Today, the Scottish Parliament has the opportunity to add its voice to those from around these islands who are urging the Prime Minister to pull back from the brink of inflicting major damage on our country, our prospects and our reputation.
There is no doubt that, in less than two months’ time—unless he is stopped—the Prime Minister intends to take Scotland and the United Kingdom out of the EU without a deal. To do so, he has executed a shabby sleight of hand by attempting to prorogue the Westminster Parliament in order to silence any opposition. However, to their credit, many members of the House of Commons, across parties—including the Conservatives, although, alas, not the Scottish Conservatives—are working together to prevent him from having his way.
That situation is both a challenge and an example for each and every one of us here. As representatives of Scotland, chosen by Scottish voters, we have to decide who we stand with. Do we defend basic democratic principles or do we crumble at the onslaught of the ultra-Brexit fanatics?
My party is committed to stopping no deal. I know that other parties in this Parliament—Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens—are in the same position. The question today is what the Scottish Conservatives will do. Do they stand for Scotland and for democracy, or for their United Kingdom leader and United Kingdom party—[
]—and for nothing else? They are answering that already, clearly.
I ask the member to allow me to make some progress.
I hope that, when we come to decision time, we can present the unanimous view of a united Scottish Parliament. I hope that the Parliament can be united in saying to the Prime Minister, “You have no mandate for a no-deal Brexit. Under no circumstances should you inflict such damage on our people”, and, “We condemn your suspension of the UK Parliament.”
We might hear two arguments from the Tories today in an attempt to defeat that important outcome. The first will be—
Thank you, Presiding Officer. If members want to intervene on my intervention, they are welcome to do so.
If the withdrawal agreement is reintroduced in the House of Commons, will SNP members of Parliament support it and avoid the no-deal Brexit that they claim it is so important that they avoid? Will they do so?
I anticipated that the Tories might make that argument and I shall come to it in just a moment.
The first Tory argument is that the outcome that we seek would undermine the Prime Minister’s negotiating position. Let us be clear about that: the Prime Minister might have sent a negotiator to Brussels but he has sent him with nothing on which to negotiate. That is because the Prime Minister’s intention is non-negotiable. He wants the EU to cast aside Ireland, one of its member states, and imperil the Good Friday agreement to placate the Democratic Unionist Party and his faction of hardline Brexiteers.
Even the Prime Minister’s Attorney General has told him that that is impossible—perhaps even his brother has told him that, too. If the Tories argue that what happens in this Parliament will weaken Boris Johnson’s hand, that is not true, because there is nothing in his hand.
We might also hear—indeed, we have heard this argument from Mr Fraser—that the problem lies with the Opposition, because the SNP, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens refused to vote for May’s deal and therefore there can be only no deal. It is perhaps churlish to point out to Mr Fraser—but I shall point it out—that more Tory MPs than SNP MPs voted against the May deal; that is true.
However, the real answer to Mr Fraser’s point lies in the reality of what Brexit will do. Brexit will make the people of Scotland poorer and cut this country off from the European mainstream. The SNP will never vote for that. The deal that the previous Prime Minister negotiated would have taken Scotland and the UK out of the single market and the customs union. That dreadful outcome does not become tolerable just because another Prime Minister is threatening us with something even worse.
In line with the result of the referendum in Scotland in June 2016 and subsequent, repeated votes in this Parliament, the Scottish Government believes that the future wellbeing and prosperity of Scotland and the UK as a whole are best served by staying in the European Union. That means staying in the single market and the customs union.
In our 2016 publication, “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, we argued that a compromise might be found that would have retained membership of the largest and most lucrative market in the world, which provides Scotland’s businesses with unrestricted access to more than 510 million people.
Other people took that stance, too. In this chamber, the week after the EU referendum, Adam Tomkins said:
“leaving the EU’s political institutions does not mean that we have to leave the EU’s single market, for there are several countries, including Norway ... that have just such an arrangement.”—[
, 28 June 2016; c 26-7.]
I agree with Mr Tomkins. The EU’s four freedoms—the free movement of goods, services, capital and people—have, for decades, brought huge advantages to Scotland.
Inward migration has made an overwhelmingly positive contribution to our economy and society. If the number of EU citizens who come to live in Scotland halves, the projected growth in the working-age population of Scotland will be reversed. We will simply not be able to care for our sick and elderly people if our health and social care sector cannot attract and keep the dedicated staff we need, so many of whom come from EU countries.
Our economy and society have gained enormously from the opportunity, based on shared values, to trade freely with the expansive community of nations on our doorstep. At a time when climate change, tackling inequality and adopting new technology while creating the jobs of the future are key challenges, Scotland is well placed to benefit from and contribute to shared European endeavour.
In a world where intolerance and isolation appear to be on the rise, it is essential that, now more than ever, we work to further the EU’s founding values: respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality, and the rule of law. We must not turn our backs on those values.
In our horror at the prospect of no deal, we should not accept for a second that leaving the EU, the single market and the customs union is justified. We continue to believe that there should be a new EU referendum. If that takes place, the SNP would campaign for remain, because any hard Brexit outside the single market and the customs union would be costly and deeply damaging. However, it is a measure of how awful a no deal would be that the costs and effects of such a chaotic Brexit would be even more severe.
The UK Government’s own evidence tells us that a no-deal exit would result in an economic shock with a significant impact, but, in fact, nobody knows the full extent of the damage to the interests of Scotland and the UK that would result, nor how long that would last. We know that it would cause real problems for every citizen in every part of Scotland, so it should be clear to us all that a no-deal Brexit is an outcome that no sensible person could contemplate, let alone promote.
Of course, the Scottish Government has been engaging with all sectors of our society, from exporters and rural communities to the national health service and the police, to try to mitigate or manage the worst effects of a no-deal exit. We will do everything that we can to make a difference, but we will not be able to do everything.
In our preparations, we are prioritising activity in areas that will be heavily impacted by Brexit, such as transport, food and drink, medicines, agriculture and the marine economy. We are working with business organisations, local authorities and the third sector. However, the stark reality is that the UK is not and cannot be completely or fully ready for a no-deal EU exit on 31 October—or any other date.
Moreover, the same UK Government is making matters worse by failing to engage with the devolved Administrations. In the run-up to 29 March, there was considerable co-operation and consultation between our Governments.
No, not at the moment—I have to make this point, and then I will give way.
We disagreed on policy, but both sides knew that we needed to work together. The new UK Government has a different approach. It could be that it is simply disorganised, or it might be that it is deliberately keeping the devolved Administrations in the dark in order to blame them when things go wrong.
Let me tell the chamber how difficult the situation has become. At the end of July, the new UK Administration introduced a revised committee structure to oversee EU exit. We were assured that the devolved Administrations would be invited to take part when the agenda required it, as we had been in the equivalent structures during the May premiership.
We understand that there have now been at least 26 meetings of the new EU exit operations committee—the XO committee—which is responsible for overseeing preparations for no deal, yet Scottish Government ministers have been invited to only two. If those meetings are, indeed, intended to prepare the UK for Brexit, we must assume that important matters relating to health, justice and public order, immigration, transport and many other areas would be discussed, yet the devolved Administrations have not been asked to take part.
Then there are the yellowhammer documents, which have recently been the subject of media coverage. In the past, we have seen versions of the documents as they developed and changed—and we need to see them, as the planning assumptions are always developing and changing. We know that that process continues, but the last version that we saw was dated 7 August, almost a month ago.
The Prime Minister told the First Minister when he met her in Bute house on 29 July that he would host a joint ministerial committee plenary very shortly. That has not yet happened and no date has been set. The first meeting of the JMC (European Union negotiations) since the change of Government has also not yet taken place, but is now scheduled for a week today. We will see whether that happens.
We also await a response to a significant number of letters from my cabinet secretary colleagues to their UK Government counterparts on matters of pressing concern. Over July and August, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and the Minister for Public Health issued a number of letters about urgent priorities, including no-deal issues. As yet, there has been no response. Nor has the Cabinet Secretary for Justice had a response from the Home Secretary about how the UK proposes to manage the loss of access to key EU databases and systems that are essential to the effective operation of our police forces. I could go on with examples in the rural economy and across other crucial areas.
Members will no doubt be aware of the UK Government’s get ready for Brexit campaign. However, details of that campaign, which is running in Scotland, were shared with the devolved Administrations only after Michael Gove launched it on Sunday. That is the reality of the “intense” liaison with the Scottish Government that the UK Government claims to be undertaking.
Today’s motion is not controversial. Whatever constitutional future we believe in for Scotland, it is in no one’s interests to leave the EU in chaos without a deal, for the final irony is that a no-deal Brexit does not mean the end of the Brexit process.
The Scottish Tories have been on a journey. Most did not want to leave the EU. Then they told us that the “over-riding priority” was to stay in the single market. Then they insisted that we must accept Theresa May’s deal, which would take Scotland out of the single market. Are they now going to tell us to give up on democracy, too—all in the service of a Brexit that Scotland did not vote for and which is not supported across this chamber?
We all have different ambitions for Scotland’s future. It is no surprise that mine is independence within the EU. However, a no-deal Brexit will be chaos for everyone. It will mean starting over again, from a much worse position—outside the EU with all influence gone. All the issues that have bedevilled the long three-year process to date will still have to be addressed—a trade agreement, migration, citizens’ rights and a financial settlement.
The “clean break” is not a clean break at all. It is a messy fit of petulance, the consequences of which will haunt us for years.
Today, whatever divides us, let us unite and send a message to the Prime Minister. That message is that under no circumstances should the UK leave the EU without a deal. That is what my motion says and I commend it to the chamber.
That the Parliament agrees that the UK should in no circumstances leave the EU on a no-deal basis, and condemns the Prime Minister’s suspension of the UK Parliament from as early as 9 September until 14 October 2019.
Before turning to the issues around no deal, I will briefly address the subtext to the part of the Scottish Government’s motion about prorogation. In the past week, various assertions have been made that the UK Government is somehow subverting democracy. That was repeated today.
In the past week or so, we have heard much hyperbole about “dictatorship”, including the First Minister’s ridiculous suggestion that the UK Government might abolish this Parliament. The implication is that the guardians of democracy are, instead, the SNP.
That, from a Government whose commitment to democracy involves rejecting the result of not just one, but two referendums. That, from a Government whose Referendums (Scotland) Bill was criticised at committee as being without equivalence in “well-functioning” parliamentary democracies. That, from a Government that routinely ignores votes expressing the will of this Parliament whenever it suits it.
Therefore, let us have no more lectures on democracy from the SNP.
