separating from the Union will suddenly deliver a major economic boom for Scotland. Who are they trying to kid? Our commitment to levelling up was demonstrated in the Budget by the relocation of 1,000 civil service jobs from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Cabinet Office to Glasgow and East Kilbride.
Let us stop misleading the Scottish people. Let us have more Conservative MSPs in Holyrood after the next election, so that we can finally have a Government in Scotland who deliver for the United Kingdom and the Scottish people as a whole.
I am old enough to remember the days when we were told that, post-Brexit, the UK would hold all the cards and the trade deal would be the easiest in human history; that the EU needed the UK more than the UK needed the EU and there was no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside; and that trade would boom immediately after we left.
The Office for National Statistics told us what actually happened immediately after we left. Exports to the EU were down by more than 40%, the largest monthly fall since records began. Imports were down as well, by just under 29%, mainly in transport equipment and chemicals. The transport equipment is mainly cars; the chemicals are mainly medical and pharmaceutical products, which some of us might think are pretty important. Also included, of course, are agricultural products such as fertiliser, which we might also think are important. Food imports from the EU dropped by a quarter in January, falling below £2 billion in a month for the first time since 2014.
Far worse from our point of view in Scotland are the figures for exports of food to the EU, which dropped by two thirds: fish and shellfish down by 83%, an industry wiped out; meat exports down by 59%; dairy down by half. Lord Frost, that wisest of Brexiters, suggested that the drop in exports was down to stockpiling ahead of the end of transition; I am not sure whether he has thought through the stockpiling of fresh fish—perhaps happy British fish do not rot.
Small businesses offering mail order have been hit hard. Macbeth’s Butcher in Moray and the Ethical Dairy in Castle Douglas both announced in January that they had to stop sending consignments to Northern Ireland. The Cheshire Cheese Company cannot send its products to EU customers. It, like other businesses, was advised by the UK Government to set up shop in the EU to get around the problems caused by the Government’s own failure adequately to negotiate that easiest deal in human history.
It is not just about trade barriers, either. The world’s largest daffodil grower is Varfell Farms at Longrock in Penzance, but its crop is rotting in the fields because it cannot get the workforce in from the EU. Scottish fruit and vegetable growers face the same problem. The loss of freedom of movement means the loss of seasonal workforces as well as the loss of our rights across the other 27 nations.
Brexit has been and continues to be an utter galloping disaster. Scotland is ill-served once again by this den of inadequacy, and so are Wales and great chunks of England. Northern Ireland has a category of pain all of its own.
In the midst of that, we have Tory Ministers who struggle to understand the EU rules that were laid out in simple language and that many, many voices warned about in advance. Scotland will see the back of this nonsense soon enough. Independence is coming for us, and we can then start to repair the harm that these witless Brexiters have thrust upon us.
I find myself in a curious position in this debate in that while I agree with SNP Members that the EU deal is disastrous for this country, I am dismayed by their motive. I agree with Alison Thewliss about the negative impacts of Brexit: a 40% decrease in UK goods exported to the EU; the UK economy shrinking by almost 3% in a single month; and trade groups telling us about fundamental problems with new trade barriers. The Scotland Food & Drink trade association tells us that the seafood industry has suffered an 83% fall in sales to Europe—an 83% fall. The impact is clear for us all to see but, unlike the hon. Lady, I want to fix it, not to double down and make things worse.
I appeal to SNP Members to listen to their own argument and to assess the logic of the motion they have put before us today. They must acknowledge the damage, which they highlight, that is being done to our economy by leaving a strong, successful economic union. If they listen to their own argument, they will stop their incessant and baseless claims that independence is the answer to every problem from economic decline to bad weather.
If ever the people of Scotland wanted an example or blueprint of what separatism and leaving the United Kingdom might mean for their jobs, livelihoods and wellbeing, they have it. Look at the damage done to our small businesses, our exports and our fishing and farming industries and at the economic dislocation that is being brought about by Brexit. That is what this country is going through. Rather than work together to combat it and to use the benefits of being part of the world’s oldest and strongest economic union, the SNP would, as I say, have us double down and make things worse—separate Scotland from its biggest market, put up a border, cut us off. Yes, I have heard the claims about an independent Scotland rejoining the EU, and it will come as no surprise to anyone in this place that I wish all the UK could at some point rejoin the EU, but the reality is that that is simply not on the table.
Countries that apply to join the EU have to meet criteria. Scotland does not meet the criteria at the moment, and it would be further from attaining that if it were not part of the United Kingdom. Please, let us address the problems we have, rather than create more. Let us make a joint effort to fix the situation that this Government have created with this disastrous Brexit deal. We must not forget that that was a kind of nationalism, too. That deal, together with the pandemic, has left us in a perilous condition. That is what worries my constituents in Edinburgh West this week. People are worried about the recovery. They want their politicians, at all levels, to focus on recovery, and that is what we should do.
I thought the days of doom and gloom and doubt were behind us and that even Geraint Davies would have livened up a bit and become a bit more optimistic about the United Kingdom’s future post Brexit, but obviously not. We were told that the UK’s role in the world would diminish, but we see 2021 as a year in which the UK stands tall in the world: we are hosting the G7 in Cornwall; we have COP26 in Glasgow; a global education conference will see us try to educate some of the poorest children in the world; and we are also going into the presidency of the UN Security Council.
More locally at home in the west midlands, there were many predictions in the years since the Brexit vote that we would see job losses and the end of production at, for example, Jaguar Land Rover. However, what have we seen over the past couple of weeks? A firm commitment by the company and investment in the west midlands—30,000 jobs and so many more thousands in the supply chain across the UK. The six new all-electric vehicles that will be built there will provide so much job security to so many people. A global green Britain—that is the impact of Brexit on my community.
