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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 Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

For the past couple of months, any time that my colleagues on the SNP benches warned about the impact of a no deal, members on the Conservative benches erupted, calling on the SNP to back Theresa May’s deal.

As many of us predicted, the Scottish Tories are trying to find a way to place the blame for the horrific no-deal scenario on the SNP, yet it is the SNP Government that, at every stage in the past two and a half years, has offered a detailed, sensible, pragmatic solution that would do the least damage to Scotland and the wider UK. Scotland has been ignored and dismissed by the very people who like to trot out hollow lines about Scotland being an equal partner. I am not feeling it.

Let us for a moment forget about the no deal, if we can, and concentrate on what Theresa May’s deal would mean for people in Scotland. Her deal would take us out of the EU customs union and the single market. That would mean a drop in GDP of more than £9 billion by 2030, which would hit Scots directly. It would mean job losses, income reduction and higher costs of living.

We have been promised trade agreements with individual countries by May’s Government. Let us count the trade deals that the struggling UK Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, has secured so far. Of the world’s 195 countries, Fox has managed to secure deals with only six. Israel, which is the largest among those, buys £2.4 billion-worth of UK goods and services, with £1.6 billion flowing the other way. At the other end of the scale, Fox managed to get Eritrea and Comoros, both of which bought no UK goods or services last year. The total sum of those six deals is a tiny fraction of what we currently trade across the EU. Currently, 44 per cent of all UK exports are to the EU. That is not being replaced.

Negotiating trade deals is hugely complex. Deals frequently amount to hundreds of clauses, covering standards and tariffs on vast numbers of products. Liam Fox was told that by trade experts. Fox hubristically said in response that the negotiation of 40 trade deals post-Brexit—the minute after, the second after—would be

“the easiest in human history”.

Well, he has had nearly three years to do it. Where are the deals?

We know that one of May’s absolute red lines is to get rid of freedom of movement. After all, this is the woman who created the frankly racist hostile environment, including the appalling Windrush scandal and the appalling “go home” vans.

Brexit is, in large part, the love child of wilful misinformation and right-wing dog-whistle politics. Brexiteers were quite happy to encourage finger pointing at immigration and EU membership, when in fact those who feel let down and disenfranchised are really the victims of perpetual economic failings of successive UK Governments.

The simple fact is that freedom of movement has boosted Scotland’s economy. May’s deal means Scotland will lose out on attracting thousands of working-age, tax-paying people who enrich our communities. Those are the people who staff our hospitals and clinics, drive our trains, care for our ageing population, train our graduates and allow our food and drink industry to expand and prosper internationally. Our native-born population is not enough to fill those jobs.

The proposed immigration cap immediately bars people earning less than £30,000 from getting a work visa. That rules out people on starting salaries as university researchers, teachers, nurses, care workers, hospitality workers and many more. The policy is also discriminatory to women, who—I am sorry to say—are most likely to be earning under £30,000.

May’s deal also means that we will no longer have access to EU funding programmes and financial support. Those include infrastructure programmes that have co-funded roads in the most remote parts of Scotland, and research programmes that have meant that Scotland’s hospitals and universities have been at the forefront of developing ground-breaking and often life-saving technology, including everything from finding cures for heart disease and the next generation of MRI scanners, to flood prevention, marine protection and robotics.

We are losing LEADER funding; every community that each of us in the chamber represents has projects that rely on that. We are losing £11 billion of regional development funding. Stick that on the side of a bus.

I have only touched the surface of why May’s deal is so bad for Scotland and the wider UK. However, she still seems to think that she can bribe enough MPs to get the deal through. In addition to the £1 billion DUP pay-off, she is throwing money to English MPs in a last-ditch attempt to bribe them into some kind of submission. Yet May has offered no such bungs to Scotland and, while we are at it, no such bungs to Wales. She does not have to, because, in the case of the Scottish Tory MPs, they are not fighting for what is best for Scotland. The MP in my area, in which over 62 per cent voted to remain, is not representing the area’s views. The majority are submissively toeing the line on her deal, while those on the lunatic fringes are content with a no deal, despite their constituencies being the worst hit.