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The next item of business—[
.] Can we have a replacement card for the cabinet secretary, please? Is that it? We have lift off.
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15032, in the name of Michael Russell, on protecting our interests: Scotland’s response to the United Kingdom Government and European Union withdrawal agreement and political declaration.
I make it clear that, in keeping with the vote of the people of Scotland on 23 June 2016, the Scottish Government regards membership of the EU as the best outcome from the current chaos; moreover, it believes that that aim is still achievable. Nonetheless, when I addressed Parliament on 25 October, I committed to bring any EU withdrawal deal and political declaration, when agreed by the UK Government, to this Parliament before it was voted on in House of Commons. I am pleased to do so today with a motion that is the result of a unique collaboration between four of the five parties in this Parliament. If it is agreed to, Scotland will say that it rejects both the Prime Minister’s deal and no deal and instead looks to its politicians to find a better way forward. It is important that those politicians—including ourselves—do not let the people down.
I will make some progress first.
Of course, there are various options that could provide a long-term solution to the problem of Brexit—a problem that is absorbing huge amounts of time and effort and is worrying and upsetting so many of our fellow citizens.
Staying in the EU might be achieved by providing the opportunity for a second vote, as strongly backed in this Parliament by the Liberal Democrats and supported by ourselves and the Greens. However, short of staying, the only acceptable compromise, which the Scottish Government has advocated for two years, is continued membership of the single market and the customs union. Others, primarily in the Labour Party, have argued for a general election as the best way to resolve the issue. The Scottish National Party would also support that option in a vote at Westminster. In fact, the only option that does not provide a solution to the current chaos of Brexit is that proposed by the Prime Minister.
I will outline some of the many problems with the deal, and in doing so I will try to bring home the effects of the proposal to members sitting on the Tory benches.
No—I ask the member to allow me to make some progress.
I start with the Highlands and Islands, part of which I represent. It is also the region for which Mr Cameron is a list member; indeed, he was the Conservative candidate for my constituency of Argyll and Bute at the last election.
The population of Argyll and Bute and the Highlands is not growing naturally. To put it bluntly, we are not reproducing ourselves. We need migration even to remain static. A fifth of the working-age population of the area will retire in the next five to 10 years. We need to replace them. If we do not replace them, there will be continued depopulation and accelerating economic decline. The only way that we can do so is through migration, for which the best solution is freedom of movement, which allows easy passage and great flexibility. Business in my constituency tells me that all the time, but the Prime Minister has set her face against such a solution, with strident and deeply regrettable language.
Unless the deal is rejected, the area that I represent, and which Mr Cameron has sought to represent as a constituency member—and may again—will be severely and permanently damaged. Will he vote for that?
Mr Russell has just mentioned what business wants. Every leading business organisation in Scotland—the Confederation of British Industry, the chambers of commerce, NFU Scotland, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the Scotch Whisky Association—and leading figures such as Sir Ian Wood are urging the Scottish Government and politicians at Westminster to back the Prime Minister’s deal. Should he not listen to business?
“no need to give credit to negotiators ... because it’s not a good deal.”
That is the CBI’s view of it. Of course, there are fishermen the length and breadth of Scotland, including those in my own constituency. I declare an interest as the honorary president of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, which says that it is not a deal that should be backed.
Let me continue, because I shall come to the issue of certainty—which is what business wants—in a moment.
Unless the deal is rejected, rural areas will be hit in other ways, too. The guarantees for agricultural funding run until only 2022, and the failure of the UK to agree on the Agriculture Bill makes it more urgent for us to legislate here.
For fisheries, the message is even starker. The Tories have sold out Scottish fishing yet again, linking it to trade and agreeing to build any new settlement on existing access and quotas. The deal says so, despite the increasingly desperate assertions from Mr Carlaw last week, egged on by the members who represent the north-east on either side of him. Are Mr Chapman and Mr Burnett going to vote for that?
Our cities also benefit greatly from EU funding. For example, money from the European social fund has, in part, helped unemployed people to gain qualifications and find jobs. Money from the European regional development fund has helped to accelerate the growth of Glasgow’s small and medium-sized enterprises. EU green infrastructure funding has helped the environment. Not a single promise has yet been made about replacing all those much-needed sums of money in Glasgow. Is Mr Tomkins really going to vote to impoverish the city that he represents and for decline in the university sector, which he also knows well?
The EU is the largest single market for Scotland’s international exports, which were worth £12.7 billion in 2016 and which, directly and indirectly, support hundreds of thousands of jobs across Scotland. In 2015, Scotland exported around £3.6 billion-worth of goods to countries with which the EU has free-trade agreements. Such exports mean the difference between success and failure for businesses large and small, such as those that employ many in constituencies such as Eastwood. Is Mr Carlaw going to vote against his own constituents’ employment and prosperity?
To put it bluntly—but accurately—no free-trade agreement in the world provides anything close to the freedom of movement for services that presently exists for Scotland in the European single market. Services cover many sectors, but of course Edinburgh is particularly dependent on financial and legal services, which fuel the economy of the city. Members for Edinburgh know that well, including the leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Yet the Prime Minister’s deal will make it considerably harder for Edinburgh companies to trade in services with Europe. Why would the party led by Ruth Davidson vote in favour of that?
In every area of Scotland, businesses, organisations, communities and individuals will suffer directly, over a long period of time, if this deal is approved. Each and every person will suffer. The analysis that we have done indicates that if, after leaving the EU, we were to move to a free-trade agreement, by 2030 our gross domestic product would be cut by £9 billion, which is equivalent to £1,600 per person in Scotland. We can forget the promises of £350 million a week more for the national health service—the reality is £30 a week less for every man, woman and child, with no respite.
The deal is not even the end of uncertainty—that is just another false promise. In fact, the uncertainty flowing from the Prime Minister’s deal would have to last until the end of the transition period, which will not be in December 2020—no one believes that—but is more likely to be in December 2022, or even later. That is at least another four years of uncertainty to add to the two and a half that we have already had—four more years of stagnation and lack of investment, with no guarantee that a free-trade deal will ever be struck. Those are the fruits of Conservative government. More of the same, and worse: more meaningless assertions, false claims, cliff-edge negotiations and lack of economic confidence and security.
It must not happen. Scotland needs and deserves better than the Prime Minister’s blindfold Brexit. In truth, this deal is about saving the Prime Minister, and not about saving her country.
It is a matter of fact that there is no certainty in the Prime Minister’s deal on the future trading arrangements for either goods or services. There is no possibility of much-needed flexible future mobility arrangements. There is no clarity on which—if any—of the existing justice and law enforcement tools and measures may remain available, and there is no guarantee of continued participation in the broad range of EU programmes and funds that support our universities, communities, non-governmental organisations and businesses.
The Scottish Government has recognised the inherent danger in that, but there is one silver lining: it does not have to be like that. I repeat the fact that the choice is not between May’s deal and no deal. Yesterday’s opinion from the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice demonstrated that, and the vote by MPs confirmed it.
Reasonable people are now moving to ensure that a better way is found. Last night, the Welsh Assembly voted decisively to reject the Prime Minister’s deal. It is revealing that the only votes against came from the Tories and the UK Independence Party, which is now so far to the right that even Nigel Farage has had to resign from it.
Members can contribute to and move that process on by voting for the motion in my name and in the names of Mr Findlay, Mr Greer and Mr Scott. I commend that action and the motion to the Parliament.
That the Parliament agrees that both a no deal outcome and the outcomes arising from the withdrawal agreement and political declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK, as presented to the House of Commons by the Prime Minister, would be damaging for Scotland and the nations and regions of the UK as a whole, and therefore recommends that they be rejected and that a better alternative be taken forward.
It is two and a half years since the British people voted to leave the European Union and, in all that time, only one credible proposal on how we will leave and the detailed terms on which we will leave has been tabled. That proposal is, of course, the 585-page withdrawal agreement, which the Prime Minister and her team have painstakingly negotiated over the past 20 months.
In analysing that deal, two simple legal facts must be borne in mind. First, under the terms of article 50, if no exit deal is agreed between the United Kingdom and the European Union, we will crash out of the European Union on a no-deal basis. Secondly, exit day is fixed in law as 29 March 2019. Therefore, the reality, whether we like it or not, is that the country is rapidly approaching the point at which it faces a clear binary choice: we either leave the European Union on the basis of the orderly withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister and her team have negotiated—or something very close to it—or we crash out of it on a no-deal basis, which would be a disaster for the economy. That is the reality, and that is where we are heading. Those who would prefer to reject the deal must confront the plain legal fact that their actions serve only to make it more likely that we will end up crashing out of the European Union on a no-deal basis.
As I said, there continues to be a great deal of noise around that. There should be a people’s vote. Article 50 should be delayed. We could stay in the single market and the customs union. We can be Norway. We can be Norway-plus. We should have another general election. However, much of that is just noise—as is the motion.
The motion says that we want “a better alternative” without giving any clue as to what that alternative might be or how it could possibly be delivered. We have had two and a half years since the referendum and, in all that time, no credible alternative to the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement has even got off the ground, never mind been successfully made to fly.
So let us face facts. As things stand, the only credible choice before us is whether we should leave on the basis of the Prime Minister’s negotiated settlement—or something very close to it—or crash out without a deal at all.
It is absolutely up to speakers whether they wish to take interventions. It is also the case that I would prefer less disruption so that we can listen to those who are speaking.
If it turns out that we, the Scottish Conservatives, are alone in standing up for the 1 million Scots who voted for that outcome, so be it.
Ever since June 2016, Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP has been trying to weaponise Brexit to suit its own nationalist agenda. The SNP is not interested in Brexit for its own sake; for the SNP, it is just another tool in its endless pursuit of independence. It seems today that the SNP has hoodwinked Labour and the Liberal Democrats into supporting it in that endeavour. If it therefore turns out that we, the Scottish Conservatives, are alone in standing up for the 2 million Scots who in 2014 voted no to breaking up the United Kingdom, so be it. Labour cannot be trusted on the union and would rather get into bed with the nationalists, as it does today. [
I say to Mr Rennie that the Scottish Conservatives will never cave in to the SNP—not today, not now, not ever—because, unlike the SNP, we believe that the results of referendums must be respected. We voted to remain in the United Kingdom in 2014 and two years later we voted as one United Kingdom to leave the European Union, and that is precisely what we will do.
Among other notable matters, the Prime Minister’s deal withdraws the UK from the EU’s hated common fisheries policy, which the SNP would drag Scotland back into in a heartbeat. Under the deal, we will become an independent coastal state with full control over our own waters. The Prime Minister has been clear that, under her leadership, that will never be traded away against other priorities. [
Much has been said about the unique position of Northern Ireland under the deal. We have just heard the cabinet secretary wrongly claim that the deal gives Northern Ireland a competitive advantage and that Scottish business will suffer as a result—that is wrong on both counts. Yes, the backstop means that Northern Ireland will be required to adhere to certain limited provisions of EU single market law as regards goods, but the Prime Minister’s number two, David Lidington, told the Scottish Parliament last Thursday that if the backstop comes into force, that will be true for the whole UK and not only for Northern Ireland. There is therefore no competitive advantage for Northern Ireland and there is no disadvantage to Scottish business.
