Although the UK’s exit from the European Union was discussed at the meeting of the joint ministerial committee (European Union negotiations) on 12 September in London, we received no correspondence from the UK Government on its proposals for a new Brexit agreement ahead of their announcement by the Prime Minister.
I spoke to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union shortly after the proposals’ publication, at his request. As has been the case throughout the negotiations, the Scottish Government has not been treated as a trusted partner; indeed, we have had to keep abreast of events through media reports. It is disappointing and frustrating that, yet again, the devolved Administrations have had no meaningful opportunity to influence discussions—a point that I will raise again at tomorrow’s meeting of the joint ministerial committee (European Union negotiations), which will be held in Edinburgh.
I share the cabinet secretary’s disappointment.
Yesterday, we heard from number 10 an extraordinary briefing about a telephone conversation with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in which the UK Government claimed that what she had said had put the kibosh on its achieving a deal. That claim was widely refuted, and led to an unprecedented intervention by the President of the European Council, who cited a “blame game” being played by the UK Government. Does the cabinet secretary share my belief that that briefing simply represented Boris Johnson’s and the Tories’ attempt to shift the blame for the Brexit fiasco to anyone but themselves?
Yes. I think that there is a general view that whatever is taking place at 10 Downing Street is so outside the norms of behaviour for a Prime Minister—or, indeed, for any civilised Government—that we have to wonder what will come next.
The cabinet secretary mentioned that a meeting of the joint ministerial committee (European Union negotiations) will take place in Edinburgh tomorrow. Does he not welcome that, and the fact that he will, as I understand it, be in the chair? I think that I am correct that it will be the first time that a minister who is not from the UK Government will chair such a meeting. Are those facts not to be welcomed, and do they not offer opportunities for the cabinet secretary to raise with UK Government ministers and officials precisely the sorts of questions that he mentioned?
I welcome the fact that the JMC(EN) meeting will be held here. I pay tribute to the Welsh Government, which was due to host it. Because of its other commitments, I and my colleagues have stepped in to host the meeting here. I also welcome the fact that, provided that the meeting takes place, I will be the first minister who is not from the UK Government to chair the JMC(EN) since it was commenced at devolution.
However, who is in the chair and where the meeting is held are minor matters in comparison with what its outcomes might be. I will be satisfied tomorrow only if I find that we have made progress on the key issues on the agenda. So far, I am not hopeful that we will, although I remain hopeful that Michael Gove and Stephen Barclay will prove me wrong.