Alison Thewliss said that many Conservative Members would have benefited from the Erasmus scheme. Well, I have news for her—I do not think they did, actually. Many of those who benefited from that scheme were middle-class people; it was disproportionately towards middle-class children. People like me from the background that I had in a working-class community in the suburbs of Birmingham did not have those sorts of opportunities. That is why I am pleased that we have an extra £100 million going into the Turing scheme, which will help people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Time and again, we see examples—I can think of just about 25 million—of Brexit’s positive impact on the United Kingdom. One of those example is vaccines, and today we see disgraceful vaccine nationalism being deployed by the European Union. If SNP Members ever wish to play “Just a Minute” on Radio 4, they would be the worst ever contestants, because we hear hesitation, deviation and repetition from them quite frequently: hesitation, because they want to talk about anything else and far be it from them to talk about any of the issues that are currently happening in the Scottish Government; deviation, because they want to talk about any issue that they do not have responsibility for; and repetition, because time and again they reignite the old debates in this House to cause more division. I thought we had put this behind us. We will see from Brexit that all four nations of the United Kingdom are going to prosper together.
East Renfrewshire was one of the areas of Scotland—a proudly European nation—that voted most strongly to remain in the EU. Nearly 75% of people in my community wished to remain and yet here we are having been shunted over the Brexit cliff edge, and now my constituents are paying the price.
While tradespeople and professionals are fighting to overcome barriers to working in the EU that they were promised would not be there, Make UK has found that seven in 10 leading manufacturing companies face delays with EU imports and exports, and Scotland’s creative sector, which has strong links with Europe, sees these links destroyed. The UK Government rejected special arrangements for the creative sector, and then negotiated so incompetently that they retrieved nothing from the wreckage. Whether it is artists or actors, architects or accountants, or those in the service sector, they have been badly let down.
Students in my constituency enthusiastically embraced opportunities offered to them by Erasmus, benefiting themselves and the wider community in the process. Just last year, the Prime Minister said that would continue, but instead current and future students have been failed yet again, with the UK Government chucking out Erasmus with no credible replacement in place—and, no, the Turing scheme absolutely does not do the job and will leave many of our young folk out in the cold.
Among my constituents are also many EU citizens, who play a vital part in making East Renfrewshire such a vibrant and rewarding place. They thought they were welcome, and they are—they are very welcome and our wider community feel that strongly—but they do not feel welcomed by this UK Government. Their needs come as an afterthought at best to the UK Government with their increasingly hostile environment. Is it any wonder that half a million EU-born citizens left the UK last year, undermining workforce plans in sectors as diverse as social care and advertising?
My constituents are deeply concerned about the impact of Brexit on food and consumer standards, and the actions of the UK Government give them every right to be concerned. Time after time—on trade and agriculture Bills, and the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill—Government Members voted to sign standards away and overrule the devolved settlement. The question is no longer whether this Government will sell out our standards; it is just how and when. There is no doubt whatever that the Prime Minister’s so-called oven-ready deal was half-baked at best.
“there are many areas in which we can co-operate more effectively to safeguard our borders outside the European Union than we ever could inside.”—[Official Report,
This prompted Mrs May to mouth “utter rubbish”. For once, I believe she spoke for all of us. This Brexit, the deal and the consequences are all, as she said, frankly rubbish. No wonder so many proudly European residents of East Renfrewshire are looking afresh at the opportunities that an open, outward-looking, independent Scotland will bring them.
This time three years ago in the Chamber I made a speech about St Patrick and Brexit, noting that wherever he was from, St Patrick was not from Ireland, but he freely wandered our shores as thousands did before him and after him. I said then that the Good Friday-Belfast agreement was not just about Northern Ireland, Ireland or a border, but the freedom of movement of people across these islands and the deep roots we have. I ended by saying that the great people of these islands expect to be able to move and trade freely, and that any dilution of that would not be acceptable to any of us. I stand by my words. I love my country. I love my heritage and the country of my birth. But things got worse, not better, after 2018 and this Tory Government, blinded by a singular narrow English nationalism, have divided us further. England is better than that. It is better than they are.
I believe that nationalism is a scourge. It supports one’s own to the exclusion of others and people in Scotland rightly rejected it, but what this Prime Minister’s Brexit has done is exclude others. It has created division where we thought we were moving forward, and it has given succour to nationalism, separatism and fear. But I remain an optimist, because whatever empire, monarch or constitutional settlement has been in place across these islands, we have continued to trade and migrate. We have married, enjoyed our sports, our arts and our culture. We get on with our lives too often despite, and not because of, political leadership. But we here are political leaders and it is our job to lead, and to defend and advance the interests of our constituents. It is my view that that is never done by excluding others or dividing; it is always done by understanding, including and respecting others. We have mutual interests.
Thirty years ago, politicians in Ireland and Britain did not understand or respect each other. We did not talk or meet, but far-sighted parliamentarians did lead and established forums for us to come together and start to understand each other. I am very proud to have been the British vice-chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly for the past few years. In those years, I have had the privilege to sit in the chairs of others in the Senedd, Holyrood, Stormont and the Dáil. I have shared committees with, debated with and had the occasional drink with parliamentarians from all jurisdictions and all parties, some of whom I profoundly disagree with but who have taught me so much about their motivations, their fears and ambitions for themselves, their families and their constituents.
The British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly offers us a way to heal and map the future as parliamentarians. I hope we can bring more informed debate, reflection and respect for difference to the next three years than the last, and I hope other parliamentarians will join us in doing that.
Five years ago, 70% of Dudley South voters chose to leave the EU. In 2017 and 2019, when Opposition party candidates asked them to reverse that decision, they reaffirmed their choice with large majorities.
For years, Brexit deniers said that the Prime Minister could not get a withdrawal agreement and that once we had left there was no way we would get a trade deal by the end of 2020. Like the cynics in Edgar Albert Guest’s poem, they scoffed:
“Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least, no one has ever done it;” but like that poem’s protagonist, the Prime Minister “took off his coat” and went to it. I do not know if he
“started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done,” but he did it. It was and is a good deal, which they told us “couldn’t be done”.
It is inevitable that there would be some extremely difficult transitional issues, as we switch from a system that we had been increasingly embroiled in for decades to a new arrangement. It is vital that Lord Frost and his team work with our European partners to get them resolved. For example, one firm contacted me to say that it sells leather goods made in Spain and Portugal. It found that the sale to Poland of one pair of shoes, worth £125, attracted £75 in customs fees. An engineering firm is charged 8% by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to reimport bearings made in Nottinghamshire from the French sole distributor—British bearings. This is not what we understood the agreement to mean. I do not think it is what the negotiating teams understood it to mean either, so we have to continue to work with our European partners to sort out implementation.