The SNP would have us believe that it is only the UK Government that is saying, “It’s this deal or no deal”, but let us not be misled: the European Union itself is saying that. For the EU, Britain’s withdrawal is now a done deal and there is no appetite in Brussels or in any major European capital for the deal to be unpicked or renegotiated. On the continent, they have moved on. The concern in France and Germany is not Brexit; it is whether the Italians are about to crash the economy of the entire eurozone. When the Europeans think about Brexit, they think about our future trading relationship and not the divorce agreement, which, as they see it, is done and dusted.
Business backs the deal. NFU Scotland backs the deal, as does the Scotch Whisky Association and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce. Nicola Sturgeon and Mike Russell decided to ignore all those voices and to condemn the Prime Minister’s deal before they had even seen it. However, the time for nationalist game playing is over. As a country, we have a choice to make: do we back the Prime Minister’s carefully negotiated withdrawal agreement or do we crash out of the European Union on a no-deal basis? [
.] My answer is simple: we should reject today’s SNP motion and we should support the Prime Minister’s efforts to secure an orderly, negotiated and agreed withdrawal from the European Union.
So much for the great constitutional lawyer—afraid to take an intervention from a bricklayer, a used car salesman and a Liberal Democrat. [
.] How timid is he?
I will tell members why Adam Tomkins is so timid, because this gets to the crux of the hypocrisy of the Tory party. Look at the legal advice from the Attorney General, which has just been released. It states that
Who wrote this:
“We could not support any deal that creates a border of any kind in the Irish Sea and undermines the Union or leads to Northern Ireland having a different relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK, beyond what currently exists”?
The UK is poised to leave the EU in just a few months’ time, and a 40-year economic and political relationship will come to end. For businesses and consumers, workers, students and all our citizens, the overwhelming feeling is one of uncertainty.
Businesses want to know how to plan ahead. Workers want to know that their hard-won rights will not be sold down the river. The people on the island of Ireland want to know that they will not now see a hard border, and manufacturers want to know whether they will be able to access European markets. All those groups are being left hanging by a Government that is paralysed by a 40-year civil war over Europe. David Cameron—remember him?—called the referendum to bring to a head the historic divisions in his party and, in doing so, made a political miscalculation that was unprecedented in modern politics. It risks a 9 per cent decline in the UK economy and threatens our jobs, security and future international relationships with our near neighbours.
Of course, it will not be Cameron whose livelihood is threatened. He will no doubt continue to relax in sunny climes with his trotters up as chaos reigns. It will not be Cameron whose rights at work will be lost. It will not be Jacob Rees-Mogg who is unable to afford his children’s schools fees, or Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, who will still rake it in from gullible newspaper editors paying him for writing his ill-informed drivel. For the establishment clique, life will go on almost untainted by the impact of their own ineptness, but for working people and the companies that employ them, these are uncertain times. On Tuesday, the future of our country will be determined, and one thing is clear: with 100 Tory back benchers opposed to it, the Prime Minister’s deal is doomed.
I agree with Mr Findlay’s analysis and his predictions about what will happen if Brexit goes ahead. What the people he is talking about genuinely need is the transformation of domestic economic policy. Does Mr Findlay agree that any Brexit will make that much-needed transformation harder, not easier, and that we should be standing up against Brexit in all its forms?
I agree with Patrick Harvie that what those people need is the transformation of the economy. The biggest transformation that the economy will have is the election of a Labour Government led by Jeremy Corbyn.
The Prime Minister’s deal is doomed. Labour will not support it, because it will not protect jobs or ensure frictionless trade, it provides no certainty about our future relationship with the EU, it fails to deliver close co-operation, it rules out a permanent customs union, it fails to deliver a good deal on services and it limits access for British businesses to markets. It weakens our international security and co-operation and it undermines devolution and fails to deliver for all the nations and regions of the UK.
It is not just Labour that opposes the deal; the Liberal Democrats oppose it, the Green Party opposes it, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Democratic Unionist Party oppose it, and around 10 Tory MSPs, if they were honest with themselves—all those who voted leave—oppose it, too.
The PM has united leavers and remainers in opposition to the deal. It is doomed and it will be rejected out of hand by the House of Commons. Let me be clear: when it is rejected, that does not mean that we will revert to no deal. That is the false choice that is being presented by the Prime Minister, who is trying to bail herself out—
You have some cheek to criticise anyone given the utter chaos that you have brought in.
We have set out our alternative clearly. The six tests that we set have been failed and we do not accept what has happened.
Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister came to Scotland on her fantasy campaign tour and, with all the vim and vigour of her actual election campaign, she characteristically hid from the people she fears most—the voting public. She is the only candidate in an imaginary election and is heading for a landslide defeat, and when that happens, all bets will be off. Such a rejection will be an unprecedented failure of Government and a personal humiliation for the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister’s Government has been found guilty of contempt of Parliament and it has lost two Brexit secretaries and a series of ministers. The Tory party is revolting—in many ways. The DUP has deserted it, and yesterday in Parliament the Government was defeated not once but on three occasions. A rejection in such a key area of Government policy will leave the Government unable to govern or to deliver its programme. In such circumstances, my view is that the Government will have lost the confidence of Parliament and the country and a general election should be called.
If the past few years have shown us anything, it is that the world is an interconnected place where businesses and people work together, relationships grow and develop across borders and we communicate and trade at the click of a mouse. Unravelling 40 years of economic and political relationship building is self-evidently a monumental and complicated task. I hope that this painful and paralysing experience also provides much food for thought for the cabinet secretary, his Government and his party.
The Prime Minister’s days are numbered. For the sake of the country, our economy and jobs, our children, our environment and the rights that we enjoy, the Prime Minister should admit that the game is up and let democracy prevail in a general election.
I t is a sorry situation that we have been put in today, and one that the chaotic, dying Conservative Government is responsible for—not Michel Barnier, the EU27 or those of us who campaigned for remain. This is a crisis of the Tory party that it has turned into a profound national crisis.
Scotland’s decisive vote to remain has been completely disregarded. No attempt has been made to accommodate it or even to recognise it. The withdrawal agreement and the declaration on future partnership put Scotland and the wider UK in a worse place than we are currently in. It is not the sunny uplands that the liars of the leave campaign promised. Free movement will be ended. The social, cultural and economic benefits that European citizens have brought to Scotland will be restricted. The rights of our citizens to move, live and work across the EU will be lost. This is a process of reducing our rights and our opportunities.
Scotland’s aspirations to be an open and outward-looking society will be undermined. Our universities and our world-class research centres will be unable to attract the best talent. The Tories intend to take us out of the single market, particularly for services, which for a service-based economy such as the UK is simply self-sabotage. Labour standards and environmental standards are certainly not protected by the agreement.
There is some positive language and a bit of rhetoric with a commitment to maintain a so-called level playing field, but when we look at the detail, it completely falls apart. The provisions are exempt from arbitration rules and apply only temporarily under the protocol on the island of Ireland in the withdrawal agreement. Instead, there is reliance on the UK creating its own domestic enforcement procedures. Given that Britain routinely breaches legal limits on air pollution and has the weakest employment protections in Europe, the loss of EU-level enforcement should be a concern to us all.
For all of that—the loss of free movement, single market membership, protections for the environment and labour standards—we are going to pay almost £40 billion. Even if Brexit does happen, the UK of course has an obligation to a number of European funding streams, not least the pensions of those who have served us as a member state, for example, but even the Tory negotiators must concede that paying to lose out on rights, privileges and advantages—paying to be poorer—is a ridiculous place to be.
So many issues have been kicked into the long grass. Permanent provisions on labour and environmental standards, on our level of access to the single market and on whether the Irish backstop will have to be implemented in the long term remain to be negotiated. One thing that the Brexiteers have accurately grasped is just how likely it is that the Irish backstop will become a long-term or permanent arrangement. That is because, over the past two years, they have been unable to come up with the magical solution that they promised us, and no one seriously believes that they will come up with a solution over the next couple of years.
The deal is so chronically unappealing that the two Brexit secretaries who were allegedly responsible for it have resigned to vote against it. I cannot see how it will be agreed to in the UK Parliament. It is a bad deal for Scotland—bad for our democracy, our economy, our environment, our society, our culture and so much more—and it is a bad deal for every part of the UK.
The deal was dead on arrival in the Commons yesterday. It was delivered by a Government that is collapsing before our eyes, a Government that has been found in contempt of Parliament, a Government that has lost its confidence-and-supply partners, and a Government that has suffered more ministerial resignations than any other in modern history. This is not a Government that is fit to take us out of the crisis. This Government is the crisis. It is the cause of the crisis.
Today, this Parliament, by rejecting the UK Government’s deal—as it seems that about half the Conservative Party’s MPs might do—and by rejecting the disaster of a no-deal exit will say clearly, on behalf of the people of Scotland, that there is a better way.
There are a number of better ways. Indeed, yesterday, a better way became clearer than ever. The Greens have been clear that Brexit is not inevitable, and, yesterday, the EU’s Advocate General agreed. I was proud to be one of the people who brought a case through the Court of Session to the European Court of Justice to seek clarity on whether and how article 50 could be revoked, should the UK Parliament or public so choose. I was proud to do that alongside Green, SNP and Labour colleagues, joined by the Good Law Project. While we sought to maximise the options available to the UK Parliament, the Conservative Government sought to prevent us at every step of the way and to limit its own options. Responsible Governments do not limit their options; they maximise them.
The Advocate General of the European Court of Justice has been absolutely clear: in his opinion, article 50 can be unilaterally revoked by the UK. The Scottish Greens are absolutely clear, too. This deal should be rejected by Parliament and article 50 should be revoked. That will respect Scotland’s vote to remain, and it will be not just in our best interests but in the best interests of every nation and region of the UK.
Ultimately, the Greens’ ambition is to have an independent Scotland as a full member state of the EU, with a seat at the table. We want to work towards a people’s Europe, alongside our friends and neighbours. However, that is not for today. Today, we stand alongside those who agree with our constitutional position and those who believe that Scotland is stronger as part of the UK. We stand together to prevent something that none of us is in any doubt will damage Scotland.
The Greens hope that the final say on this deal can be put back into the hands of the people and that the deal can be put on the ballot paper against the option of revoking article 50 and clearly stating that the benefits of staying in the EU remain available to us—as the Prime Minister herself said. During his speech at the start of this debate, Mr Tomkins failed to mention that the Prime Minister laid out three options: her deal, which is dead on arrival; no deal, which is clearly no longer an option; and no Brexit. The option of no Brexit is on the table.
We are holding this debate today because we are all in no doubt that it is in the best interests of the people of Scotland to reject the deal and to reject no deal. I am therefore proud to support the motion that is before us.
We should thank the Conservatives for a couple of things. First, they have brought Alex Neil back to the front bench. Secondly, they caused Neil Findlay to describe Willie Rennie accurately, which cannot be said to have happened in the past.
