Good afternoon. Our first item of business is a statement by Michael Russell on the impact on Scotland of the proposed new European Union exit deal. The cabinet secretary will take questions following his statement, so I encourage members who want to ask a question to press their request-to-speak buttons.
This statement will consider the impact on Scotland of the new EU withdrawal agreement and political declaration, which were negotiated by Boris Johnson and are enshrined in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, the passage of which, at Westminster, was dramatically paused by the Prime Minister just over a week ago.
The Prime Minister, in true Trumpian fashion, calls the package of measures a “great deal”. It is nothing of the sort. No Brexit can be a good Brexit, but this deal would be a particularly rotten Brexit. It would take Scotland out of the EU, the single market and the customs union, which would be to the great detriment of the people of Scotland and would be against the will of the majority of them.
It is a deal that the Conservative Party here and at Westminster wants to ram through the United Kingdom Parliament, and it is a deal on which it will, apparently, now fight the forthcoming general election.
T he previous EU deal that was considered by the Scottish Parliament was rejected by 92 votes to 29. We concluded that it would be
“damaging for Scotland and the nations and regions of the UK as a whole”, as the motion that we passed stated.
Nonetheless, the Conservative members of this Parliament voted in favour of that deal. They did so because, in their own words, they were satisfied that it would preserve their “precious Union”. So important was that red line to the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party that in the run-up to the deal’s being finalised by the then Prime Minister, Ruth Davidson and David Mundell wrote to her to say:
“We could not support any deal that creates a border of any kind in the Irish Sea and undermines the Union or leads to Northern Ireland having a different relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK, beyond what currently exists.”
Of course, they are now as much history as that deal is.
“From a Scottish Conservative and Unionist perspective, what goes for Northern Ireland must go for Scotland also. In particular there can be no separate Brexit deal for each of the nations that comprise the United Kingdom.”
He went on to say that
“No unionist could ever endorse”—
I repeat—“ever endorse”—
“any sort of differentiated deal”.
What a difference a year and a new Prime Minister make. What a difference the very survival of the Tory party makes to its members. Twelve months on, the deal includes the clearest possible “differentiated deal” for Northern Ireland, and it is a deal that will put Scotland at a serious disadvantage.
I understand the Brexit weariness of the people of Scotland—I feel it, too. They did not want a referendum on the EU in the first place. By a large majority, they voted against leaving, but that preference has been treated with contempt by the UK Government and the UK Parliament. Three years on, that contempt continues.
However—this is bad news—there is no way that the new deal would get the awful drawn-out and debilitating process of Brexit over and done with. If the Prime Minister were to get a majority for his withdrawal bill after the election, that would not end the uncertainty. It would merely unleash on the population fresh and ever more complex, ever more acrimonious, disputes. There would be more of Boris Johnson, more of Jacob Rees Mogg, and more of Nigel Farage. What an appalling prospect. There would be a veritable continuous Halloween of sneering antidemocratic horrors on our screens, for another year, or two, or three.
The withdrawal agreement bill envisages a future relationship with the EU that would be negotiated and ratified inside barely 12 months. That beggars belief. Even if the full option of a two-year extension to the transition period were to be taken up, a three-year period would be exceptionally fast for such a negotiation.
By comparison, the EU-Canada agreement took seven years to negotiate and the EU-Japan agreement took six years. A much more likely scenario is the UK crashing out of the transition period at the end of 2020 with no deal agreed, in order to satisfy the Brexit extremists in the Tory Party. That would mean years of economic stagnation, followed inevitably, at some point, by resumption of negotiations with the EU.
The regrettable truth is that Brexit chaos will continue to dominate UK politics for years and, possibly, decades to come, unless Scotland decides to put paid to that by ending Brexit for good. The only way to have done with Brexit is to have done with the very idea of leaving the EU—to do what Scotland did in June 2016, when it rejected Brexit, but to do it more forcibly, in an election and with a demand for us to have the right to choose to take our future into our own hands.
This afternoon, the Scottish Government is publishing an assessment of the impact of the latest withdrawal agreement and political declaration. The assessment concludes that what is being proposed is an even more damaging deal than the May deal that this Parliament rejected last year. Let me draw members’ attention to several elements in it.