Brexit does offer big opportunities. Businesses in Dudley South trade with countries in every corner of the world, and the new trade agreements being negotiated and agreed will open up that trade further. The comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership in particular offers incredible potential to increase trade both with some of our closest trading partners and with some of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
However, Brexit is not only about international affairs. It is not only about theoretical government. It is about how we can do things differently here at home. It offers us the chance to look at things such as how we can better structure taxes and have a lower rate of duty, for example, on draught beer or on-sales. That was impossible while we were in the EU, but it is now possible post Brexit. It would allow taxes to better reflect the economic and social contribution that pubs make in all our communities. Taking back control does not mean that all our problems are magically solved, but it does mean that we have the power to take responsibility for those decisions here, in the interests of those we represent.
During four long years as a shadow Brexit Minister, I sat through many debates peppered with talk of global Britain, as the Government erected barriers to partnership with our most important allies and closest neighbours with complete disregard for the consequences. The Prime Minister has been at it again this week, talking about the UK’s place on the global stage while trashing our reputation abroad, reneging again on international commitments to which he signed up.
It is a time for mature diplomacy—for rebuilding trust to sort out the problems with the Brexit deal as they become increasingly evident. Instead, the Prime Minister has put his former negotiator, apparently no longer trusted as National Security Adviser, back in charge. The now Lord Frost will bring to this vital role all the finesse of doing “origami…with a blowtorch”, as the former Conservative party chairman, Lord Patten, said so eloquently.
The Prime Minister may think that fuelling grievances will win good headlines in the Daily Mail, but it will not help those facing the consequences of his ideologically driven negotiations. Far from the frictionless trade promised, businesses are threatened by extra costs and bureaucracy, and many are taking the advice of the Government’s own officials in moving activities and jobs from the UK to the EU to avoid the barriers that the Government have erected, following many from the services sector, which was completely overlooked in the deal.
It is not just trade that is a problem; taking back control of our borders without the tools to use it is another feature of the deal. Our police and security services have access to less of the information they need to stop dangerous criminals and terrorists entering the country. It does not stop there: performers no longer have the ability to work freely across the continent we share, because the Government refused visa proposals offered by the EU. We have already seen the Government, no longer bound by the EU directives that we helped to write, threaten workers’ rights, if put off by a big backlash.
What about the promises to protect environmental standards? Well, tell that to the bees now threatened by neonicotinoids, which were banned under our EU membership. And in an act of senseless educational vandalism, our young people can no longer participate in the Erasmus scheme. Instead, the new Turing proposals provide a clearly diminished offer, with less funding, a more complex application process, stretched universities left to persuade international counterparts to waive fees without the reciprocity of an exchange, and just four weeks to sort it out. It is perhaps no surprise that the Government have given no guarantee of funding for Turing in future years.
It did not have to be like this. It is the result of choices deliberately made by this Government.
In a debate about Brexit, we on the Government Benches talk about the positives. Unfortunately, all we have had from not only SNP Members but others, as we have just heard from Paul Blomfield, is doom and gloom.
In a debate on Brexit today, the one thing that I would have expected to hear about from either the SNP or Labour is the actions of the European Union. We have heard today that the EU is now threatening to block vaccines. We have been successful in the vaccine roll-out because we were able to act independently and flexibly. I say that not to gloat, but because we need to inject into this debate some realism about the freedoms we have and the way in which can be agile.
Typically, those on the SNP and Labour Benches will put anything positive to do with Brexit down to something else, but we can look at other things that have proven the benefit of the agility we now have. Scotland, as an integral part of the fifth largest economy in the world, is able to look out on the horizon as part of the four nations of the UK and strike new trade deals. Just next month the Prime Minister will lead a delegation to India, and I hope that Opposition Members will join us in hoping that we can find new ways to export our products and services around the world, including to the fast-growing markets in not only India but places like Brazil and South Africa.
Let me turn to a really important sector for Scotland: the Scotch whisky sector. When we were a member of the European Union, the sector was hit with a 25% tariff and sales to the US fell by 30%—that is £0.5 billion-worth of sales. It was this Government, exercising the rights that we have as an independent trading nation, who got those tariffs removed.
We have heard about the Erasmus scheme, but I am afraid it was not all that those on the Opposition Benches like to claim it was. The Turing scheme, however, will be something we can all be proud of. It does not strip opportunities but provides them. It is global in outlook and allows young people from my constituency and in Scotland—whether they are at school, college, university or another training provider—to look at the countries where they want to go and study and take up such opportunities. Really importantly, the Turing scheme has social mobility at its heart, which I would have hoped the Opposition parties would have welcomed.
All we have heard so far in this debate is doom and gloom, but the opportunities presented by Brexit go far and wide for every corner of our United Kingdom.
I am grateful to the Scottish National party for organising this debate on an issue on which we share common ground in our anger and grief. My constituency of Lewisham East represents and embraces our diverse global communities, including those from EU countries. We campaigned to remain and we voted to remain, and there is strong support for working closely and collaboratively with our EU neighbours.
Labour and the SNP share common frustrations about how the Conservatives have added insult to injury by tearing us out of the EU and then making major errors in handling the aftermath. We were promised a booming future in trade after Brexit; instead, recent data shows that Britain’s exports to the EU have fallen by a staggering 39%. Our imports from the EU have fallen by 16% as we await import controls. Business leaders question their future as they see an exodus of foreign workers.
All those elements have a negative impact on our economy at a time when it is already struggling because of the pandemic. This means that there is less bread and butter on the table for many people and families up and down our country. The future is bleak: the latest figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility indicate that every UK household could lose £3,600 as a result of Brexit. I hope the Government are listening. Brexit will cause a deeper economic crisis than we have ever faced. It is time that the Government woke up and smelled the coffee. In particular, the crisis will affect low-wage earners and those on benefits. What is the Government’s response?
Although some of us are keen to have a close relationship with our European neighbours, Lord Frost and the Prime Minister seem intent on provoking them. The disgraceful shambles in respect of the Northern Ireland protocol showed the Government’s arrogance when it comes to respecting international law. By breaching the terms of the protocol and refusing to back down, we have provoked the EU27 to take legal action against us. I say to our EU friends listening to the debate, this Tory Government do not represent how the Labour party would behave in government.