We also have—oh, the greatest of ironies, I suggest to Mr Tomkins—a UK Parliament that has taken back control, inflicting three Government defeats in one day. Last night, 26 Tory MPs backed Dominic Grieve’s amendment, including former Cabinet ministers and May loyalists such as Damian Green and Michael Fallon. The end cannot be far away. All that is the result of the ructions in the Conservative Party over the UK’s relationship with Europe.
So why are the Scottish Tories following the last-man-standing approach to politics? Their unapologetic support for the Prime Minister and her withdrawal agreement is ludicrous, not because of opposition to Theresa May’s deal, and not because the UK Government’s own analysis shows that our economy will be made weaker by the deal, but because the Prime Minister will be defeated by her own side. The Prime Minister is going to lose the vote next Tuesday, and yet her last defenders, and those of her deal, are the Scottish Tories. What do they not understand about what is going on? I can only observe that Adam Tomkins took no interventions today because he does not believe a word of what he said in this debate.
Next Tuesday at 7 pm, what will be happening at the House of Commons will not be about socialists, nationalists, Liberal Democrats or even the Democratic Unionist Party. What will be happening at Westminster will be about the fissure in the Tory Party: a party that never could agree on Europe. From Churchill to Theresa May, every Tory leader has been ripped asunder by their own party over Europe. Following yesterday’s farce, few are convinced that Theresa May will still be Prime Minister by Tuesday night. It is her deal. It will lose and she will go.
The rejection of the Prime Minister’s deal next week—a rejection triggered by the revolt in her own party—will expose the profoundly flawed nature of the June 2016 referendum, which was called not to end the corrosiveness of the European question across the UK, but to end the corrosiveness of the European question within the Tory party. It has not done so.
Britons voted to leave, narrowly, but no specific version of Brexit was put to the people. Whatever the grievance—and there were plenty—voting leave encapsulated every reason to rebel. One recent poll suggested that 75 per cent of the electorate say the Prime Minister’s deal is
“nothing like that which was promised two years ago”.
That is why so many take exception to the Prime Minister's assertion that her deal delivers on the referendum—so many Tories. The Prime Minister’s deal means that the UK would be transformed from rule maker to rule taker. It enshrines a democratic deficit and a further loss of sovereignty that her party will never accept.
There is to be a backstop on the border in the island of Ireland. As we know from today's published legal advice, there is no obvious way out of that backstop. It means protracted and potentially never-ending negotiations with the EU27. It is, as the Brexiteer Dominic Raab stated this morning, a trap.
One certainty about next week’s meaningful vote is that the majority of the House of Commons does not want a hard Brexit in which the UK crashes out of the EU next March with no transition period, no trading arrangements in place and monumental economic chaos. The UK Government’s own financial assessment says that every citizen will be worse off.
Here at Holyrood last Thursday, David Lidington accepted that slower economic growth means less revenue. That means less money for public services. To coin the current language of cuts, Brexit means extending austerity, not reducing it. So much for the £350 million a week for the NHS.
All that was neatly summed up by Sam Gyimah, who resigned as a Tory minister last Friday—the seventh minister to go since the deal was published. He left saying that voting for the Prime Minister’s deal would mean that Britain would be surrendering
“our voice, our vote and our veto”.
What is the alternative to the UK failing to agree? Crashing out on 29 March next year does not need to happen. That will not happen if the UK Parliament passes a new law erasing that deadline. It is now a question of how MPs will act to stop a hard Brexit, not if or when they will do so. However, as the UK Parliament cannot agree anything, other than opposition to a hard Brexit, it is the people who must determine the future. Many sensible Tories are making exactly that case.
Jo Johnson, the brother of Boris, but a pro-European, resigned, saying that the deal represents
“a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis”.
For the avoidance of doubt, that is not a compliment on Mrs May’s negotiating skills. Mr Johnson is now calling for the deal to be put to the general public in a people’s vote. It is to be hoped that the other Johnson once again campaigns for leave. Boris is no longer box office. Last night in the House of Commons, he was taken apart—by his own side.
Such a vote must test those real alternatives. There may be some consensus in Westminster for a customs-union single-market Norway option. Influential Tories, led by Oliver Letwin and a dozen more, support that. The Norway option is perhaps best described as moving house but staying in the neighbourhood, although that also includes losing one’s seat on the neighbourhood watch committee. Yet Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, says that there will be implications for the financial industry, including here in Scotland.
On Tuesday, the UK Parliament will fail to agree, and then the only real alternative is for the people of the nations and regions of this United Kingdom to determine our future. That is the only way forward. With six days to go, there is one certainty: the Prime Minister’s deal is dead at the hands of her own party, but among its few defenders remain those in the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. They look like lemmings rushing headlong for the cliff edge, demanding leadership, and I remain staggered at sensible and intelligent Scottish Tories such as Adam Tomkins joining them as they plunge into the abyss.
Like many in this chamber and the majority of the people of Scotland, including the 67.7 per cent of my Stirling constituents, I voted with my head, my heart and my soul to remain in the European Union. After what was, frankly, a divisive, dishonest and xenophobic campaign, I was pleased that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain and rejected the case to leave.
Of course, many good people voted to leave and did so in good faith that it would deliver a better future for themselves and their families. I know from canvassing in my own constituency that many of those people are still committed to the leave cause, and I respect their position 100 per cent. However, it is also true that many of them feel badly betrayed by the leave campaign—and after two and a half years of revelation after revelation about its promises not standing up to scrutiny, who can really blame them?
The result is that many of our citizens, for very understandable reasons, just want to see the end of this sorry mess. They are sick to the back teeth of politicians such as the bickering hard Brexiteers, who have no credible plan and care more about the future of their party than about their country. All our citizens are asking for is for politicians to get together and agree a way forward that will hurt them neither economically nor, just as important, socially.
That is why I am pleased that, this afternoon at Holyrood, we are debating a motion that has been agreed by the SNP Government, Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems. Today, the Conservatives stand alone and isolated. However, I am not angry with them, because I know that many on the Tory benches do not believe that the current deal represents the best possible outcome for Scotland. That much is clear from previous statements made from those benches, particularly on the importance of Scotland remaining in the single market. I am not angry with them; frankly, the time for anger and emotion is over, and it is now time for hard-headed, clear thinking and a focused determination to work together to secure an outcome that will not damage our country.
Mr Crawford is right about a lot of this, but does he, like me, find it quite baffling that the UK Conservative MPs, who are nominally under the same whip, are splitting in every direction while, for the MSPs in this Parliament, it is just party line, party line, party line? Does the member agree that they need to be willing to say what they really think if we are going to get the progress that he is calling for?
I say again to Patrick Harvie that I am not angry with them—I am just sad that they are not yet in a position to work with others here at Holyrood to achieve such an outcome. That might come after the defeat of Theresa May next Tuesday.
It is perhaps understandable that much of the debate over the past two and a half years has been about the damaging impact of leaving the European Union. In their economic analyses, the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the banks and respected economic institutions all agree on one thing: leaving the EU will make us poorer. Before we have even left the EU, the Brexit vote alone has, according to the governor of the Bank of England, cost households £900 a year when the collapse in the value of the pound is taken into account. As for the current deal on the table, the Scottish Government’s analysis has shown that that will cost each person in Scotland an additional £1,600 a year. We are talking about real people’s lives, people’s real incomes and people’s ability to afford to live. We can be sure of one thing: the very people who can afford it least will end up paying the biggest price for this folly. Businesses small and large across the country are already feeling the strain from the reduced spending power of their customers. I would not be fulfilling my duties as the MSP for Stirling if I did not speak out against the absolute madness of the UK Government, which, for the first time in history, is actually planning to make people poorer.
In the time that I have left, I would like to turn to the important issue of citizens across the EU. For generations, people from the UK have moved freely about the EU, where they have lived, where they have worked and where they have loved. However, the coming generation risks having that freedom stolen away from them by politicians obsessed with reducing the number of people coming from EU, who simply seek to do the same here. People who are our friends are being used as bargaining chips to gain some perceived advantage either politically or as part of negotiations. That approach has led EU citizens living in our country to have real fears and anxieties about their future. Alenka, a Slovenian national and a lecturer in Stirling, said:
“Many of our friends are already leaving. It’s like they are jumping ship before they are pushed.”
Those are heartbreaking words, and the sentiments are shared by many others. Those are the fears and anxieties of real people. To treat those people in the way that they are being treated is an absolute disgrace.
If we have learned anything in the past two and a half years, it is that Brexit flies in the face of those of us who believe in an open, inclusive, compassionate, caring, welcoming and competitive nation. With cool heads and reasoned arguments, made in the interests of the all the people who call Scotland their home, we can get ourselves out of the mess of this deal. I call on all colleagues of all parties in this chamber and in the House of Commons to stand up and be heard, for goodness’ sake. The price of silence is simply far too high to pay for too many.
It is always a pleasure to follow Bruce Crawford, not least given the measured approach that he took in his speech, which I hope to emulate.
We are now less than four months away from the point at which the UK will formally leave the European Union, and, as we near the end, it is worth remembering the beginning.
On 23 June 2016, a question about our membership of the EU was posed to the United Kingdom and was answered by the United Kingdom. We know the resulting decision. The Prime Minister’s deal seeks to implement the decision of the electorate for the UK to end its membership. Therefore, for me, the central reason to support this deal is that it respects that decision and delivers an outcome that is consistent with that decision.
I respect the member, and I know that he believes that. However, would he reflect on the fact that, for example, today’s YouGov poll shows that, now, fewer than four in 10 people in the UK think that the UK was right to vote for Brexit, whereas almost half—49 per cent—think that it was the wrong decision? Surely, times change.
I respect the one poll that matters here, which is the decision of the referendum on 23 June 2016. Not to respect that vote renders us guilty of forgetting that we serve those who elected us
, and that service includes respecting their decisions, which were freely expressed in a democratic vote.
The withdrawal agreement is, of course, a complex legal document—a treaty, in fact. Like most legal agreements, it is open to interpretation. It has to make provision for a variety of possible outcomes, some of which might never come to pass. It is not perfect. As with any legal settlement that is reached at the end of a lengthy negotiation, neither side emerges with all that it demanded at the outset. Concessions have been made and circles have been squared—on all sides. That is the reality of any compromise. The stark purity of ideological positions makes way for something that is less glamorous but, ultimately, more practical.
We have heard a lot about choices this week. For me, the choice is this: do we pursue ideology or pragmatism? This deal is pragmatic. It acknowledges the profound divisions that were inherent in the vote.
There will not be another referendum; we have to play the ball as it lies. This is where we are at.
The deal is pragmatic. It recognises the closeness of the vote. Beyond that, it faces up to the anxieties of the vast majority of people who want the deal to be supported for the reason that it protects their jobs and livelihoods. It provides for an orderly withdrawal from the EU, which is why Scottish business has backed it.
Scotch whisky is one of the most important industries in my region, and it is vital to the Scottish economy. The Scotch Whisky Association has said:
“If the deal is rejected, this will create considerable uncertainty for the industry”.
