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After today, there are only 19 sitting days in this Parliament before the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union. Meeting the legislative pressures of a possible no-deal Brexit has been challenging, and I acknowledge the flexibility and diligence that this Parliament, its committees and their conveners have demonstrated in carrying out their scrutiny role. However, it is clear that there is a substantial backlog of Brexit legislation at Westminster. To date, only 73 of the 115 UK statutory instruments to which we have consented have been laid in the UK Parliament. No one to whom I have spoken in recent weeks, with the exception of the Prime Minister, believes that Westminster can complete the work that it has to finish on Brexit preparations in the time that is available.
Accordingly, the Scottish Government believes that it is essential that two things happen at the earliest possible date. First, the Prime Minister must seek an extension to the article 50 process, no matter what other tasks she has set herself. That is essential even in legislative terms, let alone in economic and political terms. Secondly, she or the House of Commons must take formal legal steps to rule out exiting with no deal, which would reduce the pressure on businesses and individuals as well as on the Parliaments of these islands.
In December, this Parliament voted decisively against the Prime Minister’s EU withdrawal deal, and for very good reasons. Her deal would make Scotland poorer, place us at a serious competitive disadvantage and, combined with the UK Government’s hostile immigration policy, make a fall in Scotland’s working, tax-paying population inevitable. In addition, the proposed deal provides no certainty. It would mean years of difficult negotiations with no guarantee that a trade deal could, in the end, be achieved.
Last week, incredibly, the Prime Minister seemed to agree with us, voting against her own deal by backing the Brady amendment that sought “alternatives” to the backstop—a backstop that she negotiated and alternatives that she and her colleagues, including the ever-flexible Secretary of State for Scotland, just two weeks ago said did not exist. By the way, they still do not.
The Prime Minister’s deal is not the solution to this problem; it is the problem. It represents the inevitable outcome of ill-conceived red lines, and it is those red lines that need to change.
Alternatives are possible. In fact, they are absolutely essential, and they are available. In 2016, the Scottish Government set out compromise plans that would keep both Scotland and the UK in the single market. Now, with the clock ticking down to exit day, the Scottish Government is working with others to try to obtain an extension to article 50 to avoid a catastrophic no-deal outcome and to allow time for a second referendum on EU membership.
However, as a responsible Government, we must act to minimise and mitigate the impact of a possible no-deal outcome in Scotland. We will do everything that we can in that regard, although I repeat the caveat that I added when I last updated the chamber about the matter: we cannot do everything.
Extensive preparation has been under way for some time, but, in the first weeks of this year, we have been steadily intensifying that work. Under the leadership of the Deputy First Minister and reporting to the First Minister, the Scottish Government’s resilience committee continues to provide a clear co-ordinating structure, with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, civil contingencies responders and Police Scotland participating in those arrangements alongside senior civil servants and cabinet secretaries. The resilience committee will meet again later today and next week, during the recess. The Cabinet will also meet during the recess to hear a further update, as we are now preparing for the potential need to operate those arrangements on a permanent basis in the event of a no-deal outcome and to activate public communications.
In recent weeks, I have also attended two special UK Government ministerial meetings that have considered no-deal planning, and we continue to engage on those matters with the UK Government at the highest levels. On Monday, the Deputy First Minister will attend another UK Cabinet sub-committee on EU exit.
The Scottish resilience partnership is co-ordinating work across Scotland to ensure that local resilience partnerships are fully engaged in planning, mitigation and the preparation of arrangements in response to any of the civil contingency issues arising out of EU exit. A national EU exit civil contingencies plan is being developed on a multiagency basis, which will be tested and exercised shortly.
A no-deal Brexit would have the potential to generate a significant economic shock that could tip the Scottish economy into recession—potentially a deep one. It would also have a severe impact on the labour market, potentially resulting in job losses, business relocations and closures, underemployment and a reduction in recruitment. The small and medium-sized enterprise sector would likely be worst hit. Alongside the UK Government, we are trying to rectify that situation, and we would support measures to ensure that there is increased liquidity in the banking system should it be required. As part of our support for business, the prepare for Brexit campaign offers practical advice that can help to safeguard, as much as possible in the circumstances, a company’s growth and that of the Scottish economy.