The deal would take Scotland out of the single market—the largest and most lucrative market in the world. Membership provides Scotland’s businesses with unrestricted access to more than 510 million people. Last year, around 6,900 companies that operate in Scotland exported goods to the EU, and 11,000 companies here were reliant on imports from elsewhere in the EU.
The EU’s four freedoms—free movement of goods, services, capital and people—have for decades brought huge advantages to Scotland and the UK. The economic consequences of losing those advantages will be severe; in fact, the impact of a trade agreement of the type that the UK Government intends could lower Scottish gross domestic product by 6.1 per cent by 2030, compared to what it would be under EU membership. That is equivalent to a cost of £1,600 for each and every person in Scotland.
Just today, we have had further confirmation of the extraordinary cost of Brexit. A report from the highly respected National Institute of Economic and Social Research has found that the Tory deal will cost the UK £70 billion in the next 10 years. Moreover, to make things even worse, Scotland is now to be placed at a competitive disadvantage compared with Northern Ireland because of the special deal that the Tories said must never be struck.
The Scottish Government fully and unconditionally supports the Good Friday agreement, and we recognise the importance of maintaining an invisible border on the island of Ireland. We do not want to prevent Northern Ireland from benefiting from the special deal, but we could never accept that we should allow Scottish businesses to lose market share in the single market compared with their direct competitors in Northern Ireland. Economic growth in Scotland is already being damaged. Last week, the Fraser of Allander institute’s most recent economic commentary estimated that the Scottish economy is already about 2 per cent—£3 billion—smaller than it would have been without the vote to leave the EU.
The deal is also a threat to many of our vital rights and protections. The purpose of level playing field provisions in free trade agreements is to protect businesses in one country from deregulation in another that would distort the market. It is inevitable that the EU27 will require from the UK a more robust level playing field commitment than those that were acceptable for the likes of agreements with Canada and Japan. That is, in the greatest part, because the UK’s economic scale and geographic proximity make it far more of a risk to the EU marketplace as a competitor. The May deal recognised that, and agreed to inclusion of the level playing field protections within the legally binding withdrawal agreement, as part of the backstop arrangements that allowed for a closer relationship.
The Johnson Government has removed the protections from the withdrawal agreement and left only weaker references in the non-binding protocol. It says that it still respects the protections; however, that change can mean only that a more distant relationship is envisaged. Could anyone be taken in by such sleight of hand—particularly from people who have spent their entire political careers railing against those protections? Presiding Officer, the leopard does not change its spots.
The EU has played a hugely important role over decades in driving up standards for environmental protection and social and employment rights. There is no doubt that, in a few short years, all that work will have been for nothing as far as ordinary people in this country are concerned. We know that the Prime Minister is desperate to do a trade deal with Donald Trump that will open our markets to chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef, and which will, as we saw this week, damage our national health service by allowing drug prices to be driven up in order to fill American billionaires’ pockets.
Our devolved competences will be sidelined in that process and, as a result, our citizens will have their basic rights and protections eroded year on year. That is what the Conservatives in this chamber support.
There are more reasons to reject absolutely this so-called “great deal”. On population and migration, the deal will undermine the rights and wellbeing of the EU citizens who have chosen to make Scotland or the UK their home, and it will make it much more difficult to attract people from across the EU to visit, study, work and live here in the future.
Let us be clear: the UK Government should not be making EU citizens apply to maintain rights that they already have—but while it is doing so, it would be wisest for EU citizens to apply for and gain settled status. The UK Government should, in return, implement in UK law the commitments that it has made to protect EU citizens’ rights in the UK, as they are set out in the withdrawal agreement, and to do so without reference to the rest of the deal. That would be the fair and humane thing to do, and it would say loudly and clearly—as our First Minister did again last week—that we want EU citizens to continue to be valued members of our communities.
There is a practical reason for doing that—not doing so will discourage much-needed migration and will drive away people who are already here. In the scenario of there being 50 per cent less EU migration, our working-age population would decline by 1.9 per cent over the next 25 years, which would hit the economy, the national health service and social care very hard, especially in rural areas.
Let me make a final point about democracy and the constitution. The deal would give Northern Ireland the right to consent to any new arrangements, but would deny Scotland that right. That is democratically wrong. Moreover, in 2016 Scotland not only voted by a large majority to remain in the European Union, but we did so by a larger majority than did Northern Ireland. That choice has been, and continues to be, ignored and dismissed by the UK Government.