As I said in my speech earlier today, I believe in nations collaborating to achieve greater things. That is why I oppose the break-up of the United Kingdom. The ideology of the SNP, prioritising sovereignty over unity, is a continuation of the nationalistic ideology that caused this miserable EU separation. I hope that in discussions about the break-up of Unions, hon. Members will look for common ground, rather than areas of difference.
This is the second debate today in which the SNP has rehashed arguments that have been long settled, whether in relation to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum or the 2016 EU referendum. It just so happens that the SNP was on the wrong side of both those arguments. No wonder it wants a rehash of those referendums.
I am proud to be a Conservative Member of Parliament, standing between these Benches having delivered Brexit—something 65% of my constituents in Redcar and Cleveland voted for. We have not just delivered Brexit, because in December we delivered the EU-UK trade deal, which is a fantastic landmark trade deal that many Opposition Members—I know not many of them have turned up for the debate today—did not even vote for, including those from SNP, which has initiated this debate today. They speak of the economic consequences of the UK’s departure from the EU. Let me tell the SNP: those consequences would have been far worse if they had gotten their wish and we had not passed the EU-UK trade deal. But we have not just delivered that trade deal; we have delivered many trade deals since our departure from the EU—more than 66, with many more to come, including with the US, I hope.
Brexit was about many things—taking back control of our trade, taking back control of our borders, taking back control of our laws. Aside from the steps that we have taken on trade and laws, we have introduced our points-based immigration system, finally to take back control of our border.
The EU vote was not just about leaving the EU; I have had this conversation multiple times with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office. The EU vote was about communities like mine in Redcar and Cleveland finally getting their voice heard, whether in Brussels or in Westminster, so that they were actually speaking to those in the corridors of power. One of the best things to come out of the Chancellor’s Budget statement only a few weeks ago was the fact that the Government are moving civil service jobs to Teesside, prioritising our towns and allowing people in those left-behind communities to speak to power once again. So, I reject the SNP motion, I fully back the Prime Minister’s amendment, and I thank the Government for all they have done in delivering Brexit for my constituents.
My constituency has higher unemployment than we would like, and for that reason we certainly welcomed European funding. It helped to support the construction of a new industrial estate in Kilmarnock, which helped create much-needed jobs. What is the replacement for European funding going to look like? Most Ministers here do not know how to pronounce Loudoun, let alone find their way to my constituency, and it is a disgrace that the UK’s so-called shared prosperity fund is managed by the Secretary of State responsible for English local government.
I have constituents who are worried about achieving settled status before the June deadline. That is really galling when we consider that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, when he was chair of Vote Leave, was telling us that Scotland could have control over immigration. Instead, we are wedded to an insular system, and there is a pig-headedness over immigration that saw the UK rule out proposals for visa-free travel for musicians. This is directly affecting the livelihoods of my constituents Hayley Orr and Alan Scobie. Alan plays in the band Skerryvore, one of the top traditional-type bands in Scotland. Their tours to the EU are important as they promote Scotland culturally and generate visits to Scotland as a consequence, so there is a double whammy here if they cannot freely access the European tour circuit.
FMX Event Services of Fenwick provides logistical support and equipment for touring bands. It is lined up for the likes of Nick Cave for a six-month tour in the EU, but now, due to cabotage arrangements agreed with the UK Government, onward journeys within the EU are impossible, ruling out that type of work at present. A business in the constituency that exported deer antlers could not get export licences, so it has relocated to France. John Gall, who owns Brownings the Bakers, makers of the Kilmarnock pie, confirmed to me that packaging supplies, such as cardboard and polythene, are more limited in quantity at the moment and have increased in cost, as has wheat.
The supply of machinery parts for repairs and maintenance is a possible serious issue for all manufacturers. From my constituency, Worksmart Contracts carries out refurbishment and fit-out work across the UK. It has confirmed that the availability of timber is an issue, and that some prices are up 30% on last year. There is price volatility, too, in metals and fixings, which means that there are risks when it comes to pricing tenders, as a successful contract award down the line might mean a company taking a hit if prices continue to rise after it has compiled the tender.
McLaren’s Nurseries in my constituency is the first in Scotland to have a plant passport, but it feels that it is acting as a guinea pig and has found that a costly and exhausting exercise. It is losing out just now on what it can import, and it also faces cost increases. It is looking at having to unpack 10% of its exports—up to 20,000 plants—to be checked by inspectors, which is a massive risk with regard to damage and delay to what are perishable goods. All this goes way beyond teething problems and it is a direct consequence of leaving the EU. It might not be headline news, but this is the real impact on people in my constituency.
I cannot say I am surprised that our colleagues on the SNP Benches have decided to devote their time to discussing Brexit today. I missed out on contributing to the previous debate on independence by just one speaker. I would have said, as others did so effectively, that the SNP is a party singularly devoted to doing one thing, which is focusing its time, energy and effort on doing anything other than tackling the day-to-day challenges facing the people of Scotland. If an issue is not related to independence, the SNP is not really interested. If it does show interest in another issue, that is only if that issue can be related back to independence, which is why we are here now, discussing Brexit.
Furthering the division over Brexit serves the SNP’s singular obsession with independence, so today, instead of talking about improving standards in Scottish schools or bringing down waiting times and raising standards in Scotland’s NHS, it wants to talk about Brexit. Of all the SNP positions, I find the ongoing ideological crusade against Brexit the most bizarre. As other Members have asked, how can SNP Members argue, in the same breath, for more devolved decision-making and for giving up decision-making to the EU? How can they complain about the rights and wrongs of our fishing deal if they want the EU to decide on their fishing? How can they complain about the decisions on farm funding if they want the EU to decide their farm funding? How can they complain about our foreign policy and aid spending when they want to rejoin an EU determined to have a bigger and bigger role in both areas?
I am not here to say that there are no challenges facing us as we navigate our new future outside the EU. Change is always challenging. The SNP is not really interested in helping to overcome those challenges. The only solutions and challenges it is interested in are ones that rely on independence. The Government are spending £23 million to support seafood exporters, standing behind businesses across the UK impacted by export delays at the border. Recognising the unique circumstances of the fishing sector, that fund will support businesses that can evidence a loss in exporting fish and shellfish to the EU. The Prime Minister has committed £100 million to help to modernise fishing fleets, on top of the £32 million that will replace EU funding this year.
