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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 Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

In Cardiff this afternoon, Jeremy Miles, the Welsh Brexit minister, will open a debate on a motion that is, in essence, the same as the one that we debate here this afternoon. The Welsh First Minister will close the debate in the National Assembly for Wales.

It is worth emphasising that this is the first occasion in 20 years of devolution when the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly have acted in unison in this way. We have been brought together by our dismay—which borders now on despair—at the United Kingdom Government’s approach to and handling of Brexit. That despair is echoed across our countries.

As recently as last summer, the Prime Minister confidently told me that, by autumn 2018, we would know not only the terms of exit, but significant detail about the UK’s future relationship with the European Union; yet here we are, just 24 days until the UK is due to leave the EU, and still we do not know whether there will be any agreed terms of exit or a transition phase, and the terms of the future relationship are not much more than a blank sheet of paper. The potential consequences of that for businesses, communities, individuals and public services the length and breadth of the UK grow more stark by the day.

In the face of the chaos, the Prime Minister is showing no decisive leadership. Instead of doing the right thing and ruling out a no-deal exit at any stage, she insists on freewheeling the car ever closer to the Brexit cliff edge. She is trying to run down the clock, making undeliverable promises on an almost daily basis to hardline Brexiteers and, more recently, offering tawdry, half-baked bribes to Labour members of Parliament. Perhaps her one and only note of consistency in all of this, over the past two-and-a-half years, has been her contempt for Scotland and the position of the Scottish Parliament. Seemingly, Scotland is not even worthy of her bribes—although we should probably take that as a compliment.

The domestic and international standing of the Westminster system of government has surely never been lower in any of our lifetimes. This fiasco should not be allowed to continue for even one day more. That is why the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments are today making three demands of the UK Government.

First, the prospect of leaving the EU with no deal must be ruled out—and ruled out not just at the end of March but at any time. Secondly, MPs must not allow themselves to be bullied into choosing between the catastrophe of no deal and the disaster of the UK Government’s deal. Thirdly, an extension of article 50 is essential and now urgent, and must be requested now.

The demand to rule out a no-deal scenario is, I hope, supported right across this chamber. Let me be very clear about this point, as Michael Russell has been in recent weeks: right now the Scottish Government is doing everything that it possibly can do to plan for and mitigate the impact of a no-deal Brexit. I am personally chairing our weekly resilience meetings, to look at medicine and food supplies, economic and community impacts and transport links.

Every aspect of that planning reinforces the overwhelming reality: that no rational Government, acting responsibly and in the interests of those it serves, would countenance leaving the European Union without a deal. The UK Government’s own forecasts predict that a no-deal scenario could reduce GDP by 9 per cent over a 15-year period.

That is bad enough, but we need only look at the nature of the preparations that are under way to know that the impact would be much more immediate: the UK Government has been buying fridges to stockpile medicine; it has been testing motorways and airfields in Kent for use as lorry parks; and it has been awarding, and then cancelling, ferry contracts with businesses that do not even own ships. It has been taking steps that should be utterly inconceivable in a prosperous, developed economy in conditions of peacetime—all of it to plan for an avoidable outcome, which, if it happens, will happen by the choice of the UK Government. It is unforgivably reckless.