The member speaks as though the criticism of the UK Government and its behaviour has come only from those of us on the pro-independence side or only from those outside the Conservatives. If the Conservative MSPs in this chamber were working under the constraints of a Boris Johnson whip, how many would have been purged by now?
The short answer is that we are not operating under a Boris Johnson whip.
With regard to no deal, the basic principles of our position are that the Scottish Conservatives have consistently said that we should respect the result of the referendum for the UK to leave the EU.
We have always seen a negotiated exit from the EU as the best outcome and the best way to deliver on the referendum result.
That was the position in March, when the Conservatives supported Theresa May in her attempts to get the withdrawal agreement bill through Parliament, and it is true now.
I disagree with the cabinet secretary, not least because, only yesterday, there were talks at a technical level in Brussels.
I will in a second. David Frost, the UK Government’s representative in these talks, has been in the EU capital with a full negotiating team exploring various proposals and the UK Government remains committed to leaving the EU with a deal and indeed to securing a deal to leave at the European Council on 17 October.
I am quite sure that the member—whom I welcome to his new role—believes what he has said, but I wonder whether he wants to contradict the official spokeswoman for the European Commission,
I am afraid that I do not have time.
Even at this point, a deal is achievable. A deal is not just achievable but desirable. This spring, organisations across Scotland wanted a deal. Scottish business wanted a deal. Scottish exporters wanted a deal. Scottish farmers wanted a deal. There is no reason to suppose that that has changed.
We have always sought a negotiated exit from the EU, as demonstrated by the fact that in the third meaningful vote, all 13 of our MPs supported the withdrawal agreement. They were the only Scottish MPs to vote to prevent no deal by voting for that agreement. It was therefore particularly grating to hear the First Minister say on Tuesday that SNP MPs would do everything in their power to prevent the UK from leaving the EU without a deal. Let me tell her that there is one simple way to do that—get her MPs to back a deal. [
Three times, the SNP and others had an opportunity to back a deal earlier this year and three times, they failed to do so. Such a deal would have achieved their key demands—[
Thank you. Three times, the SNP and others had an opportunity to back a deal and three times, they failed to do so. Such a deal would have achieved their key demands— frictionless trade, a transition period, protecting citizens’ rights and, crucially, no hard border for Ireland. By voting against a deal, they bear some of the responsibility for bringing no deal closer.
On the issue of no deal and its impacts, the Scottish Conservatives as a party have never actively pursued no deal as an outcome in and of itself, although we have always accepted that it is a possibility. That was made clear in our manifesto two years ago.
We want to avoid no deal. That is why we believe that we must continue to pursue a negotiated exit. I acknowledge some of the cabinet secretary’s points about the impact of no deal—he knows the respect that I have for him on this and other matters. Speaking personally, I believe, and I have always believed, that a no-deal Brexit should be avoided, given the effects that it would have. There are friends of mine on the Conservative benches, some of whom will speak after me, who may take a more robust approach on that than I do. There is a spread of opinion about Brexit on these benches—there always has been—and we are entirely comfortable with that.
The opposite of no deal is a deal. The route to an orderly departure from the EU is via a deal. If the cabinet secretary and his party truly want to prevent no deal, they should support the UK Government in achieving a deal. That is where all our energies should be directed at this, the eleventh hour. I urge the cabinet secretary and his party, in the interests of Scotland, to support a deal. If the SNP and others fail to support a deal and no deal becomes a reality, we will accept that and we shall all have to live with the consequences.
I move amendment S5M-18695.1, to leave out from “agrees” to end and insert:
“should respect the result of the 2016 EU referendum; agrees that a negotiated exit remains the best way to deliver on that vote, and supports the UK Government in reaching a deal with the EU.”
In opening for Labour today,
I state our support for the Government motion. We are clear that a no-deal Brexit must not be allowed to happen and Labour is doing and will continue to do everything we can to prevent such a scenario from happening. We also condemn the suspension of Parliament by Boris Johnson—it is obvious to all that it is simply a ploy to block proper democratic scrutiny.
Is it not ironic that the very people who talked about taking back control and restoring sovereignty to Parliament are the same people who are now shutting Parliament down? We must appreciate the dangers of allowing any leader to shut down our democratic processes just because they cannot get their own way. Democracy might at times seem difficult, but we should be clear that it is far better than anything that I have seen around the world, and we disrespect it at our peril.
That is why this Parliament in Edinburgh must today condemn the actions of Boris Johnson and his cabal, who are demonstrating a total disregard for our democracy. Boris Johnson cannot be allowed to crash us out of the European Union, throwing the country under his infamous Brexit bus, in order to pursue an ideological, hard-right project that will benefit only him and the wealthy donors to the Tory party—there will be no benefits for hard-working people or hard-working families when the cost of living runs out of control.
The Tories have refused to publish the impact assessment that was asked for of how a no-deal Brexit would affect poverty levels in this country. The Poverty Alliance, which is based in Glasgow, is right to highlight that issue. Is it not a scandal that its freedom of information requests were refused by the Department for Work and Pensions, which stated that it would not serve the public interest to release that information?
I ask the Scottish Tories in the chamber where their priorities lie. Are they with their country, their party or their careers?
Our path is clear. The legislative process against the disastrous no-deal plans is under way, and we will support a vote to call a general election so that the people can decide our country’s future once the bill to stop a no-deal Brexit is law. However, that option will be pursued only when we can guarantee that a no-deal Brexit is off the table. Ken Clarke, the former Tory chancellor said yesterday:
“I do think that the Prime Minister has a tremendous skill in keeping a straight face while he is being ... disingenuous.”—[
, 4 September 2019; Vol 664, c 293.]
In other words, we cannot trust a word that Boris Johnson says. The man is a stranger to the truth.
However, what of the Scottish Tories, or should I say, “the Scottish Conservative and Brexit party”? Not one of their MPs, under the threat of expulsion from the Tory party, had the conviction to stand up for Scotland and oppose a no-deal Brexit. We should be under no illusions. The impact of a no-deal Brexit would be devastating for Scotland—indeed, for the whole of the United Kingdom.
I understand that people are fed up with Brexit and that they just want it to be over with, but it will not be over with if we crash out on Halloween without a deal. The nightmare will just be beginning. The National Farmers Union has warned that a no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for agriculture. The Royal College of Physicians, health leaders and indeed the UK Government itself have all warned of the risk of food and medicine shortages, and the Trades Union Congress is explicit about the threat to our economy, jobs and hard-won workers’ rights.
As Jeremy Corbyn said this week,
“A no deal Brexit is really a Trump deal Brexit, leading to a one-sided US trade deal that will put us at the mercy of Donald Trump and big American” business. That is not what the people voted for in 2016, and that is why we must go back to the people so they can make an informed decision based on the facts, and I want to be clear that remain must be an option on that ballot paper.
Scottish Labour will support and campaign for remain: remain and reform within Europe alongside remain and reform within the United Kingdom. The fundamental question is: what best meets the needs and aspirations of the Scottish people? Nobody voted for food shortages or job losses.
We must continue to do everything in our power to resolve the Brexit crisis. When no deal is securely taken off the table, Labour will give the people the option to have their say.
I heard some name calling during Mr Rowley’s speech. I want all members to treat other members with respect, and I do not believe that name calling in loud voices from seated positions is appropriate in the chamber.
The past few weeks, and especially the past 48 hours, have seen a level of chaos descending on Westminster that even those of us who used the most imaginative rhetoric in 2014 could scarcely have suggested. Phrases such as “constitutional crisis” are overused in UK politics, but that is exactly what we are now in the grip of. Britain’s Executive and legislature are at a level of conflict that we simply have not seen in the modern era. That conflict is now playing out not just in Parliament and the media, but in the courts in Edinburgh and London.
The days in which we described events such as the 2012 pasty tax budget as an “omnishambles” seem almost quaint. That is not because that era of Conservative austerity was anything other than a cruel disaster inflicted on the most vulnerable people; it is simply because the current Johnson Administration has, at its moment of most acute crisis, combined every one of the British ruling class’s worst characteristics—the arrogance, the incompetence, the contempt and the inability to understand that it cannot have its own way all the time. There is its failure to understand that this is not a parlour game that is being played by old Eton chums, and there is its tolerance for parliamentary democracy that lasts only until that starts to gets in its way.
The British state and the British political class are tearing themselves asunder. On one level, I cannot pretend to be anything other than delighted that the corporate and populist wings of the Conservative Party are locked in a fight to the death. If only they could both lose, then the people of this country would be the real winners.
The decision to suspend the Westminster Parliament in an attempt to force no deal is an affront to democracy, and we now know that it was being planned for weeks, while the Government lied in denial after denial to Parliament and the press. That is the behaviour of authoritarians, not democrats, and it has shown the British constitution to be wildly unfit for purpose. In what normal democracy can an unelected monarch suspend an elected Parliament on the request of a Government without majority support?
However, I have to take my hat off to the Brexiteers. By the time this ends, they might have destroyed the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, popular support for the monarchy, and the union itself.
We see the shameful spectacle of Government ministers adopting the language of nationalist authoritarians as they suggest that they could ignore laws that have been passed by Parliament, and we are faced with a Prime Minister lashing out wildly as he tries to cling on—supported, it seems, to the last by the Scottish Conservative MPs.
Ross Greer is making an excellent speech, and I agree with a great deal of what he has said. He is right in many things that he has said about the constitution. However, if we look at how the House of Commons has operated this week, we see that it has exerted its power over the Executive. In that regard, Parliament has worked. My fear is that, if we had a situation in the Scottish Parliament in which the Government was doing something outrageous, Parliament would not prevail.
Mr Findlay makes a fascinating point for a separate theoretical discussion in Parliament about the constitutional set-up.
The reality is that the UK Parliament has had to fight a last-minute and last-ditch effort against its own suspension by an out-of-control Executive. We have moved beyond lies, deceit and demonising opponents as traitors, and have moved into the territory of a Government that is deliberately trying to override Parliament, despite lacking support for doing so.
As if that dangerous turn in British politics is not bad enough in and of itself, it is all in pursuit of allowing the UK Government to drive the country head first into a no-deal Brexit. We have heard many of the predicted impacts of that already, but it cannot be emphasised enough how devastating it would be. The UK would face shortages of medicines—in particular, those that cannot be stockpiled for any significant length of time. That is a severe risk for anyone in the UK who relies on medication to control or treat a condition that they have. It is genuinely life threatening, and it has already caused a huge amount of anxiety for people with cancer, diabetes and epilepsy. People who already have to deal with serious health conditions are being made to suffer even more uncertainty.
What is the Government’s response? Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, when questioned on no-deal mortality rates by a respected doctor who was involved in drawing up the Government’s own operation yellowhammer no-deal planning, accused the man of being a “remoaner”. The Government is turning on its own professional advisors because they dare to tell the truth and they dare to question the Government’s rhetoric.