While protecting trade with the EU is apparently the SNP’s paramount concern, such concern evaporates when it comes to protecting trade with the rest of the UK. Estimates are that more than half a million jobs in Scotland are supported by trade with the rest of the UK. That is over three-and-a-half times more than the 144,000 Scottish jobs that are linked to trade with the EU.
The SNP professes its diehard opposition to Brexit, but that is the latest example of the SNP viewing everything through the prism of independence. Despite the fact that its two positions are entirely contrasting, it feels that that opposition amplifies division and suits its independence obsession, so it will keep waging its ideological crusade long after the Scottish people want it to move on.
Despite being born in this country, I found myself living the first two decades of my life in Italy. When I returned to this country in my late teens, I questioned where I belonged, where I identified myself with. The fact that the UK was a Union of four nations that embraced all its identities, ideals and values, which were diverse even within each nation, gave me a sense of belonging among our differences. I love Scotland. The Scottish people are some of the friendliest, most unassuming and loyal people I have ever met, and the theatre too often played out in this Chamber is not representative of people from Dudley or Dunblane.
Brexit means that all four of our nations, when united, will benefit from our renewed position in the world, leading the way in science, innovation, renewable technologies, defence and cyber. Record investment in all those areas and the ingenuity of our scientists, proven by the development of the Oxford vaccine, coupled with the freedoms unleashed by Brexit, mean that a bright, exciting future lies ahead for us all. The SNP has frequently claimed that the case for Scotland’s separation from the rest of the UK is made stronger by Brexit, but if the SNP really wanted a truly independent Scotland, why did it campaign to remain in the EU? The truth, as every SNP Member knows, is that with each passing day the case for separation is made not stronger by Brexit, but weaker.
I am sorry to say that the SNP approach is also somewhat arrogant. It is wrong for the SNP to assume that the EU would agree to Scotland’s membership. Why would the EU rush into accepting the membership of a country that spends much more than it earns, while also setting a precedent for other separatist movements? I do not think Spain would be that quick to agree Scotland’s membership. If the EU did agree, the terms would be extremely punitive financially, as any Greek would attest.
Wherever they live within this United Kingdom, all that any of our constituents want is leadership, stability, humility and fairness. For SNP MPs to interpret selective narrow facts to support a dangerous separatist agenda, rather than supporting what is right for Scotland, the Scottish people and our democracy, shows failure on each of those tests. People in Yorkshire, Cornwall and the Black Country, and across Scotland, have their own unique identities, but we know that together we are stronger and more prosperous.
The Government have described the current Brexit chaos as “teething troubles”, but for British businesses exporting to the EU it has been more like root canal surgery without anaesthetic. The Prime Minister could have opted for close alignment with the single market, which was promised by the leave campaign in 2016, but instead he opted for a hard Brexit that is wreaking havoc on our economy. In the Scottish food and drink sector, EU-bound exports for January 2021 were down 63% on the previous year, while those in Scotland’s largest food export category, fish and shellfish, were down a crippling 83%, and meat and dairy exports fell by half. Meanwhile, new border controls and red tape mean that the fish is rotten by the time it reaches the EU. That is not a pretty sight, and it is probably not a pretty smell either. As they say in Norway, “There is nothing that is in as much of a hurry as a fish on a lorry.”
However, none of that justifies the nonsensical arguments made by the SNP that somehow the best bet for Scotland is to walk away from its biggest market, the UK. The nationalists rightly point to the costs of walking away from the EU, but in the next breath they claim that walking away from the UK is the right thing to do. Two wrongs do not make a right. Let us not forget that the rest of the UK is Scotland’s biggest export market, with 60% of Scotland’s trade going to UK markets and just 19% going to the EU. The economic hit should Brexit and Scottish separation be combined could equate to an income loss of between £2,000 and £2,800 per person every year in Scotland.
The answer to Conservative failures cannot be to put up more trade barriers between Scotland and the rest of the UK. The separatists are making the same mistake that the Prime Minister made: they think separatism delivers sovereignty, but sovereignty in the deeply interconnected world of the 21st century is not a binary choice—just ask the Prime Minister. Despite having claimed to have “got Brexit done”, negotiations are still continuing. The UK is involved in myriad working groups and committees—more than 20 different ones—and desperately trying to resolve conflicts, and that is before we even get to the problems of the Northern Ireland protocol, under which the steel industry, for instance, is set to be hit by 25% tariffs once the quotas run out.
The Prime Minister has weakened our negotiating hand. Sovereignty has been diminished, not strengthened. We are not in the room on decisions affecting the huge 500 million-person market on our doorstep. Our country faces one of the biggest economic recessions in the west, with our businesses under increasing strain not just from the pandemic, but from new trading rules with the EU. The last thing any UK nation needs right now is more division. Only seven years ago, the Scottish people voted to remain in the United Kingdom in higher numbers than the number of Scots who voted to remain in the EU. Credit to them—they know that devolution, not separatism, is the way forward. They know that we are stronger together.
I rise to speak with mixed emotions. I am delighted to speak about the benefits of the Union, but it is depressing to be here yet again speaking about the divisions that Brexit has caused in the past few years—even more so, given that the debate has been brought to the Chamber by the Scottish National party.
What we have seen throughout the debate is hypocrisy. There is hypocrisy from the Scottish National party, which wants to hear about the benefits of democracy for independence, but does not want to accept the democracy that it is not in favour of. I am thinking of the Brexit referendum and the two general elections since then. There is the hypocrisy of Labour Members, who almost want to pretend that the past few years have not happened. They are still talking as if Brexit should not have happened and we should still be a member of the single market and the customs union. They lost the argument then and they have lost it ever since.
We have got Brexit done, and we have fulfilled a manifesto commitment. We will make a success of it, but to do so we need to come together. It is time to put the divisions of the past few years behind us and make the best of the situation. We have a levelling-up, one-nation Government who are committed to making sure not only that all regions but that all nations in the Union benefit.
