European Union Exit

– in the Scottish Parliament on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

1. The bill that Opposition parties in the House of Commons passed yesterday once again seeks to delay the decision to leave the European Union. It gives the United Kingdom until 19 October to get a deal with the European Union. I still hope that we and the other 27 countries in the EU can reach an agreement. Does the First Minister?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

First, I will tell Jackson Carlaw something that I think he should know by now. I do not want to see Scotland have to leave the European Union at all. There is a simple, democratic reason for that: Scotland did not vote to leave the European Union. I think that any self-respecting Scottish politician would stand up for what people in Scotland voted for in the EU referendum.

Secondly, we hear all this talk from Boris Johnson about trying to get a deal, but in the past couple of days we have also seen evidence that suggests very strongly that no meaningful negotiation is going on right now. “Sham” is the word that has been used about that, and it was attributed—rightly or wrongly, I do not know—to a member of the Prime Minister’s inner circle.

If Jackson Carlaw is privy to information that the rest of us do not have and can tell us, right now, the detail of the deal that Boris Johnson is trying to strike with the European Union, perhaps he will share that with us and we will all have the opportunity to give our views on it.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

It does not sound as though the First Minister is very interested in an agreement.

[

Interruption

.] Yet, her MPs voted last night for the bill that gives a deadline of 19 October to negotiate an orderly exit—something that I think would deliver what most people in Britain want, which is to go on with delivering Brexit in line with the referendum decision that we took. I ask again: does the First Minister actually want a deal or not?

The First Minister:

I cannot say this any more simply, so I will try to say it a bit more slowly and perhaps a bit more loudly. I do not want Scotland to leave the European Union, because 62 per cent of people in Scotland voted against leaving the European Union. I guess that, if that vote was held again today, the percentage would be even higher.

I come back to the point about a deal. If Jackson Carlaw is asking me to give an opinion on some mythical deal that he—unlike most other people—believes that Boris Johnson is on the verge of agreeing with the European Union, he should tell us what he thinks the content of that deal is, and then I will happily give him an opinion on it.

Right now, there are no negotiations that we know of, the so-called efforts to strike a deal have been described as a “sham” and the European Union does not appear to know of the negotiations that are making progress in the way that Boris Johnson tries to tell us they are. Clearly, Jackson Carlaw is suggesting that he knows something that the rest of us do not know. Let him share it with us now, and then we can have a meaningful discussion about it.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

Let us spell it out. The First Minister does not really want to see successful negotiations between the UK and the EU. She has just said as much. She wants the negotiations to fail. It is not in her interests to strengthen the UK’s hand in those talks; she wants to weaken the UK’s hand in those talks. [

Interruption

.]

The First Minister does not want people in Scotland to be able to move on from this; she is determined to keep it dragging on and on and on.

Is it the case that this First Minister has never seen a referendum result that she does not want to overturn?

The First Minister:

I do not want to overturn the Scottish Brexit referendum result; I want to see it honoured. People in Scotland voted to remain in the EU.

I say gently to Jackson Carlaw that the Tories, and Theresa May in particular, should perhaps have been willing to listen as far back as December 2016, when the Scottish Government published “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, in which we said expressly that, notwithstanding our opposition to Brexit, we were putting forward the compromise option of single market and customs union membership. We put that on the table as a potential compromise option and it was completely disregarded.

Ruth Davidson once challenged me to support continued single market membership, but, when her Westminster bosses told her that that was not the policy, she decided otherwise. So, I will take no lessons from Jackson Carlaw on attempting to find compromise on Brexit.

I say again that we do not want Scotland to be dragged out of the European Union against our will. I absolutely will not stand by while we have a no-deal exit imposed on us, because I know how catastrophic that would be.

I end by putting a challenge to Jackson Carlaw and the Conservatives. In this chamber this afternoon, we all have the opportunity to say that a no-deal exit is unacceptable in all circumstances. I and my colleagues will be voting for that. Will Jackson Carlaw be voting for that?

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

W e respect the results of all referendums—the First Minister should give that a try.

Perhaps there is one thing on which we can agree: a general election may be required to sort out the issue. First Minister, Scottish Conservatives will stand up for and stand by our decision to remain in the United Kingdom and to back the decision that people across the UK made to leave the European Union, to ensure that this country can move on. If people want more years of division, they should vote for Nicola Sturgeon. If they want to get back to things that matter—the people’s business: schools, jobs and the police—they should vote for us. That is the clear choice that Scotland now faces.

The First Minister:

I cannot help thinking that, if the Conservatives had any confidence whatsoever in that message, Ruth Davidson would still be standing where Jackson Carlaw is standing right now. She cannot stomach the direction that Boris Johnson is taking this country in—Boris Johnson’s own brother cannot stomach the direction that he is taking the country in—so the question is, why should the people of Scotland be forced to put up with that?

I really relish the prospect of a general election. The Scottish National Party will beat the Tories in a general election, just as we have done in the past number of elections. Unashamedly and unapologetically, in that election, the SNP’s message will be clear: we stand up for Scotland’s opposition to Brexit and we stand up for Scotland having the right to choose our own future and not to have a future imposed on us by Boris Johnson.