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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 Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

In all of this there is one person for whom I have briefly felt a very small degree of sympathy, and that is Theresa May. I have a quotation from Sophocles from 2,400 years ago, which is especially for her:

“The keenest sorrow is to recognise ourselves as the sole cause of all our adversities.”

I say that because—at the outset, before getting anything in return, and in invoking article 50—she chose to give away one of the most important negotiating tools that she had at her disposal, which was time. It is the one thing that we all get equal amounts of, but when we give away time we give away the debate.

I have some other interesting quotations. I want to spend a little time talking about how fishing has been dealt with in many of the relevant documents. The First Minister referred to the American negotiating document, to which I will come back in a minute or two. In any negotiation process that ends up with a printed document, it is as well to remember what the American singer-songwriter Tom Waits said:

“the large print giveth and the small print taketh away.”

As far as the large print is concerned, fishing figured in Theresa May’s speech at the Mansion house in January 2017—there was a single mention in a very substantial speech. In essence, she said that we should deliver equity in fishing to foreign countries. There was not a single word about our fishermen in the UK, whether Scottish, English, Welsh or Irish—it was all about the foreigners. Mrs May realised her mistake and, in Florence, she said that there should be equity between our fishermen and those of other countries. In other words, she was teeing us up for her to sell out our fishermen again.

Today, we have practical problems: we are now into the small print. We will need export health certificates if we are to land fish from Scotland in other countries. How is the crew of a vessel that is fishing off Greenland to decide where it will land—decisions on whether to land in Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Scotland or England are made while the boat is at sea—when they do not have the certificate that enables them to make that choice? Obtaining a certificate carries a cost, but it also involves a delay and so costs time, too.

Let us have a look at other small print from the American negotiating document. I will read one paragraph, which is on sanitary and phytosanitary measures:

“Include strong provisions on transparency and public consultation that require the UK”— remember that it is the Americans who are saying this—

“to publish drafts of regulations, allow stakeholders in other countries to provide comments on those drafts, and require authorities to address significant issues raised by stakeholders and explain how the final measure achieves the stated objectives.”

In other words, other countries have to sign off the drafts. The requirement is repeated in relation to technical barriers to trade. It is quite clear that if the UK thinks that it is getting independence, it is mistaken. The last big country with which we might wish to have a trade deal has negotiating terms that tell us precisely how it wants to control how the UK operates in that regard. Of course, we have nothing much to give.

Let us also think about the role of the NHS. The American negotiating term that deals with trade in services says that the rules

“apply to all service sectors” and that

“Discrimination against foreign services suppliers” is not allowed. It goes on to say that the UK should

“Retain flexibility for U.S. non-conforming measures”.

In other words, the Americans are allowed non-conforming measures, but the UK must conform.

The term on “State-Owned and Controlled Enterprises”—which would include the NHS—says:

“Ensure that SOEs act in accordance with commercial considerations with respect to the purchase ... of goods and services.”

In other words, activities cannot be run without being opened up to commercial competition. That is what the Americans want.

A long-term issue between the United States and the European Union has been the privacy and use of data that is collected. Under “Financial Services”, the negotiating document refers to

“commitments to ensure that the UK refrains from imposing measures ... that restrict cross-border data flows”.

In other words, our data should be able to be lifted from the UK and taken to the regime in the United States, where personal data is not protected in the way that we are used to expecting and requiring.

The document also says that non-tariff barriers against US agricultural goods must go—in other words, we must accept chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef. That is all in there.

Here is another one—it is a cracker. Under “Labor”, the document says:

“Require the UK to ensure that foreign workers are protected under labor laws.”

That is not for the US—that disnae really matter; the US can keep people out for as long as it wants to.

I return to the small print that goes with the withdrawal agreement. The debate has been all about the agreement, and there has been little discussion of the political declaration. Paragraph 75 of the declaration says:

“Within the context of the overall economic partnership the Parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares.”

In other words, we will not get the sea of opportunity that we have been promised and we will not get control over our fishing waters in our own right.

I conclude with a quote from 1862, in another age of great difficulties—the American civil war. I am reading the latest biography of Frederick Douglass, an ex-slave who, interestingly, visited Scotland in 1843. I direct the attention of our Conservative friends—I have Conservative friends—to what he wrote:

“He is the best friend of this country, who, at this tremendous crisis, dares tell his countrymen the truth”.

It is time for the Tories to start telling the truth to themselves and not to spread falsehoods about others.