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I open for Scottish Labour in support of the motion in the name of the First Minister in this Parliament and in unity with the Labour First Minister in the National Assembly for Wales. Today, we will demonstrate that the clear majority in the Parliament opposes Theresa May’s damaging European Union exit deal and that the clear majority in the Parliament wishes to end once and for all the no-deal Brexit option.
Let us be clear that Theresa May’s Brexit deal is not in our grasp—it is dead; it was rejected by MPs on an unprecedented scale. I say to the Scottish Tories that the motion—this political action—is absolutely necessary not despite the political crisis that Theresa May has brought us to but precisely because of it.
The reality is that a new approach is needed, as Labour has said for months and months. Instead of the Tory race to the bottom, we need not a deal that is bad for the people of Scotland, bad for the people of the UK and bad for the people of Wales, as the proposed one is, but a deal that protects jobs, best defends workers’ rights, safeguards environmental standards and consumer interests and is underpinned by a permanent customs union so that—critically—it prevents a hard border in Ireland.
Labour’s proposals are the basis for reuniting the country. They form the building blocks of a realistic alternative, which the European Council President, Donald Tusk, has said offers a “promising way out”. That alternative would also win support among trade unions and businesses and would win the people’s consent, too. That alternative could break the deadlock and prevent us from catastrophically crashing out of Europe without a deal.
By contrast, Theresa May has been playing fast and loose with people’s livelihoods, having played fast and loose with people’s citizenship rights. She is trying to run down the clock so that the only options appear to be her bad deal and no deal. Neither of those is acceptable; both would damage our economy and our social fabric, and we will do everything in our power in this Parliament, working with the National Assembly for Wales, to prevent them. That is why Labour fully agrees with the clause in the motion that says that
“a no deal outcome to the current negotiations on EU withdrawal would be completely unacceptable”,
“on 29 March 2019” but
“at any time”.
Before I was elected to the Parliament, I spent 20 years as a trade union organiser. One of the enduring trade union principles that guided me then and guides me now is not to go back to the membership with the same deal as it has already voted on. If someone does that, the membership will say in no uncertain terms, “We’ve already told you the answer.”
In the talk last summer of a second referendum, it looked as if we were being urged to do that—to ask people to vote once more on the exact same proposition as they voted on in 2016. However, we have now reached a different place; we are coming towards the end of the parliamentary road, and we hope that there is still an opportunity to fundamentally revise the Brexit deal. To be frank, we hope that the Conservative Government falls and that there is a general election. However, if we cannot secure that, there will be no alternative but to go to the people in a public vote with a credible leave option, as well as the remain option, on the ballot paper.
We must accept that none of those routes will be straightforward. However, it is now inevitable, given the Prime Minister’s intransigence and incompetence, that the UK Government will have to seek an extension to the article 50 process in order to extend talks with the European Union. Therefore, the motion is right in calling
“on the UK Government to take immediate steps to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal”.
Nonetheless—and I speak as somebody who voted to remain—it is a matter of fact that more than a million people voted to leave in Scotland. To people living in Fraserburgh who voted leave, it will seem odd to hear politicians in Edinburgh telling them that we all voted remain. Although there can be no respect for the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit, it is important to respect how people voted in the referendum. It is important in a democracy to respect the ballot box—