Diageo, which owns many whisky brands around Scotland, has said:
“It is now vital for business confidence that Parliament votes in favour of this deal.”
Last Friday, I met a livestock farmer in Lochaber—I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests. That farmer simply wants to get on with his work. He will have lambs to sell in the spring, and he urged me to support the deal. Farming is hugely important to the Scottish economy, so it is no wonder that the NFUS has said that the deal
“will ensure that there are no hard barriers on the day we leave the European Union, and will allow trade in agricultural goods and UK food & drink to continue throughout the transition period largely as before. This opportunity needs to be taken”.
“This opportunity needs to be taken”.
Taking the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration together, we have a deal that provides clarity on our status as an independent coastal nation by 2020; ensures that the environment remains protected; aims to protect trade in goods, which is crucial for our many exporters—
I am sorry, but I will carry on. I have taken a few interventions already.
The deal aims to protect trade in goods, which is crucial for Scotland’s exporters, who require to deliver their goods to European markets. Above all, in answer to Michael Russell’s question on migration, we have a deal that ensures that EU citizens who live and work in the UK can continue to do so.
Despite the clear progress, there are people who still want the process to fail. The SNP has never wanted Brexit to work, and, whatever deal Theresa May negotiated with Brussels, the SNP would have opposed it. An orderly withdrawal is not in its interests, which is why it is rejecting this deal. It hopes to salvage independence from our plunge into uncertainty—that is the SNP’s ambition and it always has been. It is extraordinary, because the deal meets many of the SNP’s demands, including a transition period, no hard border, a guarantee for EU citizens’ rights and the likelihood of a customs partnership.
Better alternatives are not on the table. Jean-Claude Juncker has said that this is the “only deal possible” and that those who think that they will get a better deal by rejecting this deal will be disappointed. That is from the President of the European Commission.
This is it, and we have to play the ball as it lies. Given the uncertainty that would result if the deal fell, I am content that, when I look my constituents in the eye and explain why I support it, I can do so in the firm knowledge that I have acted in their best interests.
The Prime Minister has claimed for two years that no deal is better than a bad deal. Now, she is attempting to intimidate the country into backing her bad deal by threatening a cliff-edge Brexit. Therefore, I am delighted that the motion unites all the parties of this Parliament, with the dishonourable exception of the Scottish Conservatives, to oppose a no-deal Brexit. The House of Commons expressed the same view by backing Dominic Grieve’s amendment yesterday, and I am confident that Hilary Benn’s amendment, which is backed by the SNP and others, will also be successful. The opinion of the European advocate general that article 50 can be rescinded eliminates the risk of no deal, so there is an alternative.
The Scottish Conservatives continue to claim that Mrs May’s bad deal is our only option, even saying that that is the view from Europe. However, there is a crucial omission in that narrative. This is the only deal that the EU could offer, given Mrs May’s red lines. That was the strong message from the influential people whom the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee met during its recent trip to Brussels and the European Parliament. The withdrawal agreement is what it is because Mrs May boxed herself in with those rigid red lines, which were her obsessive determination to end freedom of movement, her foolhardy commitment to take the UK out of a single market of 500 million people and her obstinate insistence on leaving a customs union that gives the UK preferential trading agreements with 60 third countries as well as frictionless trade with the EU27. If Mrs May dropped the red lines, we could reach a far better agreement with the EU, and it is vital that that happens.
Other members have outlined the evidence that has been provided by the UK Government on the economic damage that will ensue from leaving the single market and the customs union. I will therefore concentrate on another of this deal’s red lines: the determination to end freedom of movement and, specifically, how that will damage Scotland.
Figures from the National Records of Scotland show that all of Scotland’s projected population increase over the next 10 years will be due to migration. Furthermore, an end to EU migration would result in a 3 per cent decline in the working-age population over the next 25 years, when the pensionable-age population is projected to increase by a quarter. We need the taxes of working people to pay for public services in the future, so those statistics should be of concern to every person in the chamber. However, when my colleague Angela Constance MSP put that point to David Lidington last week at the joint meeting of the Finance and the Constitution Committee and the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, he was completely unaware of that. He cited the Migration Advisory Committee, whose report for the Government is supposed to inform the upcoming Immigration Bill at Westminster, but the MAC has no Scottish representation and it did no Scottish modelling.
The MAC’s chairman, Professor Manning, gave evidence to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee in November, and what he said shocked us so much that the committee has written to the Home Secretary to share our concerns. The MAC wants to end nearly all immigration in what it calls low-skilled occupations and has set a £30,000 salary threshold for migrants who are considered high skilled. When he came before the committee, Professor Manning dismissed the concerns of businesses who said that that would make it impossible for them to recruit. He shocked the committee when he said that the UK should not focus on the needs of the hospitality or agricultural sectors—in response to his comments, the NFUS used the words “disappointed” and “shocked” when it came before our committee last week.
Professor Manning also dismissed the advice from Oxford Economics, which advises the committee and which said that tax rises may be needed to compensate for the fall in revenue if immigration is restricted. The MAC suggested that the pension age may need to rise—again—to fill the black hole in tax revenues that those policies will result in. There is a reason why the Immigration Bill remains unpublished: to publish it before the withdrawal agreement vote would terrify business further and increase opposition to this deeply damaging deal.
I have outlined how just one of Mrs May’s red lines will damage our country, and it is those red lines that have shaped this deal. Yesterday, she described her deal as a “compromise”. It is nothing of the kind, but it has brought us together in opposition to her deal and in opposition, critically, to having no deal. That is why I am delighted to support the motion today.
I will concentrate my remarks on rural Scotland.
For generations, we have been fighting depopulation—which means that communities are disappearing and, with them, the rural economy—and subsequent damage to the environment. That is not just an issue for rural communities. Urban dwellers enjoy our rural areas for holidays and days out. However, more important, rural areas provide an environmental benefit to all of us. Our urban areas are big polluters, and our rural areas redress the balance by providing carbon stores. Therefore, vibrant rural communities are important to us all, and we need to protect them. The withdrawal agreement, or, indeed, a hard Brexit, risks further damaging those communities and puts their existence in jeopardy.
I will speak about the fishing and agriculture industries, which underpin rural economies; if I have time, I will address the wider EU understanding of peripherality and the needs of rural communities—an understanding that successive Governments have sadly lacked.
It is a strange phenomenon that the sectors of Scottish society that wanted out of the EU are the ones that are likely to come off worst in relation to the withdrawal agreement. That is the case with fishing. Those who believed that they had the most to gain may end up with the most to lose. They will be last to leave, they will lose all their influence and, in the case of the backstop, they will face separate trade arrangements for fish, which could include trade levies or increased bureaucracy.
The withdrawal agreement is the worst of both worlds for them.
The EU will negotiate on behalf of the UK with countries external to the EU, such as Norway, and during the Council of Ministers negotiations on the common fisheries policy. The EU will consult the UK, but there is no requirement to reach a consensus. Quotas that are detrimental to our industry could therefore be imposed on the UK. That will go on until we reach agreement with the European Union on access and quota arrangements. The European Union is clear that such an agreement will build on the common fisheries policy, although that is unacceptable to our fishing communities.
Listening to the debate about the wider transitional arrangements and the backstop, it appears to me that the situation could carry on indefinitely. There is a real chance that it will become the new reality, because it is difficult to see what arrangements for a barrier-free Ireland could be agreed, especially given the parties currently at the table. Failure to agree a solution for Ireland will mean that the backstop comes into play. Frankly, if we do not get a general election, the fishing community will be rule takers for the foreseeable future.
It is hard to believe that it can get any worse, but for fishing it can. Under the backstop arrangements, access to EU markets for fish, including farmed fish, is dependent on agreement being reached on quotas and access to UK waters. The deal therefore does not meet the aspirations of our fishing communities.
Delays and import charges will have a disproportionate impact on smaller fishing operations, which have tighter margins. Any delay in getting a catch to market can mean that the whole lot is destroyed, and few boats can withstand that for any length of time. The charging of an import levy would also eat into the already tight margins of smaller operations. Those boats are enjoying greater profits because of the level of the pound, but if that were to change and if import levies were imposed, they could face a steep drop in income. It could be argued that those boats play a great role in sustaining fragile communities, and any reduction in their number would have a great impact on population levels. Even a hard Brexit would not make the situation better: negotiations would be carried out on the same basis, with the European Union demanding access to our waters and quotas in return for barrier-free access to their markets.
While agriculture has been better served, the situation there is not straightforward either. Any extension to the transitional arraignments would leave us outside the common agricultural policy and subject to World Trade Organization terms. There is also a stipulation in the agreement that any support given to agriculture during an extended transition period cannot be higher than the level of common agriculture policy support given in the previous year. An extended transition could therefore mean that support levels drop in real terms. If so, we cannot rebalance support payments—something that we must do to ensure that the areas that are dependant on those payments enjoy a greater share of support. It is wrong that those farming in the most difficult areas receive less, despite their greater disadvantage and higher operational costs.
The withdrawal agreement also states that a joint committee will be set up between the EU and the UK to set the minimum amount of payments made to schemes such as agri-environmental support and basic payments. We will therefore not have control over our agricultural support payments, which will be subject to agreement with the EU—again, taking the rules with none of the benefits.
I mention fishing and agriculture specifically as the rural economy is dependent on those industries. They are fragile industries in many parts of rural Scotland and any detriment to them will have an impact on communities that are already under pressure.
I am not sure whether I have time to touch on peripherality. The Presiding Officer says no.
The Labour Party’s six tests say that we should protect the benefits that we enjoy as part of the EU and have a close and collaborative relationship, but neither the deal nor the transition agreement do that, and a hard Brexit would be even worse for every sector. We need a deal that we can coalesce around. Until the Conservative Government starts listening, that will be impossible.
The one good thing that I can say about Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement is that it has brought about a level of unity between remainers and Brexiteers—even in the SNP—that I never thought I would see for a long time. As someone who voted for Brexit, I am totally opposed to the proposed deal because, in my view, it is the worst of all possible worlds and the best of none. It is neither fish nor fowl.
One of the main issues for me is the impact of the backstop proposal, which I will explain in some detail. I accept that the proposal is well intentioned, but the way that it is drafted is utterly foolhardy. Lord Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, in today’s
—I must get him to write for a better paper—said:
“Leaving the EU is not the end of the world, any more than it will deliver the promised land. Nonetheless the country is entitled to expect something better than a muddled commitment to perpetual subordination from which the UK cannot withdraw without the agreement of the EU.”
The purpose of the backstop, which is to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, is absolutely the right thing to try to do; it is an objective with which everybody in the chamber will agree. Many members might not realise that, in fact, it is already the law of the United Kingdom. As a result of an amendment made by Lord Patten to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, it is illegal for us to do anything to create a hard border in Ireland. That is already the law of our land, as it should be.
However, as the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, confirmed two days ago, the current draft of the backstop proposal could tie us permanently into a particular type of customs deal that would be detrimental to our economy, with no prospect of a get-out option. We could exit the backstop only with the permission of the EU. As I am sitting next to the housing minister, I point out that that would be like a tenant needing the permission of their landlord to give up their lease, while the landlord retains the right to increase the rent annually and impose ridiculous new conditions on the tenant.
