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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 Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

I am delighted to contribute to this historic debate, in which Scotland and Wales are speaking simultaneously and in solidarity in order to stop the madness of a no-deal Brexit. We are hurtling towards the precipice of having no deal, which only last week the UK Government said would inflict greater damage on both Scotland and Wales than it would on the UK as a whole—although goodness knows that that would be damaging enough.

Scotland’s economy would suffer 8 per cent shrinkage, according to the UK Government, with a matching loss to that of Wales of 8.1 per cent. The UK economy as a whole faces a 6.3 per cent reduction, which is accompanied by stark warnings of disruption to cross-channel trade that would lead to delays in food supplies, a third of which come from the EU.

We have reached a pretty pass when, here in Scotland, the Scottish Government’s chief economic advisor, Professor Gary Gillespie, predicts a slightly less disastrous projected gross domestic product fall of 7 per cent. Professor Gillespie’s paper is a detailed piece of work that extrapolates the effects of various Brexit scenarios—all of them in varying shades of gloomy grey—and drills down into the effects on sectors and regions of our country. The paper sets out two potential no-deal scenarios. The impacts of both would mean that Scotland’s trade with the EU would be significantly impaired, with a potential drop in exports of between 10 per cent and 20 per cent. He also predicts heightened uncertainty, which could reduce business investment in Scotland by £1 billion in this year alone.

International net migration into Scotland, which is currently at 13,000 a year, will fall. Indeed, it could turn negative, given the predicted 30 per cent fall in the value of sterling and the hostile environment that is sending such a chilling message to EU citizens. Those things mean that many workers are likely to leave for both financial and personal reasons.

Professor Gillespie says that the economic slowdown that would result from those multiple whammies would result in unemployment rising by 100,000—100,000 more Scots would be out of work. That is why we need to put the brakes on Brexit.

The Conservatives tell us that that can be avoided by backing the Prime Minister, but that does not hold much water, given that the Prime Minister just a few weeks ago voted against her own deal when she backed the Brady amendment to ditch the Irish backstop. Anyone who speaks to anyone in Brussels knows that the Irish backstop and the withdrawal agreement are indivisible. I realise that the anti-Europe faction in Mrs May’s party, which she uses up so much of her time and energy appeasing, probably does not speak to Brussels, but she does, so she must know that the EU will not ditch Dublin. It is a difficult lesson for those in her party who still cling to a post-colonial delusion about British imperial power and influence, but it is Ireland that has held all the cards in this negotiation. There must be a lesson there for Scotland and—who knows?—perhaps for Wales, too.

I support the motion’s reiteration of Parliament’s opposition to a no-deal Brexit, and I support the motion’s contention that we must not and cannot support the EU withdrawal agreement for which Mrs May has tried, and failed, to win parliamentary support.

In a previous speech on the subject, I said that the deal would only continue the uncertainty that has plagued our country since 2016. At the end of any so-called implementation period, we could still be staring over a cliff edge.

I will use just one example of that uncertainty around our future deal. Services are not mentioned at all in the withdrawal agreement, but the UK enjoys a huge surplus of services with Europe. Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s former ambassador to the EU, said in January that when we get into talks

“we will discover, at a granular level, just how bad it is to start from a tabula rasa third country baseline on services. And we shall then spend a lot of negotiating capital ... to try and lever up our level of market access into ... something nearer Single Market levels” which we have now.

That is just one example of the pain that the withdrawal agreement will cause. It is built around a rigid framework that is comprised of Mrs May’s red lines—leaving the single market, leaving the customs union and abandoning freedom of movement. Those red lines have boxed the UK into its own prison.

The deal fails to guarantee key human rights, environmental rights and employment rights. Of course, it also ignores the devolution settlement and rides roughshod over the powers of this Parliament, which rejected the draft deal in early December last year. The withdrawal agreement does not even mention Scotland. The withdrawal agreement was not just rejected by Scotland, but was responsible for the worst defeat of a UK Prime Minister in decades.

I agree

“that the Article 50 process should be extended so that agreement can be reached on the best way forward to protect the interests of Scotland, Wales and the UK as a whole.”

However, the EU needs to agree, and it will agree if an extension is intended to deliver real change—either dropping the red lines or holding a people’s vote. I have spoken to many senior politicians and officials in Brussels, and they will not agree to what is being called a rolling cliff edge, which would allow Mrs May more procrastination time without delivering any material change, and more time to blackmail us with no-deal threats.

It is worrying that Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the anti-Europeans in the House of Commons, has hinted that he could agree to a short extension in order to achieve what he calls a “managed no deal”. That is a terrifying prospect and it is not why we want an extension.

The EU is wise to the possibility of such shenanigans; therefore, an extension of article 50 will be granted only if there is significant material change. That has to mean a second referendum. More people than ever have educated themselves about the benefits of EU membership. The lies and the cheating of the anti-Europe campaign have been exposed. It is clear that a referendum could bring us back from the cliff edge and the atavistic direction in which Brexit has taken us. That is why I want to stand with Wales tonight and will support the motion.