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2. Yesterday afternoon, the First Minister announced that she does not believe that the Prime Minister is ready to “give ground” on a Brexit deal. The Labour Party continues to vehemently oppose a no-deal Brexit. Today, we have returned to discussions, in good faith, to make concerted efforts to avoid that. However, there is no escaping the fact that, thanks to Theresa May and the Tories, we are now facing the cliff edge of a no-deal Brexit. Can the First Minister update Parliament and the country on the Scottish Government’s resilience committee’s plans for the event of a no-deal Brexit next week?
The Scottish Government resilience committee will meet again this afternoon. I will chair that meeting, just as I have chaired its meetings on a weekly basis for some time. We are making plans across the whole range of our responsibilities to ensure that, as far as we possibly can, we mitigate the impact of a no-deal Brexit
I will be candid: no matter how much planning or contingency work we do, it will not be possible to mitigate every impact of a no-deal Brexit, should that happen. That is why it is so important that we all work to avoid that scenario.
Yesterday at Westminster, I had a constructive meeting with Jeremy Corbyn and then I met the Prime Minister. In the meeting with the Prime Minister I set out, once again, the Scottish Government’s single market-customs union compromise. That is not our first preference, but I have said that I am willing to work with the Prime Minister to see where there might be agreement around that. I also said that I was willing and keen to talk to her about how we can allay our concerns about migration, given the demographic needs of Scotland. All I got in return were the reasons why the Prime Minister did not agree with me on those things and why her deal was the best one. She wants to know where the rest of us are prepared to compromise, but I got no sense at all from her, at any stage yesterday, of where she is willing to compromise. From what I read of his meeting with her, I think that Jeremy Corbyn and his colleagues got pretty much the same impression.
If the Prime Minister wants to find a compromise, it is time for her to set out where she is prepared to compromise. It is also time for members from across the House of Commons to unite behind initiatives—such as the motion that Joanna Cherry lodged earlier in the week—to ensure that we take away the risk of a no-deal Brexit once and for all.
I welcome the First Minister’s co-operative tone.
Let us focus on something specific to the Scottish situation. Last week, the chief medical officer and the chief pharmaceutical officer said that steps were being taken to deal with any shortfall in medicines as a result of a no-deal Brexit—[
.] The health secretary previously stated that the Government wanted to have six weeks’ worth of medicine in storage on top of normal stock levels by the end of March. That includes medicines such as insulin, which more than 30,000 people in Scotland rely on every day.
Can the First Minister take the opportunity to reassure the public that Scotland now has access to six weeks’ worth of reserves of all the medicines that we need?
That is the broad assurance that we have from pharmaceutical companies. We continue to work to ensure that that information is up to date and that those stockpiles remain, given that the date for a possible no-deal Brexit has changed. That date may change again, which means that those plans require to be kept under constant review. I assure the chamber that they will be.
We hope that we will not be in that situation. The Presiding Officer has indicated that if we are facing a no-deal Brexit at the end of next week, Parliament will be recalled from recess. I welcome that assurance. The Government will have the opportunity at that point to update Parliament with up-to-the-minute details of the preparations being made across a range of issues.
I could not help noticing that while Richard Leonard was asking me that important and serious question, the Conservative members were laughing.
Let me turn to something else that is extremely serious. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work said that Brexit would represent
“an economic shock on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis.”—[
, 21 February 2019; c 44.]
In the foreword to his budget, he wrote:
“However, if we face a no deal or cliff-edge Brexit I will have to return to Parliament to reassess our spending priorities.”
When will the First Minister bring to this Parliament those revised spending priorities? Will she commit to presenting her proposals for consideration by the Parliament next week, in the event of a recall in light of the no-deal Brexit possibility?
This is a serious issue. Let me say, first, that I hope that the finance secretary does not have to return to the Parliament with revised budget figures, because I hope that we do not find ourselves in a no-deal scenario.
If we find ourselves in that scenario, it will be important that the finance secretary does that as quickly as possible. I do not think that it would be reasonable to expect that to be next Thursday or Friday, but he would intend to do that as soon as possible after that, for full consideration by the Parliament.
If we are in that scenario—and let us all hope that that will not be the case—there will be a substantial shock to the United Kingdom economy and to the Scottish economy. We will do whatever we can to mitigate the impacts of that, but many of the levers lie in the hands of the UK Government—not just the levers that would allow us to avoid a no-deal scenario but the levers that will require to be pulled if we find ourselves in that situation.
When I was in London yesterday, I took part in the UK Cabinet sub-committee on no-deal planning. John Swinney and Mike Russell have attended previous meetings of that sub-committee. One of the issues on the agenda was the UK Government’s planning for the economic response; I made the point that I do not think that the scale of what the UK Government is planning is sufficient to meet the potential scale of the challenge.
We will continue to do everything that we can and to press the UK Government to do likewise. However, I repeat the very important point that if we find ourselves leaving the European Union next week or at any stage with no deal, none of us will be able to properly and fully mitigate the impacts of that, which is why all of us should be focused on doing everything that we possibly can to stop that happening.