Similarly, to exit the backstop would need the permission of 27 other nation states, any one of which could use its veto to keep the UK in the backstop against our wishes, unless and until we agreed to all their individual demands. Thus, the EU would have the UK over a barrel, not just in relation to the backstop but—this is extremely important—in relation to all aspects of the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU, which is still to be negotiated.
I agree, although I do not know whether it was worth while taking the intervention.
Let us look at the implications of the backstop for our fishing industry in particular. Already, President Macron is on record as saying that he could refuse to end the backstop unless the EU retains control of 60 per cent of the UK’s fishing waters, as is already the case under the common fisheries policy. In that circumstance, we would be out of the CFP in name only. In reality, our fishermen would be no better off than they are today.
If I may say so, I am amazed that the leadership of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is recommending approval of the withdrawal agreement. It is high time that the federation woke up and smelled the coffee. By recommending approval of the withdrawal deal, it is endangering the future of the whole Scottish fishing industry. The federation needs to rethink its position, and it must so quickly.
It is not just France; Spain could say that it will not let us out of the backstop unless there is another deal on Gibraltar. Other countries could say that we are not getting out unless they can dip into our financial services sector in Edinburgh and London. The EU can demand anything that it likes, and it will keep demanding and demanding, at great economic and social cost to us. If we sign the deal, the EU will have us over the proverbial barrel. It would be an economic disaster to sign the deal with the backstop provision in it.
I return to Lord Mervyn King. He said that having this deal is the result of
“incompetence on a monumental scale”.
He has said that, but people in London tell us that we cannot run our own country. Looking at the deal, I know that not only could we run our country better than they can; we could run England better than they can.
When I made my decision to vote remain, I did not need much persuasion, because I did so mainly for economic reasons. I felt that both British and Scottish trade would fare much better in a European market in which there was free movement of goods and services and in which the scope for economies of scale was strengthened. I felt that key sectors such as energy and oil, technology, medical science and our universities would flourish better, and that our new, emerging markets would also fare better with the opportunities that the EU presented.
I still believe those things today, but I had to recognise that, despite all the economic advantages, 52 per cent of UK voters, including many Scots—including the
-reading Alex Neil—felt otherwise. They were convinced that the economic advantages were outweighed by the political problems that were presented by an EU that was increasingly seen as bureaucratic and insufficiently democratic, because it was increasingly unresponsive to the needs of sovereign states and profligate with—not sufficiently accountable for—taxpayers’ money. As with all political debates, there was truth on both sides.
I found it very hard to conceal my disappointment in June 2016, and I have found it very hard ever since, particularly when I see the rancour, division and bitterness that have swept aside decency and tolerance in many quarters of political life.
The Brexit debate has raised questions for the whole country about the meaning of democracy, and I want to dwell on that for a moment. We have heard much in recent days about the overriding need of the sovereign Parliament at Westminster to reflect the views of the country, just as we heard at the time of the Scottish independence referendum about how well this Parliament—in which we all sit now—reflects the will of the people in Scotland. There is a common thread. Before 2014, we were rightly told that the will of the people is paramount and that, whatever decision is made, we should abide by it. That is exactly what we were told prior to the EU referendum. I, for one, believe strongly that we should accept that democracy is the important point, even if we happen to be on the wrong side of the outcome.
I am interested in the member’s view. Does she think that democracy is just an act of putting one cross in a box every four years, or does she believe that, when the facts change, people should be entitled to change their minds?
I believe strongly that, if we continue to reject the decisions of voters and tell them that they were wrong, by seeking to have more referendums until we get the vote that we want, we will enter very dangerous territory. It undermines the whole concept of democracy as we know it when the political classes become dislocated from the public who elect them.
I respect the views of all members in the chamber, even if I cannot agree with them all the time. I respect the decision by other parties to have the debate this afternoon, but I ask them to consider that the motion that they lodged cannot give us what they actually want. It is very clear what the other parties do not want, but it is not clear what they want. Given the situation in which the other four parties have found themselves, how could it be? They are adamant that the Prime Minister’s deal is a bad one, but they will not spell out what would be a good one. All that they will tell us is that they want to stay in the EU. So do I, but that is not what the people decided and, as democrats, we must live with that whether we like it or not.
I am sure that the member is familiar with the philosopher Edmund Burke, who said that parliamentarians need to use their judgment and not be reliant on the power of public opinion.
Oh! I see that the Tories do not like that. Tories often promote Edmund Burke. Do parliamentarians not owe the people a duty to use their own judgment?
Excuse me a minute. I understand why you are responding to the member, Ms Smith, but I do not want discussions taking place across the floor. They have to be through the chair.
With respect, Mr Rumbles must get to his feet if he wants to intervene, so that we can all hear what he says and it is on the record. I ask that you just deal with your speech, Ms Smith. Thank you.
I will make some progress if you do not mind, Dr Allan.
The other parties are adamant that the Prime Minister’s deal is a bad one, but I believe strongly that they must spell out what they want. We have seen this afternoon that it is not clear what they want.
I return to the point that the deal is not perfect—we know that. Given the extent of the complexities and the lengthy negotiations that have had to be undertaken that is not surprising, but its central tenets deliver on what the people of the UK voted for. I might not like that, but that is what they voted for. The deal would end Britain’s membership of the CAP and the CFP, both of which have failed to deliver what the farming and fishing sectors want.
We should listen to what those sectors are saying. As Adam Tomkins said, there has been a joint statement from the heads of the UK’s four national farmers unions backing the deal; Bertie Armstrong of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation backs the deal, Mr Neil; the Scottish Chambers of Commerce backs the deal; Sir Ian Wood backs the deal; and the Scotch Whisky Association backs the deal. Those people are not arguing about the abstract and finer points of the constitution; they are talking about what is best for their sectors in terms of stability and securing future jobs and investment. We should listen to them.
It is a matter of profound regret that this debate is required. Along with the overwhelming majority of my Renfrewshire South constituents and the people of Scotland, I voted for the UK to remain a member of the European Union.
Following the referendum in September 2016, I stated in this chamber that, although I regretted the result, I accepted it. However, I made clear that I did not accept that a vote to leave the European Union was a vote to leave the single market, and I maintain that membership of the single market and the customs union is the only workable alternative to remaining a full member of the European Union. Unless economic vandalism and social dislocation are the objective, that is the genuine choice. It is the only choice—and any politician or pundit who suggests otherwise is little more than a con artist.
The case put forward by the UK Government is shamelessly—and sadly—supported by Tory MSPs in this place. I respect many of them, but by doing that they debase themselves to the status of underlings and shills. The case put forward is a packet full of falsehoods; it is a fraud. It is perhaps symptomatic of where we have got to with the Tories. Having witnessed their previous arguments collapse under the weight of their inherent falsehoods, the Tories have been reduced to advocating for the Prime Minister’s deal as a means to end the ordeal that they have inflicted on the country. They say:
“Back the deal, and it will all be over by Christmas.”
Presiding Officer, no self-respecting politician should countenance such a feeble and fraudulent argument.
I know that many people are scunnered by Brexit, and I resent the way in which, over the past two years, this dismal debate has sucked the oxygen out of so much of our wider public and political conversation. I genuinely empathise with those who just want the whole sorry saga to be over with
I, too, understand the desire of many people for Brexit to be over. However, there is no such thing as just getting on with it. To those who ask, “Can’t we just get it done?”, I say that there is only a specific path ahead; there is not a general path.
Whether we have Theresa May’s deal or a no-deal scenario, what will come afterwards will be year after year—possibly even decades—of constant revisionist approach to debates on, for example, environmental protections. What does the UK Government want to do on the European emissions trading scheme? It says that it wants to have a separate UK scheme—
Patrick Harvie’s points are very well made and important; they get to the heart of what is occurring here.
The UK Government’s argument is based on three fundamental deceptions: first, that the Prime Minister’s deal is a good one; secondly, that it is the only deal; and, thirdly, that it will end uncertainty. At the heart of the withdrawal agreement is a trio of key flaws: ending freedom of movement, leaving the single market, and leaving the customs union.
The arguments for why each of those objectives would represent a mistake of historic proportions have been well rehearsed, and the evidence is overwhelming. No public service and no sector of the Scottish economy or area of our civil society will be enhanced by such an isolationist approach. The xenophobic undertones, coupled with a jingoistic British exceptionalism, that have been a dark presence throughout the whole Brexit process have already led to settled EU citizens packing their bags and others choosing not to come to the UK in the first place. That such an abhorrent approach is celebrated by the UK Government as ending freedom of movement once and for all ensures that, whatever the outcome of the ensuing weeks, this period will be seen by current and future generations as one of the most shameful episodes in recent UK history.
However, as Patrick Harvie said, the most cynical deception that the Tories seek to perpetrate is that the withdrawal agreement would bring an end to uncertainty. I wish that it would. I wish that I could tell my constituents that, after 29 March next year, they would never hear another mention of the word “Brexit”. However, if I were to do so, I would be a liar. This deal does not represent the end—or even the beginning of the end. Given the arithmetic of the House of Commons, it is unlikely even to be the end of the beginning. Were this deal to be ratified, it would represent only the conclusion of the easiest phase of Brexit: years of detailed negotiations on a future agreement would await. Those would be between the EU—a trading and regulatory superpower—and the UK, which is a politically fractured state that has not conducted negotiations on this scale in almost half a century.
This evening, we in our national Parliament will make our voice heard. We will overwhelmingly support the joint motion, reject the withdrawal agreement and put the interests of Scotland and the UK first. If the Tories genuinely care about the national interest—Scottish or British—and care more about their country than they do about their party, they will join us.
Mr Arthur, I was a wee bit uncomfortable with a couple of the terms that you used at the beginning of your speech. They were colourful, but they verged on being unparliamentary. That is just a little note of caution to all members, who should ensure that they speak to others with respect.
I will support the motion tonight, as it is an important signal from the Scottish Parliament that the deal is not acceptable to these parties, does not protect Scotland’s interests, and will damage the UK economy. The road out of Europe must be based on what is best for our country, not what is best for saving political face. We are being asked to leave without a credible plan after 40 years.
I respect Liz Smith’s contribution to the debate, but I say to her that democracy does not mean accepting any deal, ignoring 48 per cent of the people who voted, or flouting the views of our Parliament. That is not democracy.
The UK has never been as divided as it currently is in the wake of the Brexit vote, and our future has never been so uncertain. The magnitude of Brexit is the largest shock to our economy in our lifetime. David Cameron made among the poorest judgment calls of any Prime Minister in history and has risked the future of the United Kingdom and all that it contains and the economy. It is up to us as elected members and those who are taking part in the debate to manage the deep divisions and find a way through that does not make families poorer.
We are always hearing that we have to respect the outcome of the vote, which I have done, and that we do not want to be rule takers, which I do not want to be, and about the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. However, I have seldom heard the Prime Minister addressing the prospect of a deal that makes people poorer and addressing the question of the poverty that might ensue if families do not get a deal. Families have spent the past 10 years struggling through austerity.