There would also be shortages of food. The Conservatives have repeatedly sought to assure us that there would be sufficient food. There is not even sufficient food for millions of people in the UK right now. An estimated 8.4 million people struggle to eat enough week by week in one of the richest nations on earth. Millions rely on food banks, often after suffering directly at the hands of callous Tory benefit sanctions. How will those people fare under a no-deal Brexit? Food bank charities already rely on donations and the goodwill of others. How long will that last when shelves start to go empty and the price of food spikes?
All those consequences are the result of a Government pursuing a policy for which it just does not have a mandate. For the Prime Minister, it is just a means to the only end that has ever mattered to him: staying in power for as long as he can.
Throughout the EU referendum, we were told repeatedly by the leaders of the leave campaign that voting to exit the EU would not mean leaving without a deal. No deal was not on the ballot.
I commend the MPs in Westminster who have fought directly against the UK Government’s attempts to subvert democracy. I suppose that there had to be something that Winston Churchill’s grandson and I agreed on, eventually. Their efforts to enact a bill prohibiting no deal are vital. Once that is done, I look forward to seeing the Conservatives being tossed out of power, the damage that they have done to this country being reversed, and the final verdict on Brexit being given back to the people in a referendum.
Ultimately, though, whatever the actions of the majority of MPs at this moment, the crisis in Westminster has demonstrated that Scotland is not safe in this union. The Greens will work with others and will exhaust every option to stop a no-deal Brexit, to stop Brexit entirely, to rid us of the disastrous UK Government, and to give Scotland the say over our own future that is now so clearly needed.
Donald Cameron seems to be one of the few Conservatives left who support Theresa May’s deal. It was not my, Mike Russell’s or Alex Rowley’s MPs who blocked that deal. It was not us on our own; it was not possible for us to do it on our own. It was his own new Prime Minister and his colleagues in the European research group who blocked that deal. He should not blame us; he should blame his own divided party, which has divided this country for decades on this issue. He should accept his responsibility for this mess.
It will be useful for the Parliament to stand together to send the clear message to Boris Johnson that we join people across the United Kingdom who are deeply concerned by the prospect of there being no deal.
I wanted to believe that Boris Johnson was striving for a deal with Europe. Last week, Ruth Davidson was quite convincing in saying that she believed that Boris Johnson was striving for a deal. However, the Prime Minister has moved quite significantly—from saying that no deal was “a million to one” chance during the leadership contest to saying that it is now “touch and go”, but it is pretty clear that no deal is the Prime Minister’s actual goal.
Why on earth would he want that? The operation yellowhammer reports are very clear, and even if only a tenth of the predictions come true, they will mean an enormous hit on the country, including food shortages, lorries backed up at ports, price rises and medicine shortages.
Anna-Ruth Cockerham from my constituency is anxious. She has a chronic condition called functional neurological disorder, which results in chronic pain and seizures. She takes controlled medicine that can be prescribed for only 28 days at a time. Lack of medication worsens her seizures, and her pain can last for weeks afterwards. Her prescription is due to be filled at the end of October. She worries about medicine shortages in the event of a no-deal Brexit. That is why she contacted me this week. She has experienced shortages before and felt their effects, and that was without Brexit. She points out that the UK Government’s “Get ready for Brexit” tool contains absolutely no information for patients who are in such circumstances. Those are the real-life impacts of a reckless Prime Minister and a reckless UK Government.
Why would the Prime Minister ever keep a no-deal Brexit open as an option? I am afraid that political interests have trumped the national interest. Quite simply, he has made a cynical calculation that he can get the votes of the Brexit Party behind the Conservatives. It seems that a no-deal Brexit is the only thing that would convince Nigel Farage. The Prime Minister is forging a pact with Nigel, and the Scottish Conservatives have bought it hook, line and sinker. Forget the economy, forget prices, forget medicine shortages and forget Anna-Ruth Cockerham. Not one Scottish Conservative MP stood up against their Prime Minister’s strategy in the House of Commons this week—every single one of them buckled. They all put the party interest ahead of the national interest. It is my hope that today’s motion will add to the growing weight of opinion across the United Kingdom. The opposition is clear not just in Scotland; it is strong and growing across the UK.
However, we need to stop Brexit altogether, not just a no-deal Brexit. The sooner the Labour Party stands up and says so, the better it will be for the country. I have heard that, apparently, Scottish Labour’s position is different, as explained by Alex Rowley a few moments ago. Scottish Labour says that it is for remain, but, just like on independence, it has been completely unable to persuade the UK leader, Jeremy Corbyn. We have the farcical situation in which Labour in Scotland would campaign to remain in the EU, but a Jeremy Corbyn premiership would negotiate to leave. At this moment of national crisis, Labour must stand up and oppose Brexit. It will never be forgiven if it does not.
Last year, we were pleased that the SNP joined us to back a people’s vote to stop Brexit. It took a while, but the SNP did the right thing. We stand together today to oppose a no-deal Brexit. However, for goodness’ sake, will the SNP stop using Brexit to campaign for independence? Does it not realise that breaking up long-term economic partnerships is a pretty hard thing to do? Does it not realise that looking at the chaos of Brexit and concluding, “We want some of that right here, too” is the wrong conclusion to reach? Does the SNP not realise that there is another way to stop Brexit? We could revoke. The idea of a people’s vote is growing in popularity.
A million people were on the streets of London, and six million people have signed a petition.
The power of a strong argument is building the pressure for remain. To give up on the aspirations of millions of British people would be cavalier and reckless, and it is not something that the Liberal Democrats will ever do.
We are speaking with one voice today on a no-deal Brexit. We are backing Westminster. We are encouraging the House of Lords. We are telling the Prime Minister to stop—to stop a no-deal Brexit, and stop it right now.
We move to the open debate. [
.] Can I have some attention, please? Thank you. I ask for speeches of six minutes. Time is really tight, so please be concise.
Today is the chance for the Scottish Parliament to have its say on Boris Johnson’s undemocratic and increasingly dictatorial plans for a no-deal Brexit. As we vote tonight, regardless of our party, we should all remember who it was that made it possible for each one of us to have the privilege of serving in Parliament: our constituents. We all have a duty to reflect their stated wishes with regard to leaving the EU.
As we know, not one council area in Scotland had a majority for leave—deal or no deal. In Scotland, 62 per cent of people voted to remain, just a few weeks after they made the decision to vote us in. Those who voted SNP did so knowing that we stood for Scottish independence and that we desired to remain in the European Union. The party that was able to form the main Opposition—the Scottish Conservatives—made its pro-EU position clear, with only a handful of pro-Brexit exceptions.
Those who voted in Ruth Davidson as the representative of Edinburgh Central did so after hearing her many forceful speeches in favour of remaining in the EU long before the EU referendum. We all know stories of many people who were convinced to vote no in the Scottish independence referendum because people such as Ruth Davidson, and others like her in the chamber, warned them that we would be out of the EU if they voted yes.
Just an hour ago, a guest of mine who came into the Parliament to talk to me about fish health was at pains to tell me that, because of Brexit, he was now an independence supporter. I hear that all the time back in my constituency. After all, my area of Aberdeenshire is set to be one of the worst hit economically by any type of Brexit, and my constituents are rightly furious.
I will not.
Enough of the Tory rhetoric before the vote on 23 June 2016. Let us look at the messaging of some of the prominent Tories in the Scottish Parliament as they came to terms with the fact that Scotland would be taken out of the EU as a result of that vote. On 28 June 2016, Adam Tomkins said:
“To my mind, leave should mean that we retain full access to the EU’s single market. As I understand it, even the small number of MSPs who advocated a leave vote are of the view that we should maintain as full access to the single market as is possible.”—[
, 28 June 2016; c 26.]
In September of that year, he said:
“being completely outside the single market would, in my view, be contrary to the British national interest.”—[
, 14 September 2016; c 68.]
Adam Tomkins’s comments were bolstered by those of his then leader, Ruth Davidson, who, on 30 June that year, said:
“it was access to the single market and trade that was at the very core of my support for the European Union, because it helps our economy, helps sustain jobs and helps to keep our public services in Scotland well funded ... Retaining our place in the single market should be the overriding priority.”—[
, 30 June 2016; c 24.]
She reiterated that view again in December, when she made exactly the same points.
Members should make no mistake: if the Scottish Tories reject the motion, they will be making an official declaration that they do not reject a no-deal scenario. Those Scottish voters who put their trust in them based on their words—
I am extremely grateful for that intervention, because Colin Clark was a remainer, and he has turned into a Brexiteer. I wonder how people in my constituency feel about that; in fact, I know how they feel about it—they are asking me to complain. I will come on to Colin Clark later.
I turn to the so-called prorogation—or, in plain English, which members in this place are more fond of, the suspension—of the UK Parliament by the current Prime Minister. We are looking at a five-week suspension that is designed to allow Boris Johnson to leave the EU in a manner that will not be scrutinised by those who have been elected to carry out such scrutiny.
After being prompted by so many of my constituents, I wrote to Colin Clark, the member of Parliament for Gordon, who has recently been promoted—for his U-turn abilities—to a junior ministerial post by Boris Johnson. In answer to my concerns about the lack of scrutiny available to MPs on this most important of constitutional decisions, he said something very revealing by way of reply. He said:
“I honestly believe the best outcome for the UK is a deal which the PM will now be able to pursue unencumbered on the 17th of October.”
What does it mean for a parliamentary democracy if a Prime Minster can remove the so-called encumbrance of the scrutiny of MPs? It means that he can do anything he likes. It sets that precedent for ever. Such an approach is straight out of the despot playbook. Trump tried it with executive orders in the US, and Johnson is trying it out for size with the prorogation rules in Westminster. That is how it starts—once a mechanism has been found and exploited, the path is open to subverting parliamentary democracy at will. If we do not stop Boris Johnson’s first attempt now, we will open the floodgates to totalitarianism.
I urge everyone to reject those attempts, to reject a no-deal Brexit and to support the Government’s motion. I hope that Tory MSPs are able to vote with their conscience tonight, rather than being whipped. Even today, at First Minister’s question time, it was evident that the Tories are ignoring all signs to the contrary and are making a good fist of pretending that they are convinced that Boris Johnson is pulling out all the stops to get a deal with the EU. Mr Johnson’s own foreign office civil servants are not convinced. We know that the negotiating team has been reduced.
Miss Martin, please sit down.
I have told everyone how tight time is. If you go over time, you will disadvantage members of your own group, as they may be dropped from the speaking list.
