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European Union Withdrawal Negotiations

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

There are just 24 days until the UK is scheduled to leave the EU. There are 24 days to go, and the country remains in limbo. Businesses are unclear on the regulations with which they will have to comply, exporters are in the dark about transport arrangements and customs procedures, workers and EU citizens are unsure about their futures and rights, no one is sure about data sharing and banking arrangements, and there is a lack of clarity about the operation of our borders, especially in Northern Ireland. The list goes on and on and on.

It is outrageous that we are at this stage in March, and that we are still uncertain about how—or, indeed, whether—we will leave the EU on 29 March. Richard Leonard, Willie Rennie, Patrick Harvie, the First Minister and many other members were right to say that the situation is not only a damning indictment of the chaotic Administration that the Tories are running, but is a serious threat to the livelihoods of thousands of people across the communities of Scotland and the UK.

Of course, it will not be Jackson Carlaw, Adam Tomkins or Boris Johnson who suffer the consequences. Oh no: for the privileged few, things will carry on as they were. We saw that when Jacob Rees-Mogg, of all people, with all the brass neck that has been bred into him, moved his business interests to Dublin. It will be the people who always suffer who feel it most—the working people of this country who toil every day to keep our economy moving and whose taxes pay for public services.

The business owner who sells into the EU still does not know what regime and tariffs, if any, will apply, or what bureaucracy and paperwork will be needed. They still do not know whether, at the end of this month, they will be left working under WTO rules, with all that that means. WTO rules are about much more than tariffs and trade; they are about energy transfer, food safety, agriculture and manufacturing, and they are about jobs, jobs and jobs again.

It has been two and half years since Cameron and Osborne pulled their tactical masterstroke, which spectacularly backfired, and two years since Theresa May called an election that was equally successful. We have had Jamie Greene accusing Labour of “opportunism” for calling for a general election. I ask Mr Greene: was it opportunism when Theresa May tried to exploit the situation in a general election that blew up right in her face?

With less than a month to go, we are no clearer on the way forward, with the UK Parliament in deadlock. We are told that no-deal Brexit has to stay on the table as a negotiating strategy. I ask the Tories across the chamber: how would they assess the success of that strategy when they see Honda leaving Swindon, Nissan refusing to make their new model in Sunderland and businesses in Scotland fearing for their future and workers for their jobs, which Daniel Johnson described so well? Does Mr Carlaw still believe that that is all part of a clever strategy? Is it a cunning plan? If it is, it could easily have been drawn up by Baldrick.

The Government is preparing for food shortages, stockpiling medicines and commissioning lorry parks. Social care providers are on the edge of a staffing crisis, taxpayers are shedding £33 million for emergency ferry services that never existed, there are rising tensions in Northern Ireland after decades of painstaking work to bring peace, and there exists the potential for a huge increase in mass unemployment. Is all that a price that is worth paying for a Tory no deal?

The reality is that all that and all the people who are affected are viewed merely as collateral damage in the Tory civil war over Brexit. Let no one be under any illusions: we are in this mess because of the Conservative Party. The referendum was conceived and executed by it, and its representatives in Scotland have stood aside and applauded Theresa May’s every move, while she has become hidebound by the Brexiteers and the DUP, and is offering crumbs to MPs in northern and midlands seats, and even trying to woo the trade union leaders whom her party has, for all its time, vilified.

Time and again, I have watched in this Parliament Adam Tomkins and Jackson Carlaw defend the Prime Minister’s farcical moves that have put this country on a trajectory that could wreck our economy and so much more. I have not heard Mr Tomkins speak yet today, but all the way through this, I have not believed that he believes a word of it. I wonder whether he will take this opportunity to say that enough is enough and call on the Prime Minister to rule out no deal and her bad deal, which was rejected by the House of Commons in a record defeat, or will he put his subservient loyalty to his latest political party ahead of his constituents’ jobs?

It is obvious what this is really about; it is about the 40-year civil war in the Tory Party over Europe that has dominated the politics of the UK for far too long. Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson are the true heirs to Enoch Powell and Norman Tebbit. I say this: put an end to that war and get on with securing a deal that will deliver a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union, in order to ensure that there are no tariffs with Europe and to avoid the need for a hard border in Northern Ireland.

Regardless of whether people voted to leave or to remain, they did not vote for this, and they certainly did not vote to see themselves and their communities being impoverished. Today, this Parliament has the opportunity to unite with our friends in the Welsh Assembly and to send a message to the Prime Minister: take no deal off the table, extend article 50 and drop the deal that was previously so comprehensively rejected by the UK Parliament, and today by this Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.