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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 Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

Aleksandr Orlov is not necessarily the most obvious of Brexiteers; first, he does not actually exist but, as with the ferry company that owned no ferries, why let the facts get in the way of a good, old-fashioned and terribly British joke?

Promise £350 million on the side of a bus. Watch on as a young MP is murdered while attending her surgery. Shout “Simples” at the SNP leader in Westminster, all for a bet about afternoon tea. What an absolute embarrassment this country has become.

Today, we join forces with our Welsh colleagues in a show of solidarity against the recklessness that has consumed our politics since 23 June 2016. Nine hundred and eighty-five days later, we have no clarity for business; 985 days later, our EU nationals live in fear of what is to come; and 985 days later, the Prime Minister has no deal—but not to worry chaps, because it is “Simples”. Yes, the Prime Minister of this country would rather quote a computer-generated meerkat than face up to the political catastrophe that Brexit has become. Shame on her.

The debate is designed to send a message to the Prime Minister. If Theresa May would rather abdicate responsibility for Brexit, let her try to ignore the voices of the people whose lives her inaction continues to make a misery of. I will tell members about four voices from my community, which come from four women—all EU nationals—who are from my constituency in Fife.

Nicole Penman from Kennoway worked at Haig’s in Markinch and for our national health service. She has lived in Scotland since 1977 and she married a Scot. She has paid her taxes and continues to do so on her pensions. She said to me:

“I can’t understand why we should be on a separate database to target us for what we have to wonder.”

Is it that

“we cannot be trusted? I wonder if Theresa May is using us as a bargaining chip?”

What about Annette Zimmermann, who has lived with her partner in Scotland for years and regards Fife as her home? She spoke about the toxic atmosphere that Brexit has enabled and about her feelings of stress and anxiety. Yesterday, Annette was travelling back to the UK. She was advised that her passport should now electronically indicate settled status and she explained that to border security. However, she told me:

“Not only did nothing show, but the border control officer did not even know what I was referring to when I explained that the settled status is supposed to come up electronically. Even when I produced the” settled status

“letter, he seemed utterly clueless, had clearly not been briefed and nothing was showing on the machine either”.

What about Dr Petra McLay, who has dedicated her working life in this country to educating our children? As she is a German national, her ability to apply for UK citizenship does not depend on her contributions to this country over the past 15 years; rather, it is predicated on her wealth and comes at a price tag of £1,300.

What about a fourth constituent—a woman who turned up at my surgery last week in tears because she has been refused universal credit as a result of being classed as not habitually resident? Her entitlement to benefits has never before been queried but, now, Brexit allows the authorities to do exactly that and to make her feel alien in a country that she has lived in since the age of three.

This is the hostile environment that Brexit has created for EU nationals. Theresa May must rule out no deal. I say to Donald Cameron—although he is no longer in the chamber—that she must do that not for my party, for Plaid Cymru, for Labour, for the Greens or for the Liberals but for the EU nationals who live side by side with us all in this country.

I support a people’s vote because I want an end to the sorry mess that Brexit has become. I understand that there are those in the Conservative Party and elsewhere who do not agree. I respect their right to disagree, but what is unforgivable is their abject failure to rule out no deal. They know the damage that no deal would cause—many have said as much—but, by blithely refusing to rule it out, they deliberately belittle this Parliament and the Welsh Assembly in the process.

Jackson Carlaw’s amendment is nothing short of a disgrace. I hope that every EU citizen who works in this Parliament, who serves Jackson Carlaw his lunch, who works on our parliamentary committees supporting members and who monitors the security in this building remembers it. It is loud and clear what the leader of the Opposition believes: “Leave it alone, Holyrood; let the big boys sort it out.”

Jackson Carlaw conveniently forgets that it is precisely because we have left it to Westminster that, with 24 days to go, we have no clarity on what Brexit means for the United Kingdom. Today is ultimately a test of devolution. Today, Scotland and Wales, which are the second and third largest countries in this so-called United Kingdom, seek to challenge that lack of clarity as two united legislatures. Will the Prime Minister finally listen?

This Parliament works best when we are united. Yes, there are some in this place who wish our politics to be small, but the rest of us have a responsibility to our constituents, to raise the level of our political discourse above that of a meerkat and above a Prime Minister who would rather depend on the votes of the DUP than act in the best interests of the people of this country.

In my classroom, I used to have the Edwin Morgan poem “Open the Doors!” pinned proudly to the wall. I close with his words:

“We give you our consent to govern, don’t pocket it and ride away.

We give you our deepest dearest wish to govern well, don’t say we have no mandate to be so bold.

We give you this great building, don’t let your work and hope be other than great”.

Let us do great work here today and, with the support of our Welsh colleagues, let history remember the Conservative Party and Prime Minister Theresa May for their abject failure to do the right thing for the people of this country.