The MPs who laid down their careers for Brexit did not care much about the economy and were prepared to sacrifice the living standards of their country to get the outcome that they wanted. We can be sure—I think that Neil Findlay said this earlier—that Jacob Rees-Mogg, Andrea Leadsom and Liam Fox will not be the ones at the sharp edge of the hit to the economy if we do not get a deal that suits everyone. At least one good thing has come out of what has happened: I do not think that there is any prospect that Boris Johnson will ever be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Let us remember that the 500-odd pages of the withdrawal agreement do not provide any clarity on the future arrangements. That alone makes it a deal that I cannot support.
“access to the single market ... without the corresponding obligations of membership, thus splitting the ‘four freedoms’ ... it introduces uncertainty as to the extent of the EU customs territory for trade negotiation purposes”.
It is obvious that that legal advice needed to be in the public domain, given the magnitude of Brexit. We have never faced this scenario before. At a time when the Government is asking to be trusted, it withheld that important information and had to be held in contempt of Parliament before it would publish that advice.
The deal seems to have some support, but would we not expect a deal of such importance to command much wider support if it is the deal on which we are expected to withdraw from the European Union? The Tories are now calling on us to support a deal that will be voted down. I would have expected the list of supporters to be much longer than the list that has been outlined.
The deal rules out a permanent customs union with Britain having a say. It does not deliver a good deal on services; it would limit access for British businesses to vital EU markets; and it would weaken workers’ rights, consumer protection and environmental standards. As has been said—and as I have said in many debates—Scotland needs greater immigration to support our economy. We need new arrangements, but there has been no concession to that, either. We need a deal that keeps us in the customs union and gives us a relationship with the single market that allows us to have access to key markets. The only way I can see through this is with the election of a Labour Government that is committed to that approach.
The backstop arrangement has become controversial on all political sides, and no one can say whether it will be implemented.
It was Theresa May who said that no deal is better than any deal, but she is now asking us to accept the disastrous deal that is on the table. The Scottish Government analysis indicates that, under a free-trade arrangement, business investments could fall up to 7.7 per cent, affecting our overall GDP. It is the equivalent of losing £1,000 per year per person.
I have not supported the people’s vote campaign, because it is not where I would start from. I would not start from a position of trying to reverse a referendum result. I have argued in every debate on Brexit that we should protect the outcome of the referendum. However, my patience is wearing thin trying to respect the outcome of a referendum that I never asked for. Ordinary people are fed up with Brexit and are switching off because of a lack of clarity and constant in-fighting in the Tory party. It concerns me that, at a critical stage when people need to be switched on to what is going to happen in their country, they are, sadly, fed up with it all.
I want to see a deal that protects ordinary people’s lives, but the Prime Minister’s deal does not do that. We need to argue and fight for a deal for our country. That is what I will be doing in the coming months.
After the Scottish Parliament election on 5 May 2016, a third of our parliamentary intake was brand new. We were all—I think—optimistic about the propensity of this institution to be a force for good. Then, 49 days after the Scottish Parliament election, the Brexit referendum took place. For 40 per cent of today’s members of the Scottish Parliament, our entire parliamentary lives thus far have been defined, in large part, by the subject of this debate. In our committee meetings, at our surgeries and on the streets in our constituencies, we are the class of Brexit. What a depressing thought!
We can choose to make Brexit about Scotland’s constitution, and it clearly suits the agenda of some to do that. However, for the Scottish Labour Party to join forces with the SNP and for us, in turn, to do so with the Liberals and the Greens has to tell us something. It is more than cross-party working; it is solidarity with Scotland and our people who voted to remain. We need a better deal for Scotland but, as the motion makes clear, we also need it for the regions and nations of the United Kingdom. How dare Adam Tomkins come to the chamber and say that this debate is just noise? The debate is about the people whom we represent.
Last year, Fife Centre for Equalities conducted research on the concerns of EU nationals resident across the kingdom of Fife. The report identified common themes, including education and the lessening of the number of educational and career outcomes for future generations. The report found that roughly 20 per cent of the University of St Andrews’s research funding comes from EU sources; just under one third of staff are EU nationals; the university contributes just under £500 million to the Fife and wider Scottish economy; and about 13 per cent of St Andrews students are EU nationals.
Secondly, the report highlighted the negative impacts on the economy that are associated with losing EU workers. For example, Balbirnie House in Markinch, which is a 12-time winner of Scotland’s wedding hotel of the year award and was recently voted number 1 in Europe in the Haute Grandeur global hotel awards, has always employed EU workers; around 20 per cent of its workforce came from EU countries. Who will take those jobs now?
Thirdly, the FCE report flagged up concerns about hate or racist speech content becoming more prevalent since the Brexit vote. Channel 4 recently documented the fears of children of EU nationals. Kitty, who was nine when she came to Scotland, reminded me of a former pupil—bright, chatty, smiley and full of optimism. She said:
“I was on the phone. And this woman started shouting at me, saying “You’re in an English-speaking country. Why don’t you just learn the language?” I just felt really angry—like, why would you say stuff like that? You don’t know me. And I can speak English. I speak English perfectly fine. But just because I’m on the phone to my mother—who speaks Hungarian and speaks English as well—and I’m talking in my mother tongue which I don’t want to lose because that is part of who I am—what gives you the right?”
I say to Kitty from the Scottish Parliament chamber: no one has the right to speak to you like that. You can speak Hungarian or any other language that you want to. You will always be welcome in Scotland.
The University of Strathclyde recently conducted research into the experiences of living in the United Kingdom of more than 1,000 eastern European children. It found that more than three quarters had encountered some form of racist abuse. It is a painful irony that 2018 is our year of young people but those voices have been so absent from any meaningful debate on Brexit.
In standard grade modern studies, the European Union topic featured in the international relations unit. In a classroom just 5 miles from this building, I used to teach about the benefits of the European Union and EU membership. That was part of our curriculum: teaching about human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights—the values of the European Union.
Jenny Gilruth is right. Part of why we are in this situation is that we failed to make the case for the European Union over many decades. We should learn that lesson and value the institutions that we have. Jenny Gilruth is probably right that it is a desperate situation if she and I are on the same side of the argument, but she will know that the Liberal Democrats support a people’s vote, as it is clear that we cannot trust the Prime Minister—or, indeed, the members on the Conservative benches here—to make the right decision about what is right for our country. Does Jenny Gilruth support that proposal, as well?
I do, and I marched in London in support of it.
Spare a thought for the poor modern studies teachers who are still out there, because I do not know how I would even begin to teach the next generation about our current political predicament. It is a complete and utter guddle. From removing educational opportunities, to losing valuable people with skills and expertise, to increasing hate speech, Brexit is bad news for Fife, bad news for Scotland and bad news for Britain, and the Prime Minister knows it.
I remember marching in London in 2002 against the war in Iraq. That war politicised a generation of people like me. My schoolfriends and I jumped on a bus from St Andrews to London to march and show our opposition to the Government of the day. Fast forward 16 years, it is 2018 and the masses are again stacking the streets around Hyde Park. For miles and miles, people from all over the UK were mobilised again, and I marched with them.
The Prime Minister’s plan is not fit for purpose. Yesterday, the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice provided the opinion that the UK can revoke article 50; last night, the House of Commons found the Government to be in contempt; and, four hours ago, the UK Government was forced to release the Attorney General’s legal advice, which tells us that Northern Ireland would be in the EU single market for goods and in the EU customs regime.
If it is good enough for Northern Ireland, it is good enough for Scotland. This Parliament should not accept a deal that puts Scotland at a competitive disadvantage. The UK Government, in its desperate, dying days, is attempting to grasp on to power. As members of this Parliament, we all have a duty to represent the best interests of our constituents. From business owners and universities to the voices of EU nationals and their children, none of us should accept a deal that applies a detriment to Scotland. Sixty-two per cent of our population voted to remain. It is about time that their voices were heard. It is about time that they took back control.
Today’s debate has already been played out in the national media, to be honest, and some people are seeing it as an opportunity to rerun the debate on whether or not we should leave the EU. We have already had that debate, and what a sorry one it has been at times.
However, opposing this deal is not the same as opposing Brexit, and opposing Brexit is not the same as dealing with the reality that is happening. The pre-emptive and automatic denouncing of the deal that we have heard from so many corners pays a huge disservice to those on both sides of the channel who worked tirelessly on what was, I think, a difficult compromise on both sides.
I was not over the moon with the deal, if I am honest, but I accept that it was a compromise, in some cases trying to deliver the undeliverable. Perhaps some people in this chamber believe that they would get a better deal, but I ask: which of them has met the European Council and agreed an alternative? Thinking that you can get a better deal and realistically achieving one are two entirely different things.
Is Jamie Greene aware that civil servants are currently collecting emails involved in the negotiation process in the full expectation of a Chilcot-style inquiry into the Brexit negotiations? Is he absolutely satisfied that that is the best culmination of two years of work by Her Majesty’s civil servants?
I met some of those civil servants on a recent trip to Brussels, and I was impressed by their dedication and service to what they are trying to achieve. In no way do I want to undermine that today.
I want to make some progress, as I have quite a lot to get through. I will look at some of the confusing motivations behind the motion. Let me start with the Labour Party. As far as I can tell, its view on what should happen next is as follows. Labour members say, “Let’s have a general election. If we can’t have that, let’s have another referendum. If we can’t have another referendum, let’s vote down the Prime Minister. If we can’t vote down the Prime Minister, let’s vote down the Government.” [
.] Members can call me cynical, but that reeks of nothing but opportunism at every stage, and Labour members are participating in it. [
All of that comes with no alternative. Mr Findlay was given an opportunity when he was asked, “What is your alternative?” Nothing was offered.
Jeremy Corbyn is the only person on Twitter who never posts about Brexit. Why is that? Nobody knows whether he really wants to leave the EU.
Let us look at the SNP’s position. I respect the fact that SNP members believe that Scotland should stay in Europe or, if we cannot do that, stay in the single market. That has consistently been their position throughout the process. The problem is that it was a UK-wide referendum, and by its nature every vote was as valid as the next. That included the votes of the 1 million Scots who voted to leave, too. It included the 43 per cent of voters in North Ayrshire who voted to leave. Every vote counted. That is how we fought the independence referendum, and the referendum on EU membership was no different. The ramifications of not respecting the outcome of that vote would set a very difficult precedent, not least for the SNP. That is why I do not support another vote and why I am surprised that members on the centre benches do.
The SNP’s second option is for Scotland to stay in the single market. We have all heard that we cannot have the perks of club membership without accepting the rules of the club, and that means accepting the four freedoms that the EU holds dear. However, if it is a viable option, no one who wants to remain in the single market has yet explained to this Parliament how they could achieve that while ensuring that we could still come out of the common fisheries and agricultural policies. No one has provided a credible solution to the conundrum of how a Scotland—
I ask the cabinet secretary to let me make my point.
No one has provided a solution to the conundrum of how a Scotland that was in a single market and an England that was out of it could avoid having to deal with the same difficult issues that the island of Ireland faces. The option is implausible, in my view.