This is the 34th debate that we have had on Brexit in the course of this parliamentary session, the 34th afternoon of hot air filling this chamber and the 34th time that we will have a vote that will achieve precisely nothing. That is not to mention 25 statements of varying levels of usefulness and 29 committee inquiries. What have any of them achieved? Very little.
The majority of that debating time has been marked by the almost complete lack of a voice from anyone who, in 2016, believed that Brexit would be a good thing, because most members said that they wanted the UK to remain in the EU. I was one of only six members who said before the vote that they wanted out. All of us were Conservatives.
A million of our fellow citizens in Scotland agreed with us. Their voice has hardly been heard in this chamber since then. The Scottish Parliament has not been representative of Scotland on that. So, today, I speak for the million, and I speak for democracy, for it was democracy—or the lack of it—that led me to conclude, with regret, that the UK should leave the EU project.
It is also democracy that leads me to say that the SNP motion today is completely wrong. Of course, when it was written by the cabinet secretary, we had not witnessed the spectacle of the House of Commons riding roughshod over the will of the people. However, we should have expected a remainer Parliament, with a partisan Speaker, to do its bit to thwart the result of the referendum. The votes in the Commons this week have nothing to do with stopping no deal, and everything to do with stopping Brexit altogether. What a disgrace.
When David Cameron called the referendum he certainly never envisaged losing, but if a Government calls a referendum, it must be prepared for any outcome and must respect it. A Government does not respect a referendum by repeatedly trying again until it gets the result that it wants. Various figures in the SNP, including Alex Neil, Kenny Gibson, and even Pete Wishart, recognise the danger to the SNP of repeating referendums on the EU—should Scotland ever vote for independence.
I felt very let down by Mr Cameron when he resigned as Prime Minister. He should have swallowed his pride and got on with the job, which he was good at. Theresa May, who also wanted to remain, told us that Brexit means Brexit, but, of course, it did not, once we caved in and took the option of no deal off the table. Why would anyone take seriously in a negotiation someone who was not prepared to walk away? Europe has not taken us seriously and it does not. That is why we still have the appalling spectacle of Monsieur Barnier insisting that the Irish backstop will remain.
“We continue to believe that no deal is better than a bad deal for the UK.”
That is my view, and given that Parliament has rejected the only deal on the table three times, then no deal really is all that is left—or remaining.
As Ruth Davidson said in her dignified resignation press conference last week, those who have rejected the deal need to get behind a new deal when it comes. Members of my own party certainly do, if the Prime Minister succeeds in persuading the burghers of Brussels to shift.
What of the other parties? What—if any—deal would the SNP, the Greens, the Lib Dems or Labour be happy with? Do they even respect the referendum result? It does not look like it, and if the people’s vote to leave was overturned by the Westminster Parliament, what would the SNP think about that precedent being set? What if we had a situation where Scotland had voted for independence, only for a pro-union Parliament to be elected here, which then blocked it?
Once we have a result in a referendum, we must act on it. The real threat to democracy is not a Prime Minister intent on giving the people what they voted for; it is a cabal of preening and posturing politicians who are not the slightest bit interested in what the people think.
Anyway, what is this no deal that people talk about? Hundreds of agreements are being reached, on cross-border transport, airports, shipping, insurance and foreign residency status. Even the deputy mayor of Calais admits that there will be no hold-ups for British trucks. Finally, I think that I am well within my time, so I will ask this question. If the situation was that Scotland had voted for independence, would the SNP ever be prepared to leave with no deal? If so, what is it that SNP members are complaining about?
Graham Simpson gave at the beginning of his speech a helpful resumé regarding the number of occasions on which Parliament has discussed Brexit and its implications. That highlighted the importance that the Scottish Parliament and Government place on Brexit and its implications for all constituents across the country, whether we have a deal or no deal.
On Mr Simpson’s point about democracy, I remind him that 62 per cent of the population of Scotland voted to remain in the EU. Parliament is talking about the issues that really matter to the population of Scotland and is highlighting the implications of Brexit, whether we have a deal or no deal.
Historians will be writing about the events of Brexit for decades to come, but in that time, how many lives will have been changed for the worse if we leave the EU with no deal? I voted to remain and would do so again tomorrow. I do not believe for a minute that the EU is a perfect organisation, but given the many things that have been shown about the UK political system and the so-called mother of Parliaments, it is clear that the UK is broken beyond repair. The EU functions, and it is getting on with work for its citizens. At its centre, it has determination to support all its members. If the UK wants to take a lesson from the EU—it probably will not—that lesson should be about how a union looks after its members. That is what a union of equals is all about—unlike what we see now in the discredited United Kingdom.
I do not want a no-deal exit, because that would be catastrophic for many of my constituents, as well as for many more people across Scotland and elsewhere in these islands. The fact that the Prime Minister has been determined to deliver a no-deal exit highlights how out of touch with reality he is. However, as we all know, he is a Prime Minister in name only. His power has been removed and even his brother has given up the ghost.
Various reports and commentators have highlighted why a no-deal exit would be disastrous. Unite the union raised its concerns in a letter to all members of the Scottish Parliament during the summer. It said:
“With the spectre of a no deal Brexit looming, we have grave concerns over existing legislation which maintains safety and standards on UK roads. We are seeing attacks on drivers’ regulations in the United States and with the much reported discussions on a UK/US trade deal we believe that the government may have similar plans.”
According to yesterday’s
Financial Times, an interesting recent report by the initiative called the UK in a changing Europe says that
“‘no deal will not get Brexit done’ and instead would be the start of a ‘period of prolonged uncertainty for citizens, workers and businesses’”.
The report goes on to say that
“A recession is highly probable—but its depth and severity are uncertain”.
Anand Menon, who is a director of the UK in a Changing Europe, and who has given evidence to the Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee, has highlighted that one of the most challenging effects of a no-deal exit would be the long-term consequences, starting with the problem that Britain would still need to negotiate a deal with its largest trading partner but would be doing so from a more difficult position. For Scotland, which exports goods worth £14.9 billion to the EU, that would be hugely damaging. Furthermore, the Fraser of Allander institute, which has also given evidence to the committee, has suggested that
“EU exports ... are—on their own—nearly as much as Scotland exports to North America, Central and South America, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Australasia combined”.
If the Tories do not believe the Fraser of Allander institute, they can look at their own UK Government’s analysis, which is devastating. It states that no deal could leave the UK economy 6.3 per cent to 9 per cent smaller after 15 years than it would otherwise have been. It says that the worst-hit areas economically in a no-deal scenario would be Wales, with an 8.1 per cent hit, 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 UK Government also points out that disruption to cross-Channel trade could lead to delays in UK food supply, 30 per cent of which comes from the EU. The possible disruption to cross-Channel trade
“would lead to reduced availability and choice of products.”
The analysis also warned that
“some food prices are likely to increase, and there is a risk that consumer behaviour could exacerbate, or create, shortages in this scenario.”
The Tories have stated—
I will, in a moment. The Tories have stated, a nd will continue to do so, that they want a deal to be done so that no deal is not an option. However, the powerless Prime Minister has sent a negotiator to Brussels who is not negotiating. The Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts, who is on the EU’s Brexit steering group and who has also spoken to the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, was pretty clear last night on the Channel 4 News when he was asked the question about negotiation. I will not use his exact words, but he said that it is BS. He also said:
“There’s no negotiations, simply because the British position is to say, ‘We don’t want the backstop’, and ‘We don’t want the backstop.’ Has there been a counter proposal? There has been nothing. So, basically they are saying, ‘Come back with something that pleases us’. That is not a negotiation.”
People realise that Westminster does not work, and the gaming and downright lies that have been told in order to remove the UK from the EU have alerted many people to the disintegration of the political elite, who are hell-bent on making people poorer.
The oft-used phrase “Perfidious Albion” is just so apt for today’s situation.
This Parliament and the UK Parliament are supposed to be representative parliamentary democracies in which power is loaned by the people to MSPs and MPs to exercise for a term of that Parliament, be it four, five or any other number of years.
Throughout the Brexit referendum and since, we have heard much comment and spurious rhetoric from Johnson, Gove and the rest about taking back control, the need to restore UK sovereignty, the desire to make our own democratic decisions, the rights of the people and the primacy of the House of Commons. Great pronouncements were made championing parliamentary democracy and the will of the people.
However, what we have seen this week was an attempt to trash all that and to undermine parliamentary sovereignty, and an attempt to circumvent the very representative democracy that they claimed Brexit was going to restore.
I regularly read in the media that class is no longer an issue in our politics; we hear pundits and commentators tell us that it is an outdated concept. Well, I have to say, if anyone who has watched the antics of Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and the rest of the Bullingdon boys this week thinks that class is irrelevant in our politics, they need to lay off the cooking sherry.
What we saw was an attempted establishment coup. What we saw was an arrogant abuse of power on a scale that has not been seen in modern British political history. These were not jolly public school dormitory japes, but the antics of a bunch of privileged, arrogant, elitist, sinister and entitled proven liars who are corrupting our democracy, trying to close the doors of our Parliament and, like thieves in the night, trying to steal the rights of every citizen in the land.
Their contempt was epitomised by the sight the other night of Rees-Mogg lounging on the House of Commons benches as though he owned the place. All he needed was his nanny to come along with his teddy and cocoa and tuck him in for the night. Who do these people think they are? What right do they have to try to take away all our rights and the rights of all the people whom we and they represent? That power is not theirs to give away simply because the Government of the day cannot secure a majority for its bigoted, dangerous and irresponsible no-deal agenda.
It will not be Rees-Mogg who will lose his business because of Brexit uncertainty—he has already relocated it to Dublin. Boris Johnson is not a Honda worker in Swindon who will lose his job because of this shambles. Gove is not a small food producer who has no idea how he will manage to export his produce in a few weeks if Britain leaves the EU without a deal.
Mr Rennie really needs to keep up. I urge him to pay a bit more attention to what is going on.
Those Tories’ inherited wealth, shareholdings and investments, and their highly paid newspaper columns and speeches will see them through quite nicely, untouched by the crisis that will have a catastrophic impact on working people if the no-deal scenario prevails.
I never thought that, in my lifetime, I would see a Prime Minster, who was elected by a tiny number of Tory party members and who has no popular democratic mandate and zero legitimacy or credibility, use threats, patronage, expulsion, lies, arrogance and deception to close down our Parliament—a move that has been supported by every single subservient brown-nosing Scottish Tory MP. They must—and will—be held to account for their actions.