On transport, it remains our aim to secure the best flow of essential goods into Scotland, and we are concerned about the possibility of severe delays to freight traffic through Dover and the Channel tunnel. We are working with the Department for Transport to establish the extent to which its contingency plans are addressing Scotland’s needs for critical goods and, in particular, how rurality can be factored into supply chain issues. Given my constituency experience, I am especially conscious of the position of the Scottish islands, and I discussed some of the issues when I was in Orkney earlier this week. Transport Scotland is working with transport providers and with ports and airports in Scotland to assess their existing capacity and to identify how they could mitigate disruption and ensure that Scotland’s exporters continue to get their goods to market.
Uncertainty about future tariff arrangements provides another key demonstration of the potentially damaging consequences of a no-deal Brexit. Studies by the British Retail Consortium and others suggest that, in the absence of a trade agreement between the UK and the EU, reversion to World Trade Organization tariffs for imports and exports could lead to significant price increases, particularly for food and drink. The governor of the Bank of England has identified potential rises of 5 and 10 per cent. Our red meat industry and seafood sector would be severely impacted by punitive tariffs. The seafood sector would also be required to comply with a range of additional administrative burdens, the support for which does not currently exist.
We are seeking urgent clarity on updated UK Government technical advice on protected food names. The UK Government failed to consult us on—or even inform us of—the updated notice yesterday. The UK Government states that current protection holders—for example, Scottish salmon, beef and lamb—might need to reapply to the EU for protection in Europe and in other countries where there is mutual recognition.
It has long been clear that leaving the EU under any circumstances would have a negative impact on the health and social care sector. If the free movement of people was curtailed, that would have serious consequences for the recruitment and retention of health and social care workers.
On medicines, the Scottish Government is working with all other UK Administrations to make sure that patients get the medicines and other medical supplies that they need, as far as is possible. Many of the practical issues connected to medicine supply, such as entry and custom controls, are outwith devolved competency, but we continue to raise specific concerns directly with the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition, last week, the Scottish Government’s chief pharmaceutical officer wrote to pharmacists and other health professionals, providing information and advice. One particular point that is being emphasised is that it is important that patients take a careful view, discuss issues with their general practitioner and pharmacist and do not rush to increase their own supplies.
A no-deal Brexit would also raise concerns in areas such as the supply of medical devices, clinical trials, access to future EU funding and the rights of Scottish citizens to secure state-provided healthcare across the EU. National health service boards in Scotland are taking forward their own planning to mitigate that situation, with Scottish Government support.
If there was a no-deal outcome, we would be denied access to many of the security and law enforcement co-operation measures that Police Scotland and the Crown Office use daily to keep people safe. We would lose membership of Europol, the use of the European arrest warrant and access to vital information-sharing arrangements. That would represent a significant downgrading of our policing and security capability at a time when cross-border crime and security threats are increasing. As the chief constable outlined to the Justice Sub-committee on Policing last week, Police Scotland is working closely with the Scottish Government to make extensive preparations for the loss of those measures. It is also making arrangements to ensure that officers are available for, and are trained for, civil contingencies demands and for mutual aid requests. Police Scotland has today announced plans to put 360 officers on standby from mid-March to deal with any incidents that might arise across the country, such as disruption at ports.
Across the Scottish Government, we are aligning our existing financial and staff resources towards those areas with specific no-deal impacts, and we are ensuring that we have the right people with the right skills in the right places to respond quickly and effectively.
Across the public sector, resources are being directed to essential preparations. A decision to remain in the EU would allow those resources to be returned to the support of front-line services and the delivery of Scotland’s priorities. Our basic principle is this: the Scottish Government believes that any costs relating to EU exit that are incurred by public bodies—be they in Government, local government or the public sector—should not have a detrimental impact on Scotland’s public finances.