I can now give the member two answers. First, the situation with Ireland is precisely as he described it. Secondly, on membership of the single market, that situation applies to Norway. The member has outlined the Norway option, which would work very effectively, as the Scottish Government put forward in December 2016.
If the Scottish Government put it forward, what did the EU say in response? What was its view on that option?
I sit on the Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, on which every party in the Parliament is represented. We recently went to Brussels, and, at meeting after meeting, expert after expert—including civil servants, diplomats, lawyers and politicians—all had the same frank message for us: they said, “Time is running out. The deal that we negotiated is as good as it gets.” Those are their words, not mine.
Does that disappoint me? It does, but that is what we heard. That is the reality of the message that we were given. Members who have spoken previously have said that we are blindly supporting the deal. Far from it—and let me tell members why. I was intent on being suspicious of things such as the backstop, and I hear what Alex Neil is saying, but anyone who understands the uniqueness of Northern Ireland will understand why it exists and why it should never be used. Neither party in this game has anything to gain from endless transition.
I went to Europe and I listened to Europe. The EU has enough on its plate. France has much more on its mind, as does Italy. We are fooling ourselves if we think that Europe is willing to renegotiate.
The reason why I will vote against the motion is not that I think that Theresa May’s deal is unconditionally perfect. I am happy to put that on the record. However, in the real world, we face the reality of crashing out of Europe with no deal at all. The cabinet secretary might win the vote, but what will he have achieved? If any politician succeeds in thwarting the democratic will of the UK, I wish them good luck with that. They will have won their political battle but undermined democracy for a very long time to come, and that is something we should all reflect on.
I am delighted to speak in the debate. When I speak in debates, I usually try to be reasonable, but today is not a day for being reasonable. The Tory Government is on the ropes and on the brink of collapse. Why should anyone show civility to a Tory Government that has no sense of what it means to be reasonable? Why should any MSP show consideration for a Tory UK Government that has treated this Parliament and its politicians with contempt for the past two years?
It is clear that the Tories want to deliver the Theresa May Brexit deal at any cost. We have been told that it is this deal or no deal. This is not a game show; it is real life, and, however we look at it, the deal on the table will bring only more pain, more suffering and more tragedy. Yesterday, we learned that there is the potential for another way, which would stop Brexit in its tracks. On Monday, the First Minister said:
“we will continue to work with others to build consensus around alternative proposals that would deliver on the vote of the people of Scotland to remain.”
We have heard about the economic disaster that there will be if Brexit happens. Let me give some of the figures that have been published over the past couple of weeks. If there is no deal, there will be a 7.3 per cent hit to gross domestic product. If there is a free-trade agreement, there will be a 4.9 per cent hit. If we go with the European Economic Area model, there will be a 1.4 per cent hit to GDP. Those forecasts are about the hit to the economy, but, in real terms, my constituents and many other people will suffer.
“If you look at this purely from an economic point of view there will be a cost to leaving the European Union because there will be impediments to our trade.”
“in international law the Protocol would endure indefinitely”.
That would make Northern Ireland competitively superior to Scotland. Last week, the Scottish Government published a paper that indicates that our GDP will be £9 billion lower than it would be if we stayed in the EU. That is the equivalent of £1,600 per person in Scotland.
The member accompanied Jamie Greene and me on the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee’s visit to Brussels two weeks ago. Will he confirm that, earlier in the debate, Jamie Greene was incorrect when he said that the people to whom we spoke said that this is the only deal possible and that what those people said was—as Mr Barnier said the other day—that it is the only deal possible given the red lines that Theresa May set?
What Joan McAlpine says is absolutely correct. That is on the record now.
Earlier, Murdo Fraser and Liz Smith talked about and quoted business interests. I am going to talk about people. Many of my constituents cannot take a £1,600 cut to their income—they just would not survive.
Let me give just some of the effects of the Tories while they have been in power, at a time when the UK has been in the EU. These are the results of the policies not of the European Commission and unelected bureaucrats in Brussels but of elected Tory MPs at Westminster. Some 200,000 children will be pulled into poverty by the two-child policy, with 71,000 families having lost their entitlement to child allowances in tax credits or universal credit in the first year of the policy’s operation. One hundred and ninety women have been forced to disclose that their child was born as a result of non-consensual conception. Couples with children will be £960 per year worse off. One-parent families will be £2,380 per year worse off. Families with two children will be £1,100 per year worse off. Families with three children will be £2,540 per year worse off.
There was also the introduction of the bedroom tax—which, thankfully, the SNP Government managed to mitigate—and the education maintenance allowance was cut in England, but that did not happen in Scotland, because the SNP Government kept the EMA. Then we come to the roll-out of universal credit—a policy that is nothing short of contemptuous of human life. People are forced to wait five weeks—it used to be six weeks—to get money on which to live. It is all right for members of the House of Lords, who can turn up, clock in and get their £300 tax free.
Universal credit has been the largest welfare reform in a generation, and it is driving people into poverty at an alarming rate. When universal credit is introduced in an area, food banks experience an increase in demand. Some 42 per cent of people have needed emergency food supplies as a result of benefit delays and changes, while, on average, 12 months after its roll-out, food banks have experienced a 52 per cent increase in demand.
The reason that I am highlighting these figures is very simple. When Brexit happens, whether by means of Theresa May’s deal or through any other deal, it will have an adverse effect on the lives of my constituents and the constituents of every member in this chamber. It is an utter disgrace, and Brexit will only make the situation worse.
When I see Tory MPs smiling for the camera as they hand over their food bank donations, I am nearly sick with disgust. It is political patronising of the worst kind, and shows utter contempt for those who need to go to a food bank. How dare they be so patronising about the less well off? I have much respect for the people who run the food banks, as well as every volunteer, but it is a perverted political class that thinks poverty porn is something to smile at.
Britain is broken and Brexit will shatter it forever. I welcome independence, but I do not welcome the shattered and destroyed lives that will continue to increase in number with the roll-out of universal credit. That is the result of a heartless, uncaring and, frankly, out-of-touch and arrogant Prime Minister and her party. The handling of Brexit has been a disaster from the start, and I have absolutely no sympathy for the Prime Minister. She has brought this chaos on herself, and woe betide any Tory MP or MSP who, at the next election, defends the indefensible to the electorate.
There was nothing unreasonable about fishermen who voted to leave the common fisheries policy in 2016. When I came here in 2001, the EU was halving the number of Scottish fishing boats, while simultaneously funding Spaniards to expand their fleet with our money.
We now see a rise in the amount of foreign vessels’ catches in our water. They make up a huge proportion—more than half. It is one of many reasons to be outwith the common fisheries policy, an arrangement that the SNP has opposed from the very outset to the present day.
On 17 January 2017, Theresa May spoke about her plan for Britain, addressing what she thought should happen after the referendum. It had a single mention of fishing—a mention of Spanish fishermen. There was no mention of English fishermen, Irish fishermen, Welsh fishermen or Scottish fishermen. There was only a mention of Spanish fishermen, tucked away right at the end, immediately before the conclusion of her speech.
“Within the context of the overall economic partnership the Parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares.”
We know from that that a fisheries agreement is contingent on an economic partnership. A trade-off is going to be made against fishing rights. Optimists believe—against all the evidence so far—that UK Tories will abandon an economic partnership in favour of fishing, or will show some miraculous adoption of a negotiating strategy that is far superior to anything that we have seen to date. They simply do not encourage me, and if members track what has been happening on social media, they will know that many fishermen are not buying it either.
History also gives us much to say about what has happened. Mike Rumbles quoted Edmund Burke, and he did so appropriately. The Gettysburg address, given by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, made clear what happens when a country fights itself. The same is true when a political party fights itself, as the Conservatives are now doing. It is not a war that can be won without casualties; indeed, it is probably not a war that can be won at all.
Ross Greer talked about the dying days of a Tory Government, but I think that he was wrong. We are actually facing something more serious for democracy and my many friends on the Conservative benches here and elsewhere: we are potentially witnessing the death of the Conservative Party. It went through huge trauma in 1846, when Robert Peel addressed the issues of the corn laws. The Tory party fissured, and it took many decades—and lives—before it came together again. This time, one cannot be certain in any way, shape or form that the Tory party will survive at all. Politics is diminished if we do not have a diversity of voices, and one of the losers in this whole sorry farrago is the democratic system itself.
Why do I think that the Tories are dying as a party? I have before me advice for people who work in a hospice on how to recognise death. It says:
“Someone who is dying usually begins to withdraw more and more into his ... own world.”
That sounds like the Tories.
“She/he is still conscious and able to communicate but various behaviours may appear—restlessness, disinterest in people or activities previously enjoyed ... There is a decreased ability to grasp ideas.”
Again, that sounds like the Tories.
“All the senses decline, even hearing.”
If there is one sense that the Tories are losing, it is the ability to hear what is being said in the public and political domain. Ultimately, we hear the death rattle of a party that is on its last legs and heading for the grave.
Before the member gets any more morose, I want to bring him back to the present day. How does he think that we are going to get out of this situation? Is a people’s vote gaining traction? Does he think that it could happen, and will he really get behind that proposal so that we can win it?
We have heard about that subject already. For my part, I would prefer to have the same relationship with the EU as Norway has. It would be economically valuable, and it would get us out of the CFP.
I am very obliged for the opportunity to speak. Fishing will remain a dominant issue for me and many of my constituents, and we will continue to hold the Tories to account. You cannae trust them on fishing.
As Mike Russell said at the beginning of the debate, it is unique to have Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens uniting around one motion. It sends a powerful signal that the Parliament rejects both the deal being put forward by Theresa May and the prospect of no deal.
Adam Tomkins told us that Theresa May’s deal had been carefully negotiated. If that is the case, it has been carefully negotiated without anyone being mindful of the communities of Scotland or the United Kingdom. Last week, Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, told us that the deal would make the economy smaller. A smaller economy means fewer businesses, less money generated by taxation and a reduction in budgets, including future Scottish budgets. That will do nothing for the 230,000 kids in poverty in Scotland or for the 470,000 people who are not being paid a real living wage, and for that reason alone, the deal should be rejected out of hand not just by this Parliament but by the UK Parliament in next Tuesday’s vote.
Some Tory MPs are also talking about the prospect of no deal, but they really are living in a fantasy land if they believe that, on 29 March, we can leave the European Union and that the subsequent collapse of all the trading arrangements and the rules supporting that infrastructure will have no economic impact. As the Bank of England told us, that could result in an 8 per cent reduction in economic growth and the loss of 100,000 jobs. That will be an absolute catastrophe. Neither of the options that are being put across by the different wings of the Tory party would have any prospect of helping the people of this country.
Ross Greer was right when he pointed out that the crisis that we face is one that has been created by the Tory party itself. It has been a long afternoon for members on the Conservative benches. A lot of work has been done on their laptops, phones and tablets as people look down for distractions from the real criticisms that have been made in relation to the crisis that they have created. There is no doubt that the crisis has been driven by an attempt to deal with the internal problems of the Tory party. Before 2016, David Cameron brought the referendum forward in order to try to placate those on the right wing of his party. We are living with the outcome of that disastrous referendum now.