Imagine the reaction of the establishment if a Labour Prime Minister could not get legislation through and so decided to close down Parliament. We would see the media, the judiciary, the security services and all arms of the state deployed to bring that Government down. What about the hypocrisy of the Tories who raise concerns about democracy in China, Russia, the middle east or Latin America and who then go on to vote to close down our democratically elected Parliament? What a bunch of charlatans they are. We must prevent a no-deal exit—for the sake of our jobs, our economy, the health and education of our people and our children’s future. For so many reasons we must prevent the disaster that a no-deal scenario would bring.
This week, the UK economy was threatened by the actions of the Prime Minister and his Government. However, on Tuesday, the Westminster Parliament did its job in defeating the Government’s march towards no deal. Members of Parliament of all parties stood up for the rights of their constituents over those of the Executive, which is a good thing. In the House of Commons, 21 Tories stood up against that march. However, in this Parliament, every one of the Tory MSPs who cheered on Theresa May’s deal now cheer on Boris Johnson’s attempt to get no deal. Not one of them has any credibility or backbone.
We must sit up straight in this place. Each member has a chair, a desk and a lectern. It is no place for lounging, because this is a Parliament whose members come here to work and to represent the people who elect us.
I am sure that, over the past while, we have all watched more television coverage of the Westminster Parliament than we care to remember. All that that has done for me is to reaffirm the political beliefs that I have held all my life. We have seen the pomp, the arrogance and the sheer entitlement on display. My opinion of our esteemed mother of all Parliaments has slumped faster than Jacob Rees-Mogg down those green leather benches.
However, above all that, what angers me the most is the game playing and the joy that the Tories take in plotting chess moves with which they will always win and my constituents will be the losers. In my constituency, Brexit is not a game—it is about life. It is about my constituents’ rights to stay here, their jobs, the cost of what it takes to feed their families, all the days lost to the Brexit debate that could have been spent tackling poverty in their communities, and the fear that they are no longer welcome to call this country home.
In Mid Fife and Glenrothes, we like to make things that travel around the world—from Tanqueray gin at the Cameron Bridge distillery to the aluminium pigment used in car paint that is made at Silberline in Leven. Thanks to the Scottish Government, we are now welcoming the return of Leven’s railway after half a century—an investment that will be transformational for the communities that I serve.
Contrast that with the behaviour of a UK Government that is hellbent on making business for the communities that I serve harder. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has confirmed that food prices would rise after a no-deal Brexit. He told Andrew Marr:
“I think that there are a number of economic factors in play. Some prices may go up. Other prices will come down.”
Mibbes aye, mibbes naw.
That is not good enough. It is not good enough for the one in three children in my constituency who is growing up in poverty; not good enough for the mum in Glenrothes who can barely afford to feed herself, never mind her four hungry children; not good enough for the pensioner in Kennoway who is forced to live in just one room of his house because he cannot afford the heating bills. No deal is not good enough for my constituents who live with long-term health conditions such as diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The leaked documents from the UK Government’s operation yellowhammer tell us that medical supplies will be
“vulnerable to severe extended delays”, as three quarters of the UK’s medicines enter the country via the main Channel crossings. Glenrothes already has the highest percentages for hospitalisation for COPD in Fife. It is not good enough.
Today’s Conservative amendment asks the chamber to support
“the UK Government in reaching a deal with the EU.”
However, that premise accepts that the UK Government actually wants a deal. Perhaps the Scottish Tories might listen to one of their own on this “absurd” argument that Boris is trying to get a deal:
“He’s obviously not trying to get a deal ... he’s dug himself in, he assumes he’s going to get no deal. Because he can’t get the right wing of the Conservative Party, many of them now stuck in his Cabinet, to agree to it.”
Those are not my words, but those of Ken Clarke, who was this week expelled from the Conservative Party, making him the first independent MP to hold the position of the father of the house since 1815. From the rape clause debate to the debate on gender representation on public boards, Ruth’s Tories have already proven themselves entirely incapable of doing the right thing in this place. Now, even Ruth knows that the game’s a bogey. In July, she said:
“I don’t think the government should pursue a no-deal Brexit and, if it comes to it, I won’t support it.”
Yet not a single one of her MSPs can admit it, and not a single one of them will vote to rule out no deal at 5 o’clock tonight, because—ultimately—they believe that this Parliament should be subservient.
I do not know what deal he is talking about—there is no deal. He is living in a fantasy land. Boris has not secured a deal—it does not exist.
Boris Johnson is exactly who the Scottish Tories would rather have in charge of this. Boris, whose comments led to the imprisonment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe; Boris, who compared women who wear burqas and niqabs to letterboxes; Boris, who yesterday referred to the leader of the opposition as a “big girl’s blouse”.
Then again, why should we expect any more from a group of individuals who will soon be led by Murdo Fraser? Talking of the ridiculous, I will return to Jacob Rees-Mogg. In 1997, he stood in the Central Fife constituency against one Henry McLeish and my predecessor, Tricia Marwick. As Neil Findlay mentioned, it is a well-known story that Rees-Mogg took his nanny out on the campaign trail. He confirmed as much, stating:
“I was going to take my Bentley, but she”— that is the nanny, by the way—
“wisely said that this would be seen as ostentatious and I should take Mummy’s Mercedes instead.”
Suffice it to say that mummy’s Mercedes did not go down well in Leven, where he referred to those claiming benefits as
“the scourge of the earth.”
Let us return to what a no-deal Brexit will mean for our constituents: fewer jobs, food shortages and depleted medical supplies. All of that is confirmed by the UK Government’s own analysis. What is left of the United Kingdom is a place that is being governed by a party that has deselected Winston Churchill’s grandson. The father of the house said that he did not recognise his party. As he put it:
“It’s been taken over by a” bizarre
“character” and the
The Tories’ amendment is worse than total rubbish; it lacks any suggestion of a political backbone. The time for Ruth’s Tories to prove their worth has long since passed—we all know that they are Boris’s backers now. I just hope that their unwavering loyalty pays them the dividend that they deserve at the ballot box.
Mr Russell and I may not agree on many things politically, not least Scotland’s position in the UK or—as we now know—the UK’s position in Europe. However, I have participated in many debates like this one—some of the 34 that were mentioned—and I have listened to the discourse between those on these benches and those on Mr Russell’s. At times over the past few years, I have respected his academic approach to the arguments that he makes while disrespecting the motions that he has penned.
However, today’s motion is different and I am surprised by it. I am surprised not least that, after two months of this Parliament being in recess, the Government chose to donate such a chunk of the precious nine hours for which we sit each week to Mr Russell for him to repeat the same well-rehearsed mantras about Brexit and his opposition to the Conservatives in Westminster: 34 debates—every one another chapter for his book.
I have heard no suggestions from SNP members about what MSPs are expected to do about how the UK exits the EU or what we are supposed to do to alter the dates or duration of the prorogation of Westminster. It is the full outrage of the SNP over Brexit that is as confusing as it is predictable, because Michael Russell’s motion asks us to condemn a no-deal Brexit, yet there is no type of Brexit that the SNP would support.
The SNP has been nothing but obstructive and obtrusive throughout the entire process. SNP members here can protest otherwise, but their colleagues will be judged on their track record in Westminster. They voted against triggering article 50 in the first place and they refused to accept the democratic result of the UK-wide referendum—the SNP has never been very good at accepting the results of referendums. They voted for extensions to article 50, trying to delay Brexit. They voted against a sensible withdrawal deal not once or twice but three times and, each time, they made no deal more likely. They voted against the deal that was designed to secure EU citizens’ rights, agree our financial exit from Europe and, more importantly, enter into the transition that business was crying out for. They voted for Parliament to take control over House of Commons business, undermining the Government’s ability to negotiate, and they voted for the no-deal bill, handing all the negotiating power back to Brussels on a plate.
There is no version of Brexit—deal or no deal—that the SNP would support, so why are SNP members pretending that it is this or that type of Brexit that offends them so? Graham Simpson is absolutely right: more than 1 million Scots voted to leave the EU and they must have a voice in this debate and in this Parliament.
Who were those million people? They were Conservative voters, Labour voters and some of them were SNP voters. Some were voters of no political persuasion. Time after time, they have to sit and listen to debates such as this and endure a narrative that says that their votes do not count. Their votes matter to the members on the Conservative benches. It was a UK-wide referendum. I know that the SNP does not want the UK per se to exist, but it does exist. It is what Scotland voted for and it is about time that the SNP accepted that.
I have always said that we should leave the EU with a deal. However, presented with that challenge, Westminster would not let it happen. The question now is, if presented with a deal—be it the withdrawal agreement that was previously agreed with the EU27 or another deal—will SNP MPs get behind and vote for it, or are they so ideologically opposed to Brexit that they will oppose any form of deal? Today’s motion does not even seek to answer that question.
If the EU’s position is that it will not even negotiate with the UK on its future relationship with the EU until after the UK has left the union, what makes Nicola Sturgeon so sure that Scotland’s experience with Europe would be any different? Can members imagine a scenario at an SNP conference—
I will echo Ruth Davidson’s words from the speech that she gave the media last week. She urged all MPs—who have a duty in Westminster—to support a deal. I do not want no deal, the country does not want it and I hope that our MPs do not want it, either. The reality is that they have to vote for a deal for it to happen, and I hope that they do.
Members on the Conservative benches are the only members in this chamber who will respect the outcome of the referendum, who want Scotland to come out of the hated common fisheries policy and who do not want to hand those powers straight back to Brussels. We want a deal and we will support the UK Government in getting one .
I say to Mr Russell that actions speak louder than words. If he wants a deal, he must stop grandstanding and instruct his MPs to vote for one.
The Independent newspaper reports that
Our colleague Donald Cameron is a serious man, with a demonstrated ability to think through complicated issues and break them down into solvable bite-size chunks—the attributes of the Scottish advocate down the ages. However, today’s amendment in his name falls substantially short of what his pupil master would have required of him in his days of training as an advocate.
Proper parliamentary procedures continue in the Scottish Parliament—they have been abandoned by a Prime Minister who is yet to win any vote in the house of which he should remember that he is a servant. Here, our duty is to offer sober-minded dissection of even the most obtuse proposal, so I will consider the three planks of Mr Cameron’s amendment.
First, we are asked to respect the referendum result. There has always been a fundamental conflict between the 2014 and 2016 referendums. A key reason why the argument for Scottish independence was lost in 2014 was the Scottish people’s attachment—later proved, in the 2016 vote—to our membership of the EU. The no campaign asserted that Scotland could remain in the EU only if it rejected independence. My side of the argument then lacked the ammunition that would convincingly rebut that—now provably implausible—argument.
In passing, I note that many of my constituents see opportunity—even a sea of opportunity—in leaving the common fisheries policy, which is a policy that only the SNP has always opposed. [
.] The Tories had better keep listening. However, many of my constituents also see the ruin that awaits our fish processors as a result of Theresa May’s choice of the method of exit.