In July 2016 the former Prime Minister promised that she would not trigger article 50 until she thought that there was an agreed UK approach and objectives for negotiations. She helped to establish a new joint ministerial committee on EU negotiations, with terms of reference to
“seek to agree a UK approach” for negotiations. In March 2017, however, she sent the letter to trigger article 50 without the agreement of that joint ministerial committee: indeed, she sent the letter without the committee ever having seen it.
In January 2017, the Prime Minister had also, before any discussion could even be held in the JMC, dismissed our proposed compromise position, as set out in the first “Scotland’s Place in Europe” document.
That has been the pattern for the past three years. Not once has the UK Government sought to agree with the devolved Administrations the content of the withdrawal agreement or political declaration. In fact, our views have not been sought on a single paragraph of the more than 500 pages of text that were agreed with the EU—and the present Prime Minister has been even worse than the last. He does not even know or care how devolution works; in fact, he does not even know what his own Government is doing. When he was asked last week in the House of Commons whether he would allow the bill to pass without consent being given by the Scottish Parliament, he responded:
“the Scottish Parliament has no role in approving this deal.”—[
Official Report, House of Commons
, 23 October 2019; Vol 666, c 963.]
He was just wrong. In fact, his Government had already asked for legislative consent from this Parliament. It had to do so. Should that consent be refused, he will defy democracy if he overrules us and uses a power that has been used only once before, since devolution. Given the current party of Opposition, he will have to do the same in Wales. The majority of MPs in Wales, in Scotland, and even in Northern Ireland, oppose his deal. The Prime Minister has no democratic mandate to proceed. That fact alone should—but, alas, will not—stay the hands of the Tories in this chamber and make them think again.
The paper that we have published today sets out the scale of the damage that the Tories, here and at Westminster, want to inflict on Scotland. It demonstrates beyond doubt that the Tories, here and at Westminster, have nothing but contempt for the Scottish Parliament, Government and people. The Tories, here and at Westminster, are hell-bent on imposing on Scotland a so-called deal that will leave Scotland poorer, distant from our friends in Europe and vulnerable to trade bullying by Donald Trump, with workers’ rights and protections under threat and our environment trashed. We should never accept that: we will never accept that.
Scotland is a country that has enormous potential—one with talent, wealth, resources and cutting-edge industries. The people of Scotland have the right to determine our own future, free from the Brexit chaos that we see at Westminster every day. That future should be as an independent member of the European Union.
It is time that the people of Scotland were given the chance to have their say. That will happen, first of all, in an election on 12 December. Bring it on.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am aware that you chair the Parliamentary Bureau, which sets the programme for the meetings in the chamber and decides on the allocation of business. Ministerial statements should be made to inform Parliament of Government policy and to make announcements to the chamber so that parliamentarians are aware of what is coming. They should not be used to make a 15-minute party-political broadcast, which is what we have just heard, on behalf of the Scottish National Party, in the most hysterical and ridiculous terms. [
The Presiding Officer:
I thank Mr Fraser for his point of order. He is right that the bureau agreed to set aside 45 minutes for the statement, which included 15 minutes for the cabinet secretary to make the statement. All parties—the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens—will have the chance to ask questions, and there will be an extended period for their opening speaker.
Given that a general election is imminent, I take this opportunity to remind members not to bring election politics into the chamber too much. I recognise that that will happen, but I ask members, please, to keep the election campaigning outside the chamber and to keep the chamber for Government business and the questioning of it.
It is customary on such occasions to thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement.
I was fully expecting the cabinet secretary to come to Parliament today to apologise. [
.] Yes, he said that the Prime Minister had no intention of negotiating a Brexit deal and was intending to take the UK out of the EU without a deal. He was wrong. However, today, there has been no apology from the SNP.
The cabinet secretary’s boss, Nicola Sturgeon, who has just left the chamber—to go campaigning, I presume—said:
“no meaningful negotiation is going on”.—[
, 5 September 2019; c 10.]
She was wrong. However, today, the cabinet secretary offers no apology for the misleading and mistaken statements of his boss. The SNP’s leader in the House of Commons, Ian Blackford, who is about to lose his seat, said:
“It is a complete sham to say that negotiations are taking place.”—[
House of Commons
, 3 September 2019; Vol 664, c 103.]