In concluding, I turn to communications. The Scottish Government does not intend to replicate the UK approach of publishing a myriad technical notices. Where those affect Scotland or Scottish issues, we are happy to see them distributed, and we have done our best to influence them. We will, however, do all that we can to ensure that the people of Scotland get a clear and consistent message about the work that is being done and what actions they need to take.
We have therefore launched a public information website that provides important advice on issues such as transport, food, medicines and citizens’ rights—it is now available at mygov.scot/euexit. The website will be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that the latest information is made available. We are co-ordinating our message with the UK Government, where possible, and supplementing its message as we feel necessary. That is the right way forward in terms of resources and clarity.
We should not accept the suggestion that a no-deal Brexit is somehow inevitable; nor should we allow anyone to normalise it. There are elected members of the Conservative Party whose aim seems not to remove no deal as an option but to champion it. Instead of facing them down, the Prime Minister is indulging and pandering to their extreme views. Unless and until the UK Government takes the necessary steps to rule out a no-deal Brexit, the Scottish Government must go on with—and, indeed, intensify—our work to prepare as best we can, although Scotland did not vote for this and should not have to go through it.
I thank the cabinet secretary for the early sight of his statement.
Only in the through-the-looking-glass world of nationalist doublespeak could we have condemnation of a no-deal Brexit coupled with condemnation of the only deal that is on the table that would avoid a no-deal Brexit. I agree with much of what the cabinet secretary said about the dangers of a no-deal Brexit. I do not support a no-deal Brexit and I cannot foresee the circumstances in which I would do so. The Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee has said that it is
“strongly of the view that a no-deal Brexit would be damaging to the Scottish economy and ... is clearly not in the national interest.”
That was an all-party view in committee, and I agree with it.
The Prime Minister has opened all-party talks on seeking a solution that avoids a no-deal Brexit and that can command majority support in the House of Commons and the agreement of the European Union. Even that great statesman Jeremy Corbyn is now taking part in those talks, but Nicola Sturgeon is not. Last week, there was a meeting to which the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales were invited and that was chaired by the Prime Minister. The chancellor attended, as did the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, the Brexit secretary, the Secretary of State for International Trade and the secretaries of state for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The First Minister of Wales was there, but the First Minister of Scotland was not, and nor will she attend next week, we have just been told.
Does that not tell us all that we need to know? Nicola Sturgeon is not interested in negotiating an orderly Brexit. She is not interested in governing at all; she is interested only in grievance and grandstanding. Does the cabinet secretary not realise that Scotland has long since seen through it?
When the story of this process is written, the inability of Adam Tomkins to respond to the serious circumstances and the reality of the situation will at least merit a footnote in that history.
Let me address the points that he has made, such as they are. I will start with the issue of the Lewis Carroll looking-glass world. I am not an expert on Lewis Carroll, but I think that the spectre of a Prime Minister who in the end votes against her own deal, as she did last week, would be seen as something in the looking glass. That is what has happened—the Prime Minister has walked away from the deal that she agreed, because she is afraid of the extreme Brexiteers.
I will move on to what is actually happening in the talks. I am always aware that Adam Tomkins, although he regards himself as being in the loop, is actually not even in the outer circle.
I would not use the word “loopy”, as that is unparliamentary, but it is not a bad word.
The reality is that Adam Tomkins has confused two things—perhaps deliberately or perhaps because he simply does not know—so let me tell him what has happened. Nicola Sturgeon has sat down with the Prime Minister to talk about the issues surrounding Brexit and about how they might move forward. On two occasions in recent weeks, I have been present in Downing Street with the First Minister when those discussions have taken place. Adam Tomkins, of course, has not been present, so that probably explains why he does not understand the matter.
A different, and parallel, process is taking place to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. That is a technical process, which was established through a Cabinet sub-committee. The First Minister of Wales and the First Minister of Scotland were asked to attend the sub-committee or to send their appropriate representatives. In the structure of the Welsh Government, the First Minister has decided to attend. In the structure of the Scottish Government, the people who are responsible for the process are the Deputy First Minister and me. The Deputy First Minister chairs the Scottish Government resilience committee and I am doing work to implement some of the committee’s decisions. Therefore, we were—and remain—the appropriate people to attend the Cabinet sub-committee.
