Brexit (Business Group Views)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 28th November 2018.

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Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

2. To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the views of business groups regarding its position on Brexit and wider constitutional affairs. (S5O-02620)

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

The old mistakes are the best ones. I shall start again, Presiding Officer, now that my microphone is on. As Professor Tomkins pointed out, even debaters of the year can get their debating skills wrong.

The Scottish Government’s position on Brexit and the economy was, and is now, framed by the joint statement issued on 7 July 2016 by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, Scottish Financial Enterprise, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, the Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors.

When the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work last met those organisations to discuss Brexit, in September, their focus remained on trade, free movement and the support and clarity that businesses need to plan, invest and grow.

I have spoken to several of those organisations in recent weeks about the current situation and the deal that the United Kingdom Government has agreed with the European Union, which we regard as worse than the current position within the EU. It provides for the UK, and Scotland within it, to leave the single market, which would damage Scotland’s economy, jobs and living standards.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

On that point, I want to press the minister on something that he said last week, which is that the current withdrawal agreement is better than no deal. Can he therefore, here and now, confirm unequivocally that, if and when it comes to it, the Scottish National Party will confront reality and vote to avoid no deal?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

The member’s version of reality is, as ever, an unusual one. The reality of this situation is that there is no need to make that choice. The House of Commons can and, I am sure, will rule out a no-deal scenario. Certainly, the deal that has been offered by the Prime Minister is a very bad deal indeed, and it needs to be rejected because of the damage that it would do to Scotland and to the member’s region, which he should recognise. The region that the member represents would be particularly hard hit by the deal, and there would be severe economic damage to the businesses and business organisations that he mentioned in his question. It would be far better if he faced the reality of Brexit instead of whistling in the wind.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Given that we are talking about the views of business groups, does the cabinet secretary agree that it is instructive that the CBI’s head of EU negotiations suggested in an email that there is

“no need to give credit to the negotiators ... I think, because it’s not a good deal”?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

There is no doubt that it is not a good deal. It is also not the only deal. For the Prime Minister to present it as being the only option is completely and utterly wrong. The deal is as it is because of the red lines that the Prime Minister set herself at the start of the negotiations.

She set those red lines to try to keep together a fractious Tory party and paper over the 40-year civil war. What has come out of the process is exactly what was expected when those red lines went into the process.

We should draw attention to Scotland’s uniquely difficult situation in relation to freedom of movement. Freedom of movement is essential to the Scottish economy. Without freedom of movement, there will be a substantial decline in economic performance and a substantial shortage of labour, particularly in rural areas. That is already becoming apparent.

Those are the realities of this question, and we should say that loud and clear. We should say to businesses that we understand that they want this situation to be over—we all want it to be over. However, the Conservatives started it, and they are making an incredible mess of it.