During the past two and a half years, Theresa May has been focused purely on trying to get a deal that brings the Tory party together. Last night, we saw how that completely failed in the House of Commons, when, in the space of 63 minutes, the Government lost three votes, with the Opposition parties uniting against the deal.
What the Labour Party and the people of this country want is the Tory party and Theresa May out of Downing Street. We will stand against a Government that has piled agony on to the communities of Scotland and the United Kingdom. We want a Government that will stop the cuts, lift people out of poverty and grow the economy. We will not get that from the Tory party.
We heard much from the Tory party about its red lines. David Mundell and Ruth Davidson told us that they would resign if there was any threat to the union. However, when we see the backstop and read the legal advice that has been published by the Advocate General, we can see that the impact is that those Tory red lines have disappeared—they have melted like chocolate Santas in front of a Christmas fire. Totally ineffectual—that is the impact of the Tory party.
The reality is that Theresa May’s deal is dead in the water. It is time up for the Tories. It is time for a general election and it is time for a different approach that will lift the United Kingdom and Scotland out of this crisis.
This debate was called by the Scottish Government in an attempt to demonstrate that there is a view across this Parliament on the EU withdrawal agreement. It has managed to form an unholy alliance with the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and Labour in opposition to the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement. However, the debate has revealed that those parties have absolutely nothing in common when it comes to proposing an alternative to what the Prime Minister is suggesting. They might not like what is on offer, but we are utterly unclear about what they think should be done instead.
Mr Russell’s motion calls for “a better alternative” to be taken forward. However, we have no idea what that better alternative is, because there is no consensus among those parties on that issue.
Not at the moment.
Let me try to understand what we have learned in the debate about the parties’ different positions on the withdrawal agreement. As I am feeling generous, I will start with the Liberal Democrats.
Tavish Scott told us that they support a people’s vote. They are taking the view that if a referendum is held and they do not like the result, we should just rerun it until they get the result that they want. That does not sound either liberal or democratic. In her speech, Liz Smith made the important point that it would be dangerous for democracy if the political establishment decided that the people made the wrong decision in a referendum and reran it until we got the right result. It would undermine democracy.
“Hear, hear,” says Mr Rumbles, but h ow we could run a referendum with four options on the ballot paper and get a clear result is utterly beyond me. Rather than answer those serious questions, the pseudo-unionists in the Liberal Democrats would rather ally themselves with the SNP in an exercise in constitutional grandstanding. Shame on them.
Mr Rennie can ally himself with the SNP if he wants to. We will take no lessons from him on supporting the United Kingdom.
I turn to the Labour Party, which is equally happy to act as Nicola Sturgeon’s little helper, yet we have absolutely no clarity on what the Labour position is. I listened to Neil Findlay, Rhoda Grant, Pauline McNeill and James Kelly, and not one of them could tell us what the Labour stance is on Brexit.
We would renegotiate on the basis of a permanent customs union, single market access and rights being respected. We would have equivalent EU programmes and agencies, maintain security and co-operation, have no hard border in Ireland and have a fair immigration system. Is that enough for Mr Fraser?
The EU27 have made it clear that they would have no truck with a deal such as that. Why can Labour not listen to what the EU27 are saying? No, Labour would rather stir up grievance politics against the Conservative Government than do anything positive for the future of the United Kingdom.
I turn to the SNP, whose entire approach to Brexit has been driven by political opportunism, personified in the constitution secretary. In terms of the SNP position, he has been all over the place in the past two weeks. He denounced the Prime Minister’s deal before he had even had a chance to read it. Within 23 minutes of the withdrawal agreement’s publication, Michael Russell was telling us what a bad deal it was.
Twelve days ago, he was tweeting that the withdrawal bill was a betrayal of Scotland’s fishermen. Yet, at that very point, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation was making it clear that fishermen had a different view. It tweeted:
Mr Russell thinks that he knows more about Scottish fishing than the fishermen themselves.
No, I need to make some progress.
It does not stop there. He also denounced the withdrawal agreement as a betrayal of the people of Gibraltar, which he tweeted at exactly the same point as the First Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, put out a statement welcoming the Prime Minister’s defence of that territory. However, the constitution secretary thinks that he knows better about the interests of the people of Gibraltar than Gibraltar’s elected First Minister.
The stance of the SNP is all about stirring up constitutional grievance and trying to shift public opinion towards a second independence referendum. Shame on the Liberal Democrats and Labour for standing with the SNP.
After the debate, if the vote goes as is expected, we will no doubt hear from those on the SNP and other benches about how the UK Government should respect the result of the vote in this Parliament. That is a bit rich coming from a party in Government that does not respect the votes of this Parliament on primary 1 testing and a whole range of other issues.
When it comes to the vote, there is a clear choice to be made both here tonight and in the House of Commons next week. We can listen to all those who are calling for support for the withdrawal agreement—the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the CBI in Scotland, leading business figures such as Sir Ian Wood, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, NFU Scotland and the Scotch Whisky Association—and back the Prime Minister, or we can take our lead from the SNP and vote it down, leading us towards a no-deal Brexit with the catastrophe that that might well turn out to be.
Let us be clear that that will be the consequence of voting down this deal. That is why industry and business are so concerned about what will happen if this deal is lost. That is what the SNP is leading us to, backed up by other parties in the chamber. If we end up with a no-deal Brexit, it will be entirely clear to the people of Scotland who is to blame. It will not be those who tried to find a solution, in our Conservative Party; those on the Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP benches will be the ones who will have voted us down the route of a no-deal Brexit, and we will take every opportunity between now and 2021 to remind the voters of Scotland who delivered that to them.
I saw during the debate that the BBC’s Phillip Sim noted that this is a unique event, not just because there is a motion supported by four parties, but because four Parliaments are considering the matter: three simultaneously today, in the House of Commons, the House of Lords and here, and the Welsh Assembly last night.
We could take that point a little further and reflect upon it. We know what the outcome was in Wales; it was to refuse both the Prime Minister’s deal and a no deal. I do not want to count chickens, but I suspect that the same will happen here tonight. We know that the House of Lords will reject the deal, and it is likely that the House of Commons will. Apparently, according to Murdo Fraser, we do not respect the results of this Parliament. I say to the Tories that they should respect the results of four Parliaments and think very carefully again.
I will indicate what desperate times these are. I noticed that Willie Rennie, in agreeing with Jenny Gilruth, made the point that it must be exceptionally desperate to bring two people together across the kingdom of Fife. Times are even more desperate than that, because I am about to quote, with enormous approval and at some length, Mike Rumbles—something that I have never, ever done here before and expect never to do again. I am almost as embarrassed about that as Mike Rumbles appears to be.
Mike Rumbles referred to Edmund Burke’s address to the electors of Bristol in 1774. I happen to always carry around with me a quotation from it. [
.] As Mr Swinney knows, it is the type of thing that I would do. Edmund Burke was, of course, the founder of modern Conservatism and he greatly influenced the development of political parties. In recent times, the primary work on him has been done by a Tory minister and I commend Jesse Norman’s book on him to the Tories.
I commend in particular the quotation that Mr Rumbles used, and I will use it in its entirety, because it gives the complete lie to the argument that the Tories have used this afternoon. In particular, it utterly contradicts the points that Donald Cameron and Liz Smith made. I admire them both, but the quotation completely contradicts them. It says:
“ ... it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. ... It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures ... to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; ... nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable.”
This is the key line:
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
One moment, please. That is the key issue. We cannot argue in this chamber that we were told what to do by the electorate and that our judgment has nothing to do with it. Members are elected to bring that judgment to bear. Mr Cameron and Liz Smith should know that; it is regrettable that they do not.
I am arguing, in the words of Edmund Burke, that the judgment of politicians also counts. Donald Cameron and Liz Smith indicated that their judgment was that Brexit was wrong. That was their judgment, but they have subordinated their judgment on that issue. That strikes me, at best, as an excuse.
I will turn to some of the other contributions to the debate.
It seems that the Conservative contributions have been more interested in the politics than in even trying to persuade us that the contents of the agreement and political declaration have any merit. Given that so many of them found it hilarious that anyone would raise an issue so trivial as climate change, can the cabinet secretary tell us whether the UK Government has given him any indication of how its supposed UK emissions trading scheme will work, when it will be set up or how it will be connected to the EU scheme? Why should we trust a Government that has already pulled the rug from under the renewables industry to make those decisions in the first place?
The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform advises me that the best that we can hope for is that there might be a meeting in the new year, so the answer is that we have not been given that indication.
Although I do not have time to go through all the contributions, in the light of what Patrick Harvie has just said, it is important to remember that the primary contribution of the Tory benches today was to say that we must just make the best of a bad job: “There’s not much we can do about this, we might as well just get on with it, so let’s make the best of a bad job.” There are people sitting on the Tory benches who were in favour of leaving; they are in an honourable position. However, it is now all reduced to the fact that this is a complete bùrach—it is, to use a word coined by my friend Hugh Dan MacLennan, a clusterbùrach. What has happened is that they are just going to abandon their principles, hold their noses and vote for it. That is no recommendation for any action to be taken, and for a party of Government to make that recommendation shows that it is unfit for Government.
I will conclude with two contributions that I want to disagree with. As I said, I have some time for Donald Cameron, but he was wrong in his definition of what freedom of movement is. He defended the citizens’ rights provisions in the deal and compared them to freedom of movement. I made the point in my opening speech that the removal of freedom of movement will cause absolute economic mayhem in Argyll and Bute and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. There is no doubt about that. Almost all sectors will suffer huge dislocation because there are simply no replacement workers available—that is a fact. The Prime Minister, in Argentina, said that it was the job of companies to train up the home-grown workforce, but there is no home-grown workforce available. If Donald Cameron is seriously supporting the end of freedom of movement, he is inevitably condemning the area that he represents—the area that he has contested against me to represent—to economic decline. There is no if and no but about that.
Finally, I will turn to the contribution of Adam Tomkins. I agree with Tavish Scott that the discomfort shown by Mr Tomkins betrayed the fact that he does not believe a word of this, not a single word. He knows how harmful this is and that this is a disaster for Scotland. To come to this chamber and argue for it is regrettable and I hope that, in time, he will have the opportunity to regret it. We have to look at his contribution and ask what his track record is of involvement in the issue of the EU and Scotland and of the advice that he has given people about that issue. We could then judge the veracity and strength of his recommendations based on that track record. I can do no better than quote from a blog, “Would an independent Scotland remain in the EU?” that he wrote on 29 August 2014. These are his words at the end of that blog:
“But there is little real danger of the UK leaving the EU. Any Yes campaigner arguing in 2014 that the only way of securing Scotland’s membership of the EU is to vote Yes is scaremongering, plain and simple.”
There is the track record of his contribution. There is a man who said that it would not happen and then said that those who said that it would happen knew that it was a false argument and were simply to be dismissed. How could we trust that?
We have in front of us a motion from four parties, and it is one that I think speaks for Scotland. I ask every member to support it.