Delivering Brexit has been a monumental occasion, and it means that we have been able to put the stranglehold of Parliament behind us. We can talk about the priorities of the British people, whether that is crime, as we have seen in the past couple of days, education, health, defence, or supporting businesses and creating jobs. The Scottish National party should take note and send those messages to Holyrood. It should begin to focus on those priorities and look at constitutional arguments that, quite frankly, are already in the past.
On the back of Brexit, we have been able to focus on the UK’s internal market. We have been able to focus on a vaccine programme that is pretty much world leading, certainly within Europe. Again, we hear time after time from Opposition Members that we should have joined the EU vaccine programme. Where would that have got us? We would be nowhere near where we are now. We have vaccinated roughly 40% of the population, because we were not part of the programme to which those Members were intrinsically linked.
We have signed up to many trade deals, for example, the continuity trade deals and the trade deal with Japan, and there are trade deals we are working on. We are truly a global Britain, and we are the better for it because of the Union, not in spite of it. Again, we have heard arguments about how Scotland will be stronger away from the Union, without any thought about what it will do about defence or currency, or having any real policies. The SNP’s one policy is separation, and that is not for the Union and it is not for global Britain.
The news that EU exports are down by a catastrophic 41% since the introduction of the wafer-thin trade deal does not bode well. From the shores of Scotland to the chemical industry in my constituency, the promised land of sovereignty—of taking control with bonfires of EU red tape—is now experiencing what happens when reality bites. It seems that British-inspired red tape has grown in abundance as the result of a shabby deal and the fact that Ministers did not read the detail. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Victoria Prentis admitted that she did not bother to read the deal. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs agreed to decimate our shellfish industry, accepting the consequences of the deal in a letter to the EU that he signed, then protesting about them, seemingly forgetting about the letter.
These actions have consequences, with exports from Scottish fisheries to the EU now down by a massive 83%—jobs and livelihoods being dealt a crushing blow—while Ministers proclaim that at least unwanted fish are now British and others bizarrely suggest recipes for the types of fish that the British consumer does not usually consume. We are governed by a Dad’s Army without the humour.
We have a Prime Minister who has stated that there will be no border across the Irish sea—of course, we now have a border across the Irish sea—and that if any paperwork comes as a result of this deal, it will be ripped up. HMRC has confirmed that British businesses will now spend £7.5 billion a year on handling 215 million more customs declaration forms. Chemical exporters, some of which are based in my constituency, are now paying an additional £1 billion for the pleasure. The only thing that has been ripped up are the business plans and the profit margins of British businesses. Many SMEs simply do not have the resources to cope with the level of bureaucracy.
What legal measures are the Government putting in place to mitigate these permanent boulders in the road? At what stage will the Government do an impact assessment —a courtesy accorded to Albania but not Britain, and certainly not Scotland? As for the SNP, they cannot have it two ways. They claim to want to return to a union with the EU while breaking up the Union with their closest neighbour in the rest of the UK.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, although it seems that speaker after speaker, no matter which side of the House they sit on, has chosen to use a substantial portion of their time to castigate the Scottish National party for its choice of debate topic. In truth, I do not think it really mattered which topic we chose. We could have made one debate about sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, and the Conservatives would still have been determined to take up time giving an airing to their only discernible policy of being against a second independence referendum in Scotland, without which they would have nothing at all to put on their election leaflets in Scotland.
Members on both sides of the House throughout the afternoon have displayed a near-demented determination to paint a picture of a dystopian Scotland that anyone actually living in Scotland would seriously struggle to recognise, even in caricature. It rather begs the question why, if the Scottish Government are doing such a bad job, Labour and the Conservatives are currently tussling over which of them will end up in third place in May’s Holyrood elections.
The reason that reliable polls on voting intentions show such strong support for Scottish independence recently is, in large part, due to a significant body of voters in Scotland: those who voted no in 2014, who voted remain in 2016 and who, in the light of all they have experienced and their unhappiness with the way that the Brexit project has unravelled under the Conservative Government, have chosen to embrace independence as the best future for our country. It is somewhat ironic to find ourselves being lectured in this debate about the problems being caused by the creation of borders, when that is exactly what the UK Government have just delivered straight down the Irish sea, under the terms of the deal agreed.
The Minister, amid some quite poorly chosen remarks, asked for one positive suggestion in this debate from the SNP. Let me suggest one that would help to remove a large part of the friction over the border currently between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland: aligning food and agricultural standards with the EU once again, which would remove the need for the phytosanitary checks that are threatening to leave shelves empty.
Brexit may not have been the circumstances in which we would have chosen to embark on a second independence referendum, but once the pandemic is over, they are certainly the circumstances that make it necessary to pursue that goal, to secure our recovery, to secure our prosperity and to secure the integrity of Scotland’s hard-won democratic institutions. We have always been a European nation. I look forward to us being so once again.
As a Member representing an English constituency, I welcome the opportunity to say how much the Union of our countries within the United Kingdom means not only to me but to all my constituents in Bury North. Scotland is a brilliant, beautiful country, and I feel honoured to be a citizen of the United Kingdom.
Every Conservative Member is united behind our Government’s mission to level up, bringing prosperity, jobs, increased life chances, massive increases in public infrastructure spending and investment in frontline services to all parts of the United Kingdom. That is our priority, not talking endlessly about Brexit. The SNP could have tabled a motion to address any of those issues, or many more that impact the everyday life and future of everyone in Scotland, and how we in the United Kingdom Parliament could work together with the Scottish Government to secure better outcomes for every resident in Scotland.
Instead, they chose yet again to prioritise their political need, no matter the opportunity, subject or context, to bring every debate back to an independence referendum or their overwhelming desire to rejoin the European Union, rather than concentrate on jobs, skills, investment and many other important subjects that are crucial to Scotland’s future.
As we heard from Richard Thomson and many other SNP Members, this is not a debate about the impact of the UK’s exit from the European Union; it is a debate about the desire of the Scottish National party to rejoin at all costs. Myriad statistics show the negative impact on the Scottish economy of independence, and I do not believe we should overlook such things, but at heart this debate is about heart. It is about Members speaking up to say, “I believe in the United Kingdom. I believe in its financial construct, its social construct and its partnership. We must and should work together to achieve the best possible outcomes for all our citizens.”
Even though I am the Member for Bury North, I want to work constantly and tirelessly to ensure that my Government’s desire to level up and to make sure that everyone in each nation of the United Kingdom feels the benefit of the spending that is being put into the economy over the coming years is felt in Scotland.