The First Minister will continue to meet the Prime Minister. However, my experience of those discussions is that the Prime Minister is not trying to learn anything from anybody; she is simply trying to persuade people that she is right. I am afraid that she is not, and she will not succeed in persuading us.
I thank the cabinet secretary for the early sight of his statement.
I am delighted that Mr Tomkins recognises Jeremy Corbyn as a statesman, which is not a charge that could ever be levelled against Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox or any of the others who got us into this mess in the first place.
As Brexit approaches, the anxieties of businesses, people in industry and workers grow. We have all tried our best to speak sense to the Prime Minister, but she is engaged in a 40-year Tory civil war over Europe and is uninterested in who gets caught up in the fallout. Just this week, Nissan has stated that it will no longer make its newest model of car in Sunderland. Such concerns are very serious. Jobs will be lost, and this was all, of course, avoidable.
I agree with the cabinet secretary on article 50. It is inconceivable that we simply march off the cliff in a few weeks’ time, which would be an outrageous act of self-harm. How can the UK Government go on telling people that everything will be all right when it clearly has no plan? How will the Tories deliver a deal that does not threaten living standards, jobs and our strong relationship with our European neighbours? We have waited in vain for more than two years for an answer.
On a practical level, the Scottish Government is right to plan for a no-deal Brexit—indeed, it has a duty to do so. In Parliament, we have raised the issue of preparations many times. I offer my party’s full support to the cabinet secretary for the planning that is being done on business continuity, transport, medicines and so on.
We will support the Government’s actions to prevent chaos.
Communication is the key issue. Other than by referring people to a website, how will the Government ensure that businesses and communities can find out, through concise and non-confusing information, about the developments that might occur?
I am grateful to the member for the support that he and his party are giving to the process. He is right to identify communication, particularly business communication, as a key issue.
It is clear that, throughout these islands, the take-up of information by businesses and other sectors has been alarmingly low. The UK Government has identified that point, too. In addition to the website, targeted work is being done through local and national media. The UK Government has started its press campaign. We believe that we should have our press campaign, but we want to see how the UK Government’s campaign goes. That work needs to be done.
There also needs to be substantial word-of-mouth activity between businesses. I spend a lot of my time meeting organisations and I always ask them whether they have talked to businesses in their area or sector about, for example, the get ready for Brexit website, which is the best business resource that most people have seen. We will continue to make businesses aware of the resources, but we also need to say to them that they have an obligation—as everybody does—to find things out. There is the website as well as targeted information and publications. There are also the UK Government’s no-deal notices, which I do not believe are very helpful in many regards, but they give some information.
The resources are all there, but if there is one message that each member of Parliament should put out in their communities, it is that people, particularly those in small businesses, should get the information now. Every business—even those that do not export to the EU—will be affected if there is no deal, and they need to pick up the information as quickly as they can.
I will make one final point. Mr Findlay raises the issue of Nissan. That is a crucial issue that goes to the heart of the Brexit process. When the original Nissan row took place in 2016, the UK Government Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said:
“There is no chequebook.”
He said that there was no sweetener. We now know that the Government made a £80 million offer to Nissan. It is still necessary to have trust in public life. If a minister says what Greg Clark said and then is found not to be telling the truth, there must be consequences.
The Scottish Government’s website mentions that the availability of some medicines might be at risk, but it does not yet give advice to citizens on what they can do about that. When does the cabinet secretary expect to be able to add information to the website about what citizens should do about such medicines?
If no deal is to be avoided on the Prime Minister’s terms, it requires not only a meaningful vote at Westminster, but the passage of the withdrawal agreement bill, which will be novel, complex, controversial and amendable, but which has not yet been published in draft form. Has the UK Government shared a draft of that legislation with the Scottish Government? Or do we anticipate that, on that, the UK Government will treat Scotland with the same degree of contempt as it has done throughout this process?
