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I am pleased to speak in the debate, in part because it is an historic occasion on which we are debating side by side with our colleagues in the Welsh Assembly.
It also allows me to return to the topic of my first speech. Europe is a defining issue for my politics. In my first speech here, I hoped that it would not be a defining issue for this Parliament. Unfortunately it is, for one simple reason: Brexit and remaining in Europe or how we exit are not just theoretical issues for my constituents but are very real and immediate concerns.
I will reflect on what Jenny Gilruth said, because those human consequences really matter. The issue is about people’s jobs, livelihoods and families.
About 10 per cent of my constituents are non-UK EU citizens. In the King’s buildings, which belong to the University of Edinburgh, in my constituency, around 17 per cent of staff—about a third of the academics—are EU citizens. The financial services industry also employs tens of thousands of such people directly and indirectly. Standard Life has 500,000 retail customers in Germany—just one country in the EU—whom it will not be able to serve if we do not retain passporting as part of our membership of the single market. It has already had to make the decision to open offices and register new companies in other parts of Europe in order to do that. With three weeks to go, we still cannot say what is going to happen. When those people come to my surgeries on Saturdays, I cannot explain to them what they should expect on 30 March. Even the settled status process—that fundamental issue of whether people will have the right to stay here—will not open fully until 30 March, the day after Brexit is supposed to happen. That is why this debate is so important.
Let me turn to the issue at hand. Much of the debate has been about the false options that have been provided, such as an option to trade either with Europe or with the rest of the world. The reality is that, after four decades of our membership of the EU, during which globalisation has expanded hugely, we are not talking about trading just with the EU, because our membership of the EU has provided us with a passport to trade with the rest of the world. We enjoy the benefits of 750 international agreements through our membership of the EU—750 agreements that we would need to replace if we wanted to continue to enjoy the benefits of them. That is why the Government’s estimate for crashing out on World Trade Organization rules is that it would cost the United Kingdom’s economy 9.3 per cent of GDP.
It is not even as simple as that. The issue is often presented as though there is a rule book ready and waiting for us to make use of, but even the WTO says that it would take three months to agree the tariffs and quotas in order to trade on those terms. That is only if we accept that the WTO is able to function. The United States has continued to frustrate its ability to operate; it refuses to replace arbitration panel members, as the
Financial Time s reported yesterday. Companies such as Honda, Nissan, Ford and Jaguar Land Rover are having to make decisions now about putting their investments elsewhere, either in Europe or in the rest of the world. That is why there are real concerns about medicines and radioisotopes and the ability of people to get the healthcare that they need.
With 24 days to go, people have a right to ask how on earth we have arrived at this situation. We face an unprecedented—but, more importantly, foreseeable and avoidable—economic shock that the UK Government is willingly taking us towards. The UK Conservative Government is deficient in the first duty of Government, which is to provide its citizens with security and stability.
From the outset, the UK Government’s approach to Brexit has been chaotic and dictated by its own internal agendas. It has taken an ostrich-like approach of denial about the impact of Brexit and the fact that it may not have support for its deal—which it should have realised when the deal was comprehensively voted down in the House of Commons—but also denial of the reality of what it could achieve through a Brexit deal. It was in denial about the four freedoms of the EU, which the EU consistently said were non-negotiable. Despite that, the UK continued with its approach.
Patrick Harvie put it well. When the result of the referendum first came in—with its narrowness and the issues at hand—many of us expected a deal to come forward that was a compromise reflecting the fact that 48 per cent of people in the United Kingdom voted to remain. Instead, we had the nonsense of “Brexit means Brexit”, which Theresa May used to conceal the fact that she was pursuing a hard Brexit that was being dictated to the UK Government by the European research group—a party within a party. Anyone who listened to “Good Morning Scotland” today and heard Mark Francois dictate the terms on which the European research group would accept the deal could be under no illusions about that. He talked about a panel of experts—including Bill Cash—who would judge whatever Theresa May brought back to the House of Commons. That is a nonsense. It is no way in which to run a country. It is no way in which to govern. It is governing on the basis of short-term calculation rather than national interest and on the basis of soundbites rather than facts and reason. That is why we should reject the deal.
It is disappointing to hear the Tories offer the straw man of the choice being between May’s deal and no deal. Many of their colleagues in the House of Commons have had the courage to speak up and say that we must rule out a no-deal exit. It is hugely disappointing to hear not one Conservative member speak up in the debate against that ridiculous and dangerous proposition. At the vote today, some of them should have the courage to rule out a no-deal exit, because ruling that out would be in the interests of the United Kingdom.