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Brexit

– in the Scottish Parliament on 14th March 2019.

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Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

2. Last night, the House of Commons voted to oppose a no-deal Brexit, but, as the law stands, we will still be leaving the European Union on 29 March with no deal. The First Minister and I agree that no deal would be a disaster. For two years, Theresa May has claimed that no deal is better than a bad deal, which is nothing less than a lie. Does the First Minister agree that, despite last night’s vote, no deal remains an immediate and very real danger?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Be careful of your language, Mr Leonard.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Yes, I agree. Richard Leonard is right to point out that, notwithstanding the vote in the House of Commons last night, the legal default is leaving with no deal on 29 March, which is why I think the Government should come forward with a proposition to change the law so that the United Kingdom does not crash out of the EU on 29 March with no deal. I hope that Richard Leonard would support that proposition.

It is important for those who oppose the Prime Minister’s deal and for those of us who oppose Brexit—which I think includes Richard Leonard—to come together to find a better way forward. I ask him—I hope in a constructive spirit—to use his influence with Jeremy Corbyn to get him firmly behind the option of a second EU referendum. If Jeremy Corbyn would come off that fence, that option would become not just the best one but the most likely next step. Will he, perhaps this afternoon, get on the phone to Jeremy Corbyn and ask him at long last to show some leadership on the issue of Brexit?

The Presiding Officer:

Mr Leonard, I ask you not to use the word “lie”, even when talking about—particularly when talking about—people outside this chamber.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

I remind the chamber that last week, in this Parliament, all parties voted to reject no deal in all circumstances, with the sole exception of the Tories. What does it say about the Tories in here that every one of them, without exception, voted for something that neither the Secretary of State for Scotland nor Jackson Carlaw’s own MP could support last night? The reality is this: without a majority in the Commons for an alternative, no deal remains a threat. Does the First Minister agree that tonight members of Parliament must vote for article 50 to be extended for long enough to allow for a majority in Parliament to be formed in favour of a different approach?

The First Minister:

Yes, and Scottish National Party MPs have been tabling amendments to that effect and will vote for exactly that. In fact, it is time for the House of Commons to take control of this out of the hands of the Prime Minister and the Government and make sure that a sensible way forward is found.

I agree whole-heartedly with Richard Leonard about the Scottish Conservatives. He is right to say that this Parliament voted overwhelmingly to reject no deal last week and this Parliament is again being ignored, not just by the UK Government but by Scottish Tory MPs. It is to Paul Masterton’s credit that he did the right thing last night. However, the Secretary of State for Scotland cannot even manage to rebel properly. He pathetically opted for an abstention to save his own job rather than properly standing up for this country, and I think that that is a disgrace.

I say again to Richard Leonard—because on the issue of the way forward, we probably agree more than we disagree—that Jeremy Corbyn surely has to start showing real leadership. Even at this stage, it is not entirely clear to me what would be different about the situation that the UK is in now if Jeremy Corbyn—rather than Theresa May—was leading the Brexit negotiations. The way to break the parliamentary deadlock is to put the issue back to the people. I hope that Richard Leonard will seek to persuade his leader that that is the option that he should back. Then we can build a majority around that and find the right way forward not just for Scotland, but for the whole of the UK.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

Jeremy Corbyn has made it clear that the House of Commons has two options: to secure a better deal or take it back to the people. That is the Labour Party position. We know that the House of Commons does not want no deal or Theresa May’s deal, but the Prime Minister is still not listening and she says that she wants to bring her deal back for a third time, even though the deal is dead. Does the First Minister agree that the Prime Minister cannot keep asking the same question until she gets the answer that she wants?

The First Minister:

Yes, I agree with that. One of the Tories’ favourite catchphrases is,

“We said no and we mean it.” Perhaps they should start applying it to the Prime Minister and the Government in London.

Richard Leonard says that the House of Commons has two options, one of which—according to him—is a better deal. I say to him that there is no good Brexit deal. A Labour Brexit would not be better or less damaging to Scotland than a Tory Brexit. It is Brexit that will do the damage to Scotland, and that is why we should be seeking to honour the vote of the Scottish people and reverse Brexit if we possibly can. I hope that we will be able to put a majority behind a second European Union referendum, so that the people not just in Scotland, but across the UK, knowing everything that they now know about Brexit, can take that opportunity to keep the UK and Scotland where we belong—in the European Union.