I will not talk about the past; I want to talk about the future. As an MP. I want to work with the SNP and with all hon. Members to improve people’s lives, and not to engage in the same debate over and over again.
Some MPs on the Government Benches seemed to think they were speaking in the first debate. While they still cling to the idea of a post-Brexit fairy tale, other MPs from right across the UK have highlighted the chaos caused by Brexit and the lack of preparation for the end of the transition period.
It is not just that Scotland rejected Brexit, but that the UK Government made such a complete bourach of implementing it. In the run-up to the 2019 election, the Prime Minister repeatedly boasted that he had an oven-ready deal. Despite this clearly not being the case, he refused to extend the transition period, even in the middle of a pandemic.
Although the Government spent millions on adverts telling everyone to “Get ready for Brexit”, there was precious little information on exactly what to get ready for. The necessary IT systems were only launched in December, and the Government have now had to delay the start of their own customs and border checks on imports. Although this gives an additional grace period for importers, it puts UK exporters at a huge disadvantage to their European competitors.
It is clear the Government are hoping to blame the impact of Brexit on covid, but recent ONS data shows a much greater fall in post-transition exports to the EU than during the first covid lockdown last spring. January saw a 50% drop in the export of dairy products, a 59% drop in the export of meat and a staggering 83% fall in seafood exports to Europe.
Seafood is the biggest UK food export, and it is dominated by the Scottish fishing industry. I had actually taken the trouble to read the fisheries section of the trade deal at Christmas, and it was clear to me that there was little movement of quota from EU to UK fishermen for most species, and with no ability to swap quota with their EU counterparts, Scottish fishermen would actually be able to attach less of the popular species such as cod and haddock.
The Prime Minister claims that his deal is both tariff-free and avoids all non-tariff barriers, but I think most exporters, including skippers and fish processors in my constituency, would beg to differ. Our local catch is dominated by lobster and langoustine, 85% of which goes to EU customers. In January, the chaos made it almost impossible to export fresh or live seafood to Europe, and most local skippers had to just stop fishing, as they were already paying to freeze fish that they could not get to market.
Despite boats being tied up for weeks in the harbour, the UK Government have made eligibility for their compensation scheme so narrow that most will not qualify for any financial support. Even now, exports are taking three days instead of one, and many exporters are getting less than half their normal prices. Some on the east coast have resorted to landing their catch directly into Denmark to cut out export delays. Unfortunately, this also cuts out the onshore fishing sector, such as fish markets, processors and exporters. The Paymaster General says that she is looking for solutions to Brexit problems. May I gently suggest that the UK Government reconsider their decision to turn down a veterinary agreement with the EU, thereby reducing the sanitary and phytosanitary checks that are causing border delays? The Prime Minister’s understanding may not be too clear, but this is exactly what is meant by non-tariff barriers.
Food and drink are not the only products to be affected. Leaving the European Aviation Safety Agency has already had an impact on pilots and is now increasing costs for aerospace companies. It is not just European customers who do not yet accept the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s certificates; global customers do not recognise them either, and they expect European Union Aviation Safety Agency—EASA—certification. Inter-tec, an aerospace company in my constituency, has had to establish an office in Ireland to maintain its EASA design organisation approval. As well as EASA registration, costing £3,800 per year, it has now had to pay over £11,000 to register with the Civil Aviation Authority, and it faces paying another £11,000 every year in exorbitant annual fees that are three times those of EASA.
With the aerospace industry suffering from the impact of that pandemic, it is hard to understand how the Government think these businesses can survive, let alone thrive in the UK. Such manufacturers are also exposed to the Prime Minister’s other great fallacy: that there are no tariffs in the UK-EU trade deal. Even a cursory perusal of the section on rules of origin shows that manufacturers such as aerospace or electronics, which use a high proportion of non-UK components, will face tariffs when they export their finished goods into the EU.
In addition to the direct harm of Brexit, it is being used as an excuse to undermine devolution. The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 can now be used to force lower food safety and environmental standards on Scottish consumers, while a return to direct rule on infrastructure spending means that UK Ministers, rather than the Scottish Government, will get to decide about Scotland’s priorities. This could result in Scotland’s infrastructure budget being squandered on a white elephant of a tunnel to Northern Ireland, despite the lack of political support for it in either country or any evidence of economic benefit. For Northern Ireland, the problem is not with the ferries but with the Brexit bureaucracy inherent in the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement.
Brexit is a litany of broken promises, with claims that there would be little impact on trade and no change for EU citizens. Even last January, the Prime Minister promised young people that the UK would stay in the Erasmus scheme. The loss of freedom of movement undermines Scotland’s attempt to deal with the demographic challenge of an ageing population and creates workforce issues in public services right across the UK. There has already been a 90% drop in the number of EU nurses coming to the UK, while the Home Office’s health and care visa does not even cover all care workers.
The Government’s hard Brexit bears little resemblance to the sunny uplands eulogised in 2016, and makes a mockery of the promise made during the Scottish independence campaign, “Vote no to stay in the EU”. The other broken promise was that “Scotland is an equal partner in a family of nations”. Well, that has not held up very well, as we saw the 2016 compromise proposal from the Scottish Government dismissed within weeks. The Prime Minister has treated Scotland’s wishes and interests with contempt, and he is already boasting that he plans to ignore the democratic will of the Scottish people.
MPs from other parties have criticised SNP support for the EU, but that just suggests they have not looked at the difference between the two Unions. The outcome of the vote that happened earlier this afternoon and that which will happen at the end of this debate serve to illustrate how even a clear majority of Scottish MPs are simply overruled in this place. This contrasts with the EU, in which countries work as partners and are involved in making decisions. I believe it is only as sovereign nations in their own right that the countries of the UK could avoid having decisions such as Brexit forced on them against their will and could instead choose to work together on common goals. It is only with independence that Scotland and the other UK nations will ever be equal partners on these islands.
I thank all hon. and right hon. Members who have taken part in this afternoon’s debate. The contributions from most have been passionate, insightful and optimistic about our nation’s new path outside the European Union, while recognising that our ambitious and wide-reaching trade and co-operation agreement with the EU will take time to embed. Most also set out a belief in the UK.
