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Brexit

– in the Scottish Parliament on 4th April 2019.

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

3. I want to ask some questions on an area of agreement. I share the First Minister’s anxiety that there might be a hasty Brexit agreement between the leader of the Labour Party and the Prime Minister. Given that such an agreement would not be in the withdrawal agreement, it could be unpicked by Boris Johnson if he takes over from Theresa May later this year. When the First Minister met Jeremy Corbyn yesterday, did she get an indication of how he was going to address that issue? It seems clear to me that, if there is an agreement between the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour Party, there will be no people’s vote. Is that the First Minister’s understanding?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I am very concerned that a deal might lead to a legally binding withdrawal agreement being passed that would irrevocably take the United Kingdom out of the European Union on the strength of non-legally binding commitments about the future relationship. As Willie Rennie says, such commitments could be ripped up by a future Prime Minister, such as Boris Johnson—perish the thought. I expressed that concern strongly to Jeremy Corbyn and his colleagues yesterday. It is up to him whether he listens to me, but I said that, if I were in his shoes, I would be very wary about doing a deal with the Prime Minister on that basis.

As far as a people’s vote is concerned, it was not clear to me from the discussions that I had with Jeremy Corbyn yesterday which way the Labour Party will go on that issue. There is obviously a division within the Labour Party. That is fair enough but, given the mess that this process has become, it is vital that we do not end up with a cobbled-together, least-worst compromise that has been cooked up behind closed doors between the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition. It would be far better, now, to request a long extension from the European Union, which would make it possible for us to fight the European Parliament elections. The House of Commons could, by all means, come up with what a compromise might look like, but people across the UK should then be asked whether they want to accept a second-best compromise or whether, given everything that we have learned over the past three years, they think that the best option for the whole of the UK is to remain in the UK.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I think that that is right. We remainers are concerned that a deal could be done behind closed doors that would give away the real benefits of membership of the EU without the people having a final say.

I seek some clarity on compromise, which the First Minister has talked about today and yesterday. She has referred to her paper in 2016, which talked about membership of the single market and the customs union. That was her main position until I charmed her to support the people’s vote. [

Laughter

.] She changed her mind after I asked her.

What does the First Minister mean by “compromise”? Will she insist on a people’s vote in all circumstances, or is she considering reverting to her original position?

The First Minister:

I encourage Willie Rennie to keep up with the charm, which I think is much more befitting of his status in the Parliament.

I want to see a people’s vote in all circumstances. As I have set out previously, the current situation is not of my choosing or of Willie Rennie’s choosing. My preference is for Scotland to remain in the EU, and I will do everything that I can to bring that option about. I hope that this will not be the case at any stage, but if that choice is no longer open to the UK—it will always be open to Scotland, if we go down a different route, as I continue to hope to charm Willie Rennie into agreeing to do—I will want to protect Scotland from a hard Brexit. That is why we have previously put forward—indeed, we voted for this in the House of Commons on Monday night—a single market/customs union compromise, but that is not my preference.

Right now, those of us who want the Brexit mess to be stopped in its tracks and the UK to be given the option of staying in the EU should continue to be fully behind the efforts to put the issue back to the people. I think that that is the right thing to do now; indeed, I think that it is the most democratic thing to do now.

The Presiding Officer:

I will now take some further supplementaries.