Mr Tomkins is shouting, “Your continuity bill.” The Parliament has a procedure for emergency legislation, which was observed to the letter. Those of us who went through it in detail for 12 hours in this chamber knew that that was required. I see no such preparations at Westminster for a bill that is 10 times as complex.
People will find this surprising, but I pay tribute to a Brexiteer minister, Suella Braverman, who recently resigned. She was working on the withdrawal agreement bill and worked constructively with me and a number of others to show us as much as she could at the time. Since she resigned, we have not seen much and we have certainly not seen that bill in its entirety. That is a concern.
In recent months, I have made it clear that I do not believe that, in the time available to it, the UK Government can complete its primary or secondary legislation programme. I was saying that two months ago; I am still saying it and it is still not moving forward. We have a complete crisis. Moreover, UK Government ministers accept and believe that, too; many of them are saying so. The only person who does not is the Prime Minister—she appears to be deaf to any entreaties.
On medicines, substantial work is being done by my colleague Jeane Freeman and her officials to ensure that the list is narrowed down to the lowest possible number of items that could be problematic. There will be a substantial role for GPs and other doctors to inform their patients in those circumstances. We should allow that process to move ahead in that way, rather than alarm people by publishing lists of medicines. That is the right way to do it and that is how we will continue to do it.
On Monday, the UK Government published guidance on exporting and importing fish in the event of no-deal Brexit. It explains that Scottish businesses will have to provide a catch certificate, an export health certificate, a prior-notification form, a pre-landing declaration, a storage document and a processing statement—six separate forms. That is not so much a sea of opportunities as an ocean of red tape. Given how much white fish is exported by Scottish businesses to the European Union, what will the Scottish Government do to alter that disastrous economic and bureaucratic imposition?
Tavish Scott is right. It would be great if, today, in this chamber, we were able to say, “Let us change those arrangements.” The easiest way to change them would be to be a member of something called the European Union, in which circumstance the six forms would not apply.
The only party that continues to support the process of Brexit is the Conservative Party. I hope that Conservative members will give account of themselves to the fishing communities of the north, east and west of Scotland—communities that Tavish Scott and I serve. Those communities have consistently been told things that are not true. For example, the argument was made that people will be able to land whatever catches they want to land, and to sell them anywhere they want to sell them. That is simply not true. It is revealing that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation accepted this week that its members will have to reduce—not increase—catches if there is no deal, because they will not be able to sell the fish that they catch.
That shows the extraordinary nature of the situation. A completely false prospectus has been sold by the Conservatives and taken up by members of the fishing community—who will, as usual, find themselves to have been betrayed by the Conservatives.
The cabinet secretary just said that there is no longer time for the UK Parliament to pass the legislation that is required to prepare for Brexit. That is particularly the case for the withdrawal agreement bill. Is not that another reason why the UK Government should stop pretending that an extension to article 50 is not necessary, and should instead be honest with the UK Parliament and the people and seek that extension immediately?
The idea that we are, in some sense, the recipients of generosity from the UK Government in the process of Brexit is utterly bizarre. It is a perversion of the truth [
.] There are extraordinary requirements upon us and huge difficulties to be faced. We will take care of them in the competent way in which we always take care of them.
When we hear the Conservatives shouting about this, it proves two points. One point—as we heard earlier from Mr Tomkins—is that they do not understand anything about the situation. The second point is that they are seeking to exploit a situation that they were meant to be against: they were meant to be against Brexit, but they are now born-again Brexiteers who are leading the country to disaster.
Derek Mackay will give an accounting for Brexit. However, as far as I am concerned, the real accounting will, to be frank, come at the ballot box, when the Tories will be judged for the appalling thing that they have done.
Can the cabinet secretary confirm that the Forth Valley division of Police Scotland is no longer authorising new requests from police officers for annual leave covering a period of about a month, starting on 29 March?
Can he also confirm that a number of officers who are trained in public order have been identified for deployment to Northern Ireland in the event of there being no deal?
Does he agree that the potential disruption to the lives of the people who work in our emergency services, and the increased risks to communities across Scotland, demonstrate further the complete madness of refusing to rule out a no-deal Brexit and crashing out of the European Union?
