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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 Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

I want to touch on a point regarding freedom of movement, which Alasdair Allan and Patrick Harvie have just spoken about. Freedom of movement is not just about the people who come to Scotland to enrich our society and our communities; it is also about the opportunities that are offered to Scots to go to EU nations to enrich themselves and their learning, and to bring that back to Scotland when they return.

It is a two-way process, and not everybody picks up on that point. I say that because I benefited from studying in Europe. I studied in France twice and in Germany and Sweden, so I know the benefits that have been afforded to me through membership of the European Union. That experience has also allowed me to help others in my community, not just as an MSP but as a friend, a colleague and a member of my party.

I welcome the co-operation between the Scottish and Welsh Governments that has meant that the two debates are taking place at the same time today. The strong message from Scotland and Wales will highlight how concerned elected members feel on behalf of our constituents and our respective nations.

I am under no illusion that, no matter what is discussed in the chamber today, the Conservatives will not relinquish their intransigent position, which is increasingly isolationist in the extreme. To be 24 days—or “sleeps”, as Alasdair Allan said—away from leaving the EU with no deal, no transition arrangements and no idea of the terms of the relationship is nothing short of a disgrace. The UK Government’s calamitous approach to the Brexit discussions is laid bare for all to see. The so-called mother of all Parliaments is not just crumbling physically, but crumbling internally. The “strong and stable” slogan has long since been dumped in the bin, and the worst tendencies of the isolationists have been on show for far too long—certainly for the past few months—as they have dragged the weakest Prime Minister in history on a road to nowhere.

The Tories want us to sign up to the Prime Minister’s offer. How could any politician who represents a Scottish constituency maintain any credibility by agreeing to a deal that would put Scotland at an economic disadvantage? If the deal is passed with Scotland at an economic disadvantage to Northern Ireland, I am sure that when we start to lose inward investment to Northern Ireland, the Tories will be the first to complain and blame the Scottish Government and this Parliament, even though they will have created that competitive disadvantage for Scotland.

The UK Government’s analysis shows the catastrophic impact that a no-deal Brexit would have on business and trade. The UK’s economy is estimated to reduce by between 6.3 per cent and 9 per cent after 15 years. The worst-hit areas will be Wales, which will face an 8.1 per cent reduction; Scotland, with an 8 per cent reduction; Northern Ireland, with a 9.1 per cent reduction; and the north-east of England, with a 10.5 per cent reduction. The analysis also warns that some food prices are likely to increase and that there is a risk that consumer behaviour could exacerbate or create shortages. That is why it is imperative that article 50 be extended, in order to avoid a no-deal scenario.

The Tories do not want to prolong the process. They obviously do not realise that, if we leave on 29 March, the issues in relation to Brexit and the economy, trade, education, access to medicines and many other areas will still need to be addressed. Brexit will not end on 29 March—that is when the next phase of Brexit starts.

The EU withdrawal negotiations have proven, once and for all, that the Westminster elite and the Tory Party hold Scotland in contempt. Minister after minister has resigned or been sacked but, somehow, Chris Grayling is still in his job—what a disgraceful shambles. While more people go to food banks, the Tories give out dodgy contracts for boats that do not exist, and then they pay £33 million in hush money because of their arrogance and complete stupidity. It is estimated that Chris Grayling has cost the UK taxpayer £2.7 billion. If that had been any Scottish Government minister, the calls from the Tories for that minister to be sacked would have been off the scale.

There have also been the financial bungs to get the DUP and other politicians on side. The DUP got its £1 billion bung for the confidence and supply arrangement, and we have heard that Northern Ireland will get an additional £140 million. There are absolutely no Barnett consequentials from those payments—I suspect that that is what is known as the union dividend.

Once again, Scotland gets shafted and is to be put back into its box. Yesterday, the UK Government announced its stronger towns fund of £1.6 billion of post-Brexit cash. There is no cash for Scotland and no cash for Wales—they have to bid for it. That is yet another union dividend. Earlier, Donald Cameron spoke about an orderly withdrawal. That’s going well, isn’t it, Mr Cameron?

I support the motion in the name of the First Minister. I am Scottish and I am European and I recognise that the EU is not perfect, but I also recognise the benefits that being a member of the EU brings. I want to protect the interests of Scotland, Wales and the UK as a whole, and that is why it is vital to extend article 50, hold a second referendum and reject the right-wing extremists.