At 8.58 this morning, I received an email from the largest fish processing firm, which I am able to quote on the record. I will read out exactly what it says:
“The Scottish Conservatives today in Edinburgh Parliament will hit their normal drum of stating that the Conservatives are ‘champions’ of the Scottish Fishing Industry ... From my end I am very clear: leaving the EU without a deal will cause long term damage to the fishing industry, both the catching and onshore sector and will result in a considerable economic loss to our coastal communities. A ‘no deal Exit’ has to be avoided at all cost.”
It goes on:
“I wish you well in the debate ... all sectors of the Scottish economy will be adversely affected and damaged through the actions of a Conservative group of UK Ministers driven by a right wing ideology. It has to be stopped.”
That is from the fishing industry—the one area in Scotland that might have been expected to benefit from a proper exit. The industry clearly sees that what the Tories are progressing will not benefit it.
The conflict between the two referendums defeats the argument behind the first plank of the Tory amendment. The second plank is the call for a “negotiated exit”. We know that there is no negotiation, so no negotiated exit is in prospect. Mr Johnson is not negotiating. No proposals have been tabled. My long history of business negotiation has persuaded me that going into a negotiation with a blank sheet of paper and waving that paper under the noses of the people at the other side of the table does not progress the negotiation.
It is clear that Johnson has spent too much time with Trump and is adopting Trump’s relationship with truth, rationality and clarity.
On the third plank of the Tory amendment, I do not know how one reaches a deal when one refuses to allow civil servants to engage meaningfully with the EU and politicians carry blank sheets of paper to Brussels.
As Yogi Berra said:
“If you don’t know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else.”
As a lawyer, Donald Cameron will be familiar with the saying:
“A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”
It is perhaps time to update that old saying: a man who journeys without a map will never know his destination.
The Tories: clueless; leaderless; mapless. The Tories: beyond reason; beyond parody; beyond hope.
The country has never been so divided, and it feels irreversibly so. It is hard to see how we can undo the damage to British politics as the Tory party continues to preside over Brexit and probably destroys itself in the process.
According to Tory peer William Waldegrave—a man whom I never thought that I would quote—Britain has lost touch with its position in the world. He said:
“Whatever happens about Brexit, Britain is going to change forever.”
After Brexit, we will be a diminished country and we will have less influence in the world without our partners and other EU members. We are not even out of the European Union, but we already do not recognise the country that we live in, with people stockpiling medicines and food.
The party of Thatcher, Major and Heath is fixated only on the issue of Brexit. As others have said, the Conservative Party will be without Kenneth Clarke, Rory Stewart, Nicholas Soames and all the moderates who we have come to know. Although we may disagree with them, they are, nonetheless, moderates. They have been threatened by their own leader and purged by their own party for opposing the Johnson-Cummings plan and standing up for what they believe in.
The deeply cynical behaviour of the current Cabinet was best summed up by Nicholas Soames when he thanked members of the Cabinet by saying that their
“serial disloyalty has been such an inspiration to so many of us.”—[
, 4 September 2019; Vol 664, c 235.]
I have never heard of such a hypocritical Cabinet in my life.
I found it quite amusing last week when the journalist Steve Richard first described Philip Hammond as Britain’s own Che Guevara. In all seriousness, I think that history will judge Philip Hammond as someone who did the right thing—when the time came, he stood up for what he believed in.
I say to Jamie Greene and others that that is what tonight is about. Tonight is about whether the parties in this Parliament can find a consensus that, no matter what we think about Brexit, a no-deal exit is damaging and not desirable. Actually, it would be sad if the Scottish Tories cannot find it in themselves today to stand with the rest of us and send a clear message that no deal is unacceptable. I thought that that was the one thing on which we could agree.
It is quite clear where Ruth Davidson—the most popular Tory leader of all time—stands on the issue. I say to Tory members that they have lost their way if they do not come to that conclusion at 5 pm tonight. If you cannot stand up and be counted in this place when we know, as other members have recounted, the real and present danger of a no deal, you not only risk betraying the poorest of people—I would go as far as to say that you would be betraying the values of your own party if you do not make clear your position on no deal tonight.
You have had three years! The Tory party has had three years to deliver Brexit, but we have not seen a credible deal.
I think that Jamie Greene knows. I think that you are pretending that you do not know the purpose of tonight. If, as you said, you really oppose no deal, I challenge you to vote on that basis tonight.
Donald Cameron said that Scottish businesses want a deal. That is not really true—most Scottish businesses have said that they would take a deal. There is a difference between wanting and taking a deal.
I am sorry, but I have got only six minutes so I cannot take a further intervention.
Achieving an orderly departure after three years was the Tories’ responsibility and you have absolutely failed.
If you look back at the speeches that I have made in this place, you will see that I have supported a form of Brexit that would best protect the people and the lives of our economy, but that has never really been on the table, and I do not need to point out that the withdrawal agreement is not a deal.
I have come to realise that leaving Europe regardless of the consequences is the primary objective of the leave camp, and it has concealed the true damaging consequences of doing that from people.
It is interesting that the question of Northern Ireland and the peace that was achieved by your party’s contribution has not been mentioned. I and others know that, through a no-deal Brexit, there will be decades of austerity, which is why I feel so strongly about it.
People are entitled to know the truth. The leaked UK Government operation yellowhammer report revealed the probable consequences of leaving without a deal. People have a right to know that. I do not see why it was a secret document. We know that there will be transport disruption across the Channel and that there will be immigration checks. We do not know the half of what might come about. World trade terms leave Britain exposed to high tariffs that we cannot control. I do not see why you would trust Donald Trump to give Britain a decent set of trade terms, when he is already at war with China and Canada over steel imports. That is not a man who can be trusted to strike a trade deal.
I will not take lessons on democracy from the Tory party, which, this week, has thwarted the mother of Parliaments, threatening its own MPs for standing for what they believe in. It either believes that Parliament is sovereign or it does not.
On this occasion and on this motion, I will be proud to stand with every single member in this Parliament on the single message that a no-deal Brexit is not acceptable to Scotland and that it is not in the interests of Scottish people.
If you are a politician who has come here to stand up for working people, you have a duty to support and vote for this motion tonight. Thereafter, we can argue about the things that we disagree on but, tonight, you have to vote against no deal.
I do not like being pernickety, but that is my job. The term “you” should not be used directly towards each other. I understand that people get excited, but they should try to desist.
In 2016, the idea of the UK leaving the EU without a deal seemed impossible. Over the past three years, like everybody else, I have watched with horror as that became a possibility, then a likelihood and now, with only a matter of weeks remaining, a real and present danger to our country.
As others have said before me today, a no-deal Brexit is unthinkable—it would have catastrophic economic and social effects. That is widely accepted by people, whether, like me, they voted to remain or they voted to leave. Leave voters to whom I have spoken did not cast their votes to damage the economy or to leave themselves and their friends, family and neighbours unemployed.
The situation has again laid bare the unequal state of this so-called union of equals and the huge democratic deficit that we have. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain and we have reiterated that wish at every election since the vote. However, we are being ignored. We are told that we voted as a UK and that we must accept the decisions that are made for us. To my mind, people who continually use that argument do not understand the principles of self-determination, devolution and equality in decision making.
Scotland deserves better. The people and businesses in my constituency of Coatbridge and Chryston deserve better. EU nationals who call Scotland their home deserve better. Over the past year, like many colleagues, I have been engaging directly with EU nationals in my constituency, and the message from them is clear. They want to stay, to continue to provide in the amazing ways that they do and to do what is best for this country.
Hundreds turned up to an EU surgery that I held on 7 December, at which it was clear that what was going on was an attack on their basic human rights. My constituents were concerned about the homes that they had bought, the rights of their children who were born here, where they stood with the permanent jobs that they were committed to, the pensions that they had contributed to and the access that they would have to healthcare.
My constituents are right to be concerned. Only this week, the Home Secretary had to backtrack on the vow to end the freedom of movement for EU nationals on 31 October. That was not because she had a change of heart; it was because lawyers and policy experts deemed it impossible to implement.
That is not what Scotland wants. We are an open, inclusive and welcoming country. Of course, I believe that independence is the best way for us to achieve our potential but, at a minimum, power over immigration should be devolved to us in order to allow us to treat people with humanity and to grow our economy.
It has been said time and again in the chamber, but I must repeat that a no-deal Brexit will be disastrous for Scotland. No sector of the Scottish economy will be unscathed by Brexit.
In February, a Scottish Government report showed us that a no-deal Brexit could lead to our gross domestic product dropping by 7 per cent. If anyone needs a reminder of how bad no deal would be, here is a recap of what was found in the operation yellowhammer Cabinet contingency papers—lower food stocks hitting our most vulnerable groups, medical supply shortages, petrol import tariffs leading to job losses and impacting fuel supplies, shortages in social care and a return of a hard border in Ireland. Does this Tory Government know no bounds at a time when people are struggling under austerity and welfare cuts?
Only a couple of weeks ago, I put out an appeal for Coatbridge food bank, which was struggling for supplies. Of course, the people of Coatbridge and Chryston responded with their usual generosity and kindness, but it is a pretty grim state of affairs to be in in the first place—and what does our elitist Government think is a good idea? Oh yeah, a Brexit cliff edge. The UK Government is not a Government that is standing up for ordinary families in Scotland or across the UK, but if the Tories are not the people for people, surely they are the people for business. Not in my area. The number of businesses in Coatbridge and Chryston that have come to me to say that they are worried about Brexit and the impact on their mainly local workforce is staggering.
In 2014, the Tories told Scotland that we would be better together and that we would be stronger as a union. I hope that the irony of those sentiments is not lost on the chamber this afternoon—I do not think that it is. Never have Holyrood and Westminster been on such different paths. While Westminster is in chaos, this week the Scottish Government launched another progressive and exciting programme for government, with climate change, fairness and social justice at its heart. It is clear that we are on different paths.
During the debate, someone from my office has been in touch to say that they have been speaking to someone today who has just had their settled status denied by the UK Government. The individual has been asked for further evidence—a letter from their employer, a letter from their university and a letter from the school they attended several years ago. She has been here for eight years already and she is being asked for that information. This is an attack on human rights—it is staggering. That is a real-life example, texted to me this afternoon while we have been having this debate.
There is little doubt that we are moving towards a general election—the sooner, the better, I say. It is clear that Scotland must be given a choice over our own future. It is time for Scotland’s future to be firmly in Scotland’s hands.
It will come as no surprise to the chamber that I shall not be voting for the SNP motion and that I commend the Conservative amendment.