Unlike the question before it, that one showed some knowledge of what is happening in the police force, and some concern for it.
We note today’s announcement that Police Scotland intends to put 360 officers on stand-by from mid-March. Decisions about police officer staffing, leave and deployment are operational matters, as are decisions about contingency planning and mutual aid. However, I think that we would all welcome Police Scotland’s prudent and sensible approach to contingency planning, which is to ensure that it remains best placed to keep people safe.
Public order training is an operational matter: however, as the second-biggest force in the UK, Police Scotland has said that of course it will consider mutual-aid requests. That is up to the chief constable.
The situation is a reminder of the huge disruption that is being caused and the effort that is going into the matter. It has been caused by the Tory UK Government’s chaotic approach to Brexit. There is no other reasoning. It has been caused by a Government that has been hell-bent on achieving something that should not be achieved, and which is being achieved very badly indeed. So, let us not have the Conservatives’ crocodile tears about the police force. The Conservatives are the people who are responsible for where we are.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is critically important that ordinary people, who are frightened about Brexit, see that politicians and parties are working together to prevent the disaster of a no-deal Brexit? That is what the public expect.
Can the cabinet secretary say whether the Scottish resilience partnership will do a city-by-city analysis of the impact on our economy? Does he recognise the importance of information that is coming back from businesses about how Brexit will affect them?
We receive information, and work is done, on regional and sectoral analysis through, for example, the work of the chief economist and Derek Mackay’s team, so information is flowing in.
I agree with Pauline McNeill about working together. She and I, and members around the chamber, have differences of opinion on a range of matters, but with the exception of the Conservatives, the parties have managed to work together on this issue. Labour, the Scottish National Party, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have worked and continue to work together. We would be given greater strength if the Conservatives were to revert to the position that they took on the withdrawal bill, and it would be even better if they were to revert to the position that they took at the time of the EU referendum, when they accepted that Brexit would be a disaster for which Scotland did not vote, and said that they spoke for Scotland. Alas, they now speak only for the Conservative Party, as is clear from votes in this chamber.
She should. She should have done that last year and the year before, but she has shown herself to be incapable of doing so. I am, as they say, aye hoping, but I do not think that it will happen.
Putting aside the predictable political rhetoric in the statement, I welcome some of the measures that the cabinet secretary proposes for improving connectivity into and out of the Scottish market, which we should be doing anyway. Will he elaborate on conversations that he has had on, specifically, our port, marine and rail freight capabilities? Bearing in mind that Scotland owns a publicly funded airport that is entirely suitable for freight operations, is he minded to invite members from around the chamber to participate in such conversations when there is an appropriate constituency or regional interest?
I am always prepared to involve members who are willing to be involved, and whose contribution would be positive and constructive. That would include—let me pluck an example from the air—supporting the efforts that are being made by the First Minister to represent Scotland in the United States. Any member who visibly supports those efforts is supporting Scotland’s international potential.
On improving connectivity, the resilience team will meet within half an hour. The key topic this afternoon will be connectivity at ports. I visited the port of Zeebrugge just over two weeks ago in order to understand some of the issues that are arising there. I will be part of the discussion this afternoon and will, at an appropriate time, inform members of the discussion. I will also make sure that businesses and others are informed, because they are the ones that really matter. They might have been abandoned by the Conservatives, but they have not been abandoned by this Government.
One of the key concerns for many of my constituents relates to medicines, which the cabinet secretary covered in his statement. Although many of the practical issues that are connected to medicine supply are outwith the control of the Scottish Government, will the cabinet secretary expand on the information and advice that has been provided by the Scottish Government’s chief pharmaceutical officer in that regard? Will he provide advice ahead of March 29 for people who are living with long-term conditions?
The first advice, which comes from my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, is that people make sure that a conversation is had with their GP, so that they understand.
There might be a case to be made for the health secretary—who is in the chamber—or others communicating with organisations that support people with long-term conditions, for example, so that they are reassured about the situation. We can examine whether that can happen.