The British people’s choice to leave the European Union has often been mis-characterised as a nostalgic, inward-looking reflex, and today we have heard from the SNP that it is “post-imperial stress” syndrome. Alison Thewliss derided the UK as “insular little Britain”, while Labour MPs suggested it is toxic nationalism and a disaster. The future is bleak, said Janet Daby. Sometimes it feels as though we are still in the last Parliament. If only they did talk of sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.
Instead, I believe the vote to leave was a recognition, first, that the world of tomorrow demands agility, speed and nimbleness in resolving the challenges we shall face, with greater democratic accountability, not federalism, in decision making. The vaccine roll-out is a case in point. International co-operation and partnership will always be vital for the UK, but that need not be channelled via a costly bureaucracy.
Secondly, the vote was as much about ourselves and how we govern ourselves as it was about the EU, and my hon. Friend Jacob Young had that spot-on. It was a request by the British people for us to be more accountable—not to seek scapegoats, but to deliver to communities solutions that fit them. Those in the SNP, in their relentless, sneering negativity, have made it quite clear that they see themselves as unwilling passengers on that journey, but we recognise that Scotland is not the SNP and that the Scottish people are integral to our collective success as active and much valued builders of the UK’s future.
This is why we are not just focused on the opportunities for Scotland that stem from our leaving the EU, but intent on making the levelling-up agenda mean something for each of the four nations in the UK. Ironically, given their appetite for such polls, SNP Members like to frame the choice of voters at referendums as mistakes, and today is no different as they seek to tell the British people once again why they were wrong to leave the EU.
SNP Members talk about the Erasmus scheme without highlighting the tremendous new opportunities for Scottish students from the Turing scheme, which will open up study placements across the world, not just the EU, from September, with grants provided and tuition fees waived. My hon. Friend Gary Sambrook highlighted the opportunities open to working-class constituents in his city.
SNP Members talk about the challenges to the fishing industry without setting out the investment that we are making to grow the Scottish fishing fleet, the collaboration with industry and European partners to tackle border frictions head-on, or the fact that under the agreement we have reached, Scottish fishermen will benefit from being outside the strictures of the common fisheries policy. They talk about the loss of EU regional funding without explaining that we will be at least matching it.
SNP Members talk about the loss of EU regional funding, as I mentioned, without explaining that, through the new UK shared prosperity fund, we will at least be matching the funds that have already been distributed to the benefit of communities across our four nations. They talk about the positive role of immigration to the UK without understanding that the desire for greater control of our borders does not undermine the warmth of our welcome to talented, hard-working people from around the world, as our new points-based system attests. They talk of their concern for small business without explaining how our moving away from the EU’s complex procurement regime, rather than clinging closely to it, as they so desire, could open up many more opportunities for SMEs to bid for Government contracts. My right hon. Friend John Redwood rightly challenged us to be even more ambitious in this area.
I have heard concerns today about Scottish exports without recognition that geographical indications for valued Scottish products remain in the trade and co-operation agreement, and that those products can now also find new markets as we secure ambitious new trade deals with nations such as America and Australia, and we can benefit from those already agreed with Singapore, Japan and Canada. SNP Members portray the UK as a spent force without celebrating the fact that Glasgow will be hosting the COP26 conference, showing global leadership on the issue of climate change, as well as British ingenuity in green tech.
We do not define the relationships between our nations by our 40-odd years of membership of the EU. No—we are bound by the cultural, familial and economic ties of centuries, which SNP Members want to dismantle as they seek so desperately to bind Scotland back into EU bureaucracy. We also have the humility to recognise that our Whitehall-centric model of Government can be improved. It does not do a good enough job of utilising the talents and hearing the voices of everyone in the UK. That is why, this week, the Cabinet Office announced our second headquarters in Glasgow, where at least 500 civil servants will be based as we relocate at least 1,000 roles to Scotland, including from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Brexit was not just about the EU; it is a creative catalyst for us to govern better, which is not a challenge that the SNP seems up for—not when shortcomings can be obscured by finger-pointing. This move brings key decision makers closer to the communities they serve so that we understand the perspective of people in East Kilbride as much as south-west London.
The integrated review published this week on national security, defence and foreign policy sets out the Prime Minister’s vision for the UK in 2030: a stronger, more secure, prosperous and resilient Union that will draw on tremendous Scottish capabilities in space, cyber and maritime industries.
I am grateful for the valuable points that have been raised by right hon. and hon. Members throughout this debate, and I regret that time does not allow me to cover all of them. I have great affection for the Chair of the International Trade Committee, Angus Brendan MacNeil, from our time together on that body. He will know that the demand for Scottish goods comes from nations beyond the EU and that with tariff-free trade secured in the TCA, we now have scope quickly to dismantle tariffs to new markets. Scotland already exports £7,600 worth of goods to the US every minute, but a new FTA could unlock even more opportunity with the US.
Right hon. and hon. Members highlighted genuine constituency concerns this afternoon that I do not seek to brush over. We recognise that there has been friction for seafood exporters and we have set up the seafood distribution support scheme and the Scottish seafood exports taskforce to work through these issues constructively. I received an email just yesterday from a French counterpart in the Hauts-de-France region who is actively engaged with the taskforce and wished to offer assurances that our continental friends are every bit as eager as we are to deal with issues of paperwork, given the exceptional quality of Scottish seafood and its importance to their regional market, which contains Europe’s largest processing seafood processing centre.
On the issue of touring musicians, we are alive to the concerns that have been raised. We have sought a more ambitious deal with the EU. Unfortunately, that request was rebuffed and we are now actively working with the industry to see how Government can facilitate their ambitions.
The Government remain committed to ensuring that every success is made of our status as an independent, outward-looking nation. We believe that this is an exciting new chapter in our national story, to which the contributions of the Scottish people will be fundamental. Indeed, we have ambitious plans for every part of the UK. Unfortunately, today the SNP has rather limply and sourly exposed that it would rather keep up its habit of blaming others than lay out its own ideas for improving the lives of Scottish people.
Question put (
The House divided: Ayes 65, Noes 361.
Question accordingly negatived.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Question put forthwith (
Question agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (
That this House welcomes the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and recognises the enormous opportunities for Scotland’s economy.