We need to be clear about where we started. In a UK-wide referendum on 23 June 2016, 17.4 million people cast their vote for leave while 16.1 million people voted remain. It was a straight question, which—despite what has just been asserted—was not caveated by considerations of a second referendum, the form of any deal or indeed whether any deal would be struck.
I was one of those who voted remain, but the voters of the UK disagreed with me, in what was arguably the largest democratic exercise ever seen in this country. I am a democrat, which means that I do not think it appropriate to say to people that, because they voted differently from me, they must have been mistaken or misguided and we should have another go.
The member says that the referendum was the largest democratic event in the UK. Does he not agree that it is a pity that European Union citizens in the UK did not get a choice to take part in that exercise, as they would have done in Scottish Parliament or council elections or in a referendum from this place?
The point is that the form of the referendum and the franchise and electorate for it were all agreed. Everything about it was agreed beforehand. That gives the lie to the proposition that the people did not know what they were voting for.
Parliament voted to hold that referendum and the people delivered a result. It is incumbent upon our elected representatives to respect that vote and to act on it, as they said they would when the referendum was called.
In that context, however, I agree with Donald Cameron that the rational and sensible thing to do is to strike a deal with the EU to ensure that our leaving is as frictionless as possible. It makes sense to me, when a relationship such as that between the UK and the EU fundamentally changes, for both parties to agree on how that relationship will look going forward, and that is why the UK Government has been clear that it has never pursued a no-deal Brexit. It is clear that the UK Government has always seen a negotiated exit from the EU as the best outcome, and that is evidenced, in that MPs have had three opportunities to vote on a deal. The Prime Minister has said repeatedly that we want to do a deal, and we have seen movement in Brussels.
I apologise to Mr Findlay. I had better not take the intervention.
That shows why the SNP motion should be rejected, because what it demonstrates beyond all doubt is that there is a paucity of commercial experience in the SNP ranks and/or that those in the SNP who have some commercial experience have spent too long out of the world of negotiation. To those with any commercial nous, it is almost trite that one cannot present a single proposition without a fallback—a walk-away position. We do not negotiate by saying, “This is what we want, and if you don’t like it, well, that’s okay—what would you give us instead?” That is an extraordinary position for this Parliament to be asked to take.
If we truly want to act in the national interest, we must surely support the Prime Minister and the UK Government in their efforts to renegotiate the deal and leave on 31 October, but we must do that in circumstances where the EU—
On the contrary, we heard from Donald Cameron earlier just how much is going on to secure that deal.
At the end of the day, the SNP is not serious. Just this week,
Nicola Sturgeon claimed:
“Scottish National Party MPs will do everything possible to stop the UK crashing out of the European Union without a deal.”—[
, 3 September 2019; c 15.]
The question that that begs is simple—“Why didn’t they?” The withdrawal agreement was brought forward three times, and the people of Scotland will not forget that not one of the SNP MPs voted for the very thing that would have taken a no-deal Brexit off the table; they voted against it despite the fact that it met their demands—“everything possible” indeed.
Whether it conformed with our personal vote or not, the people of the United Kingdom voted that the UK should leave the EU, and Parliament voted to trigger article 50 to effect that exit. Fulton MacGregor opines that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous, and maybe he is right. That is why I welcome the Prime Minister’s attempts to reach a deal with the EU, and I believe that the Scottish Parliament should support and not undermine that.
That is the crucial difference between the Scottish Conservatives and the SNP. We respect referendums in which people have their say even when we might not agree with the result. I and many unionists across Scotland—including Willie Rennie, I was glad to hear earlier—are incandescent about the SNP trying to use our votes to remain in the EU as proxy votes to drag Scotland out of the United Kingdom. A million people in Scotland who voted to leave expect their democratic votes to be respected, and all of us in this Parliament who are genuine believers in democracy expect it, too.
I have a confession to make. As I watched Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the house in that wonderful mother of all Parliaments, recline languidly on the front bench during the debate on Tuesday night, I initially felt a wee bit sorry for him. It was late, they had had a long day and it must be tiring in that uncomfortable chamber with its ridiculous customs and archaic way of doing business. However, that flash of empathy soon left me. With his entitlement, arrogance and disdain for colleagues, the reason why he could so comfortably lounge around during an important debate—I believe that the point stands for most if not all of the current Westminster Government—is that it does not matter to them what happens. They will be cushioned and protected. None of this will impact on their families or their friends. Their privilege means that they can treat this like a game. However, it is not a game.
Exiting the EU with no deal would be an economic catastrophe for Scotland and would undoubtedly cause real harm to the most vulnerable in the communities that we are here to represent. The Tories’ own analysis shows just how devastating a no-deal scenario would be, but they do not think that we should rule it out. Thirty per cent of our food comes from the EU, and disruption to cross-channel trade
“would lead to reduced availability and choice of products”.
The analysis warned that food prices are likely to increase and that there is a risk that consumer behaviour could exacerbate or create shortages. Some of us are already seeing examples of that changing consumer behaviour. People tell me that they are stockpiling food, but much more important than that are the many people in my constituency who simply will not have the resources to do that. Food shortages in 2019 in a country as wealthy as ours are absolutely shameful.
As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to provide reassurance where we can. However, I cannot provide reassurance on that, and I will freely admit how concerned I am. As with most things, the most vulnerable will be hit the hardest, and the wealthy and privileged will be cushioned. This is the only time in my adult life when the more I have learned about something, the worse I have felt about it and the less able I have been to provide reassurance.
In an open letter to all UK party leaders that demands action to stop a no-deal exit from the European Union, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations reiterated who will feel the pain and highlighted the hugely negative impact that a no-deal Brexit could have on staffing. It said that a no-deal exit could
“wreck communities, lives and organisations that so many people rely upon.”
The work of the voluntary and third sectors in Scotland is vital to our communities. There are more than 40,000 voluntary sector organisations, and every member will know of such organisations in their constituencies and regions. They are central to the quality of our constituents’ lives. They already operate in some of the most challenging situations, and they deliver vital work in a time of huge budget constraint. We should listen and act when the SCVO describes leaving the EU without a deal as a “reckless act” and states:
“it is clear that increased demand for assistance, coupled with a loss of funding and staff will undoubtedly see charities collapse and leave a vacuum of support that cannot be filled.”
We know that many voluntary and third sector organisations are involved in providing health and social care services alongside the national health service and local authority provision. A no-deal Brexit would have damaging and lasting consequences for our health and social care systems and would impact on some of those who need the most support.
Six per cent of the current health and social care workforce are non-UK nationals. Their contribution is greatly valued, and I am heartsick that they feel unwelcome in this country.
UK immigration policy after leaving the EU could create a barrier to entry level routes into health and care professions. Salaries in social care in particular would not meet the Tory Government’s proposed minimum threshold, with average salaries closer to £18,000. Does making an assessment of the amount of money that someone will have rather than of the skills that they bring or the needs that our community has for those skills not say everything about the Tories? The UK Government’s immigration plans could reduce the number of workers in Scotland by up to 5 per cent. We need to increase our workforce here, not reduce it.
Despite attempts to spin otherwise, Boris Johnson’s attempts to shut down Parliament in order to force through a no-deal exit from the EU are an outrageous assault on democratic principles. There is no democracy, security or prosperity for Scotland in Boris Johnson’s Brexit Britain. The people of Scotland deserve so much better, and I hope that MSPs will act accordingly this evening.
It is right that Parliament has the opportunity to speak out on the issue of a no-deal Brexit. Let us be absolutely clear: a no-deal Brexit would be an absolute disaster.
As Mike Russell pointed out, it would be even more severe than many commentators realise. If we look at just its economic impact and what would derive from that, we see that it would have a drastic impact on our communities. Think of the collapse of trading arrangements and trading agreements and the jobs that that would cost in economies not just in Scotland but throughout the United Kingdom. The knock-on effect of that is that people would lose their jobs. It would drive up already drastic poverty levels and, as we have heard, there would be a shortage of medicines in the NHS, meaning that people would become more vulnerable and more ill.
The impact on UK and Scottish budgets would also be more severe. With less money in the economy and fewer people paying taxes, budgets would be driven down and we would see more severe cuts and a drastic impact on public services. That is the reality of no deal, and it is right that Parliament should speak out to reject it.
I was surprised to hear Donald Cameron defend the suspension of Parliament. As Alex Rowley quite rightly said, it is really an attempt to shut down democracy and close down debate. Boris Johnson and his cohorts realise that they do not have the votes or the support in Parliament for a no-deal Brexit, so they have tried to shut down the operation as much as possible to get to 31 October. It is right that Parliament has spoken out and reacted against that this week.
Liam Kerr gave us the impression that Boris Johnson and the Tories want a deal, but the evidence points to the fact that Boris Johnson does not want a deal. He was elected as Prime Minister on 24 July. It is now 5 September, which is more than seven weeks down the line. As we have heard in this debate, he is still to put any proposal to the EU so we cannot take seriously the claims that Boris Johnson or other Tories want a deal. The strategy has been devised by Dominic Cummings to crash out with a no-deal Brexit and to try to drive towards an election. As Willie Rennie pointed out, they are trying to buy off the Brexit Party and return these right-wing Tories to power.
As Ross Greer pointed out, the Tories are in chaos. Boris Johnson has been in Parliament for only three days and he has lost three votes. His credibility has been severely undermined by the way in which he has treated some in his party by sacking 21 MPs for having a different view on such an important issue.
Neil Findlay was right to point out the hypocrisy of the Scottish Tories. They must be ashamed. I sit on the Finance and Constitution Committee with Murdo Fraser. We have looked at Brexit issues and, earlier in the year, all the Tories on the committee, including Murdo Fraser and Adam Tomkins, signed up to make it clear that no deal would not be a desirable outcome. That is what the Tories are crashing towards and group of Scottish Tories opposite have sat on their hands. Pauline McNeill was right to challenge them. If those members really care about these issues, at 5 o’clock they should press their buttons to oppose no deal.
When that general election comes, I firmly believe that Boris Johnson will be exposed as a right-wing Etonian who is out of touch with communities up and down Scotland and the United Kingdom. If Boris Johnson comes to Cambuslang—where I grew up, where I stay, and where I represent—he will not be able to understand the struggles that local people face. He will not understand people who have to do three jobs to make ends meet. He will not understand people who cannot afford the bus fare and have to walk to the jobcentre in the rain. He will not understand families who have to send their kids out to school in the morning without a proper breakfast. When that general election comes, Boris Johnson and the Tories will be exposed up and down the country for the right-wing traitors that they are—out of touch with people. Bring on the election and kick the Tories out.
Earlier in the debate, Graham Simpson reminded us that we have already had 34 debates on Brexit in the chamber. It might have been hoped that, in the course of two hours this afternoon, we would have heard some new arguments. Although we have had quite a lot of heat, there has been very little light. As Jamie Greene said, no arguments have been put forward that we have not heard many times in the past.
I did not agree with all the points that Graham Simpson made, but at least he spoke up for the 1 million Scots who voted leave—38 per cent of people in Scotland who voted in the referendum. That group is all too often airbrushed out of Scottish history, but those people need to have a voice and be represented.
There are two essential points to take from the debate. First, we need to respect the referendum result. It is the UK Government’s duty to do as it promised to do in advance of the referendum and deliver on the outcome of the referendum, which was a UK-wide vote.
Will the member accept that, if the message from the referendum had been a 90 per cent to 10 per cent vote for Brexit, that would have shown support for a harder Brexit, but that there having been such a close vote clearly shows support for a soft Brexit?
If that is the member’s argument, if we ever have another independence referendum I will look forward to him supporting a higher threshold than is currently required.
The fact is that the terms were set. The majority voted for Brexit, and we should respect the outcome.
We know that the SNP does not like respecting the outcome of referendums. As Donald Cameron reminded us, it does not even like respecting votes that take place in this Parliament.
I am sorry to say that Labour and the Liberal Democrats are equally culpable. They do not like the result of the referendum either, and they are both now signed up for a rerun. They want to overturn the result of the referendum, and they have the temerity to lecture us about not supporting democracy. We have heard from the Labour Party the most ridiculous and hysterical hyperbole about the Conservative Party undermining democracy. If the Labour Party really cares about democracy, why is it blocking a general election? Let there be a general election, and let the people decide—or is Labour worried that nobody will vote for Jeremy Corbyn?
Secondly, I do not want a no-deal Brexit. James Kelly referred to what happened in the Finance and Constitution Committee. I have not changed my mind on a no-deal Brexit; I share many of the concerns that have been expressed about its impact. However, we cannot just say that we are against a no-deal Brexit; we have to act by delivering on the referendum outcome and reaching an agreement and a deal. That is the policy of the UK Government.
No. I need to make some progress.
Donald Cameron reminded us that the withdrawal agreement was supported by Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the Scotch Whisky Association, Diageo, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, NFU Scotland and Sir Ian Wood, among many other voices. The House of Commons had three opportunities to support the withdrawal agreement and, on each of those occasions, every single SNP MP rejected it. I know that members of other parties also rejected the withdrawal agreement, but for the final vote, every single Scottish Tory MP supported it, as did the current Prime Minister. It was voted down on the back of the votes of MPs from other parties that are represented in this chamber. The other parties say that they do not want a no-deal Brexit, but that is just words. They are not doing anything to stop it happening.
On Tuesday, the First Minister said:
“Scottish National Party MPs will do everything possible to stop the UK crashing out of the European Union without a deal.”—[
, 3 September 2019; c 15.]
She said that they would do “everything possible”. However, when I intervened on Michael Russell a couple of hours ago, he gave the game away by saying that even if the withdrawal agreement came back, SNP MPs would still vote it down. That would not be doing “everything possible”; it would be SNP MPs voting down a deal that would prevent a no-deal Brexit, which they say they are against.
Mr Russell showed a staggering lack of self-awareness when he talked about the risk of Brexit making us poorer and cutting us off from our markets. He comes from a party that supports independence, which on the basis of his own Government’s “Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland 2018-19” figures, which were published just a month ago, would create a deficit of £12.6 billion in the Scottish public finances. He would cut off the union dividend of annual support from the rest of the UK of £2,000 per head of population. The UK market that he would cut us off from is worth three times as much to Scottish business as the EU market that he seems more concerned about. He needs to get his facts right.
Gillian Martin said that we should vote with our conscience. That is precisely what Conservative members will do. I do not want a no-deal Brexit. We want a deal. We must respect the referendum result, but we must avoid a no-deal Brexit. It is a rich irony that those who opposed the withdrawal agreement not once, not twice, but three times, and who are still saying that they will oppose a deal, are the ones who are saying that they must do everything to prevent a no-deal exit. They say that, but it is just words, because they have no intention of doing anything to progress a deal and rule out a no-deal scenario.
Another political stunt this afternoon will make no difference to the outcome of the Brexit process. What will make a difference is votes in the House of Commons for a deal that delivers on the referendum result. That is what we should be working for, why is why members should support the amendment in Donald Cameron’s name.
I start by welcoming Donald Cameron and Alex Rowley to their new positions. I have worked with both of them in different circumstances; I have worked with Alex Rowley for a very long time indeed, since before the first elections to this Parliament took place. It is a measure of the tragedy of Brexit that we should have to spend so much time on something that Scotland does not want. We could spend our time much more profitably, but we are here—I will come back to this—because of the flawed policy that is being pursued by a deeply flawed political party.
I will touch on some of the contributions before I try to explode four myths that we have heard this afternoon. I commend Alex Rowley, because he was right to make the point that the people who say that they just want Brexit to be done do not really understand what they are saying. Getting Brexit over with on the terms that Boris Johnson wishes to get it over with, which would involve leaving without a deal—there is no doubt that that is what he wishes—would not get Brexit over with, but would start a spiral of decline that would last for years. There is no doubt about that. In the end, there is no such thing as Brexit without a deal. There would have to be a deal at some stage, and it would take a very long period for the UK Government to get its head into that space. The damage that would be done to every one of our constituents—including those whom Conservative members represent—would be enormous. If Conservative members allow the UK to leave the EU without a deal, they will be putting themselves in the position of condemning many of their constituents to poverty.
I was slightly depressed by Willie Rennie’s contribution, because I thought that we had agreed to work together this afternoon. The first few minutes of his speech were all about how we should do that, but he could not resist having a go at Alex Rowley and at me. I will put that to one side, because I hope that we will all vote the same way this evening. The next time, perhaps the period of consensus could last a little longer.
I was heartened by Neil Findlay’s intervention on Ross Greer, because in it, he used the word “if” in relation to the idea of the Scottish Government doing something “outrageous”. I thought that Mr Findlay believed that we did something outrageous every 20 minutes, so I am heartened by the fact that he is still waiting for us to do something outrageous.
I am told that the Welsh Assembly has just voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion in which it opposes the prorogation of Parliament and reiterates its view that a no-deal exit would cause long-term damage to Wales. I hope that we will take the same decision as far as Scotland is concerned this afternoon, thereby isolating the Tories.
Of course, the Welsh Assembly also has representatives of the Brexit party, which we do not have—well, we do have, because Mr Simpson is one in all but name, as we know from his speech. However, I will come to that in just a moment.
Let me deal with those four Tory myths, the first of which says that if you do not want no deal, you have to vote for their deal. The reality is that we have tried repeatedly to get a compromise. I could bring in evidence of all the papers that we published in December 2016, which indicated how a deal could be done. However, the people who did not want that deal were the Conservatives—specifically Theresa May. She did not want to compromise in any way.
The fact that we are here now without a deal is to do with the Tories, and no deal would be a choice of the Tories. That is the choice that would take place, and it would be a disaster. Others know that. Donald Cameron knows that, because he wrote an article at the end of March 2019, which was published in
. That article talks about
“the chaos of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit”.
Donald Cameron knows that what the UK Government is about to do will produce “chaos”, and that should go on the record, too.
Let me deal with the second of the myths that exist, which is that the Tories have a plan, that they have a purpose—the Prime Minister has something that he will take to Brussels and everything will be fine. It is extraordinary that people believe that. Paul Masterton commented that people, on seeing how he voted the other day, would say “You’re an idiot, Paul.” I was tempted.
In reality, the people are being conned by the Prime Minister. The people who know that there is no deal are the people who are involved in negotiations. For example, Tony Connelly, RTÉ ’s Europe editor, who is one of the best-informed Brexit commentators, said two days ago that he had had a message from one source who said that
“Nothing has been put on the table, not even a proper sketch or hint of a plan.”
Michel Barnier is reported to have said this week that the talks are in
“a state of paralysis”.
The Finish Minister for European Affairs, Tytti Tuppurainen, said yesterday—and she is in the presidency of the EU—that the EU is willing to negotiate, but cannot negotiate on something that does not exist.
I do not know who the Tories would actually believe on that matter, because all the people who are involved in the discussions say that the UK does not intend to bring anything meaningful to the table. Still, the Tories go on believing it.
The third myth that I would like to explode is that the Tories are a moderate party that is waiting and wishing for a deal. Graham Simpson gave the game away—or, rather, he did not, because he is absolutely entitled to argue the extremist Brexit case. He did that, and he did so essentially as a spokesperson for the Brexit Party. The revealing thing was the applause that he got from the Tory members—from people who I know are not extreme Brexiteers, but have now put themselves in that position. There are Tory members who will be able to ride out a no-deal Brexit because they have the money to do so, but there are wiser people among them who know that it will be a disaster for their constituents, yet they applauded the extreme Brexit position. Why did they do that? It is because Nigel Farage has taken over their party. That is, essentially, where things now are. There is no doubt about it at all.
What has happened is that the Prime Minister is desperate to take Brexit Party votes and he has gone on to Brexit Party ground. Conservative members shake their heads, but they know it to be true. They will particularly know it to be true if I can make a prediction about what will happen in any election: the Tories in Scotland will suffer major losses in that election because they have moved on to that ground. Then, the Tory members here will look at the forthcoming Scottish Parliament election and say “Oh, dear. We’ve gone too far”, but it will be too late. That is where the Scottish Conservatives are going now, and they need to recognise that. If any of them have the convictions that I believe that they have, they should change course now.
Let me make a final point about honouring the results of referenda. David Allen Green, who is one of the best commentators on Brexit—I commend to members his Twitter feed and what he writes—made a very important point this week. He said:
“A referendum can be democratic or irrevocable, but it cannot be both”
When you have a referendum, the result is already changing, because people change their views on what they believe. So, if people go on saying that the Brexit referendum result stands for ever and a day, it cannot, by definition, still be democratic, but that is what the Tories are saying.
It seems that the Tories do not believe in any democratic choice at all, because they think that, once a referendum has taken place—although referenda are utterly incompatible with their belief in the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament—the result is set in stone and we will just do it. However, the Tories do not believe that. They simply want Brexit, and the Scottish Tories want Brexit because they have been told to want it by their leaders at Westminster. That is a tragedy.
Today, the Parliament will vote to condemn a no-deal Brexit and the undermining of democracy by the Prime Minister, and it will send a message to the Prime Minister. The message that the Scottish Tories will send to Boris Johnson is this: “We are as supine as ever. We will just do as you tell us. Go on—tell us how high to jump and we’ll jump.” The trouble is, there is a fall coming for the Scottish Conservatives.