He was wrong. However, today, the cabinet secretary glosses over all of that to treat us not to a ministerial statement worthy of the name, but to a party-political broadcast on behalf of the Scottish National Party.
The truth is this: Mike Russell called for a transition period, and Boris Johnson’s new deal provides for one; Mike Russell called for no hard border on the island of Ireland, and Boris Johnson’s new deal ensures that we will not have one; and Nicola Sturgeon called for a guarantee on EU citizens’ rights, and Boris Johnson’s new deal provides it. Is it not the case that the SNP rails against this deal because it wants the most chaotic Brexit possible? Indeed, is it not the case that the SNP wants a no-deal Brexit? The only thing that the SNP cares about is independence, and it thinks that the shortest route to independence is via a no-deal Brexit. Is that not the real reason why Mr Russell has come to Parliament today armed not with apologies but with yet another stockpile of manufactured grievance?
I thank Mr Tomkins for his very non-political questions.
I called for many things that I want Scotland to have. I have called many times for Scotland to be in the single market and the customs union. That is essential. Indeed, it was the basis of the paper that we published at the end of 2016.
That call has been treated with contempt by the Conservatives north and south of the border. I called for, and I still call for, Scotland to have the right to choose what it should decide to do, which is a basic democratic right. That is opposed by the Conservatives north and south of the border.
I have constantly opposed a no-deal Brexit, because it would be tremendously damaging, but the option of a no-deal Brexit, which has been pursued by the current Prime Minister, is still on the table. Indeed, given the terms of the withdrawal agreement—people might not realise this—the decision about what happens next would be taken not at this time next year but in July next year. Brexit will not get done no matter what happens. Within five months of leaving the EU, if we leave on 31 January next year, we will be back to where we are now. That is primarily why I wish to see an end to Brexit.
Of course, Mr Tomkins wished to see no Brexit originally. It is a pity that he has walked away from that for purely party advantage.
I thank the cabinet secretary for providing early sight of his statement.
I think that we can absolutely agree that a no-deal Brexit would be very damaging for Scotland, that Mrs May’s deal was bad for Scotland and that Johnson’s deal is even worse and would damage Scotland—of that there can be no doubt. Therefore, I hope that members across the chamber—apart from those in the Tory party—can unite in the campaign in the coming weeks to get out the message that Brexit is bad for Scotland.
However, the forthcoming campaign is about more than just Brexit; it is about the kind of economy, the kind of society and the kind of future we want for our country. Does the cabinet secretary agree that his party’s growth commission proposals would be as bad for Scotland as Brexit and would give us years and, indeed, decades of austerity; that the only party that will stop austerity and transform our economy for the many is the Labour Party; and that, therefore, the only choice on 12 December is between a Labour Government and a Tory Government—a people’s vote and a hard Brexit?
I have the greatest admiration for Mr Rowley but, strangely, I do not agree with that point, for a very clear set of reasons. I agree that we should unite against Brexit. The people of Scotland voted against Brexit. Brexit should not take place, and we should try to do everything we can to make sure that it does not take place.
However, we should also consider two other things. In what circumstances could such constitutional chaos, in which Scotland votes one way and the rest of the United Kingdom votes another way and we are left powerless, happen again? How do we avoid that happening ever again? There is only one answer to that, which is independence.
Turning to the second thing that we should consider, I know that Mr Rowley and I want to bring about a better Scotland for all its citizens but, to be fair, the Labour Party has tried to do that for the past 100 years and look where we are. When it comes to providing a better Scotland—one that works for all its citizens—the solution is the normal solution of independence. What is more, we see that working all across Europe. Eleven members of the EU are the same size as or smaller than Scotland. We are as prosperous as anybody else. In fact, we are officially the best educated country in Europe. We have huge assets. We have the opportunity to do exceptionally well. [
The naysayers may shout from the Labour back benches; they will always do that. The hollowest laughter is from those who do not understand that Scotland has every bit as great a potential as any other country. Let us be real about that, realise that potential and choose independence. I look forward to working with Mr Rowley in an independent Scotland to build the best possible place for all our citizens.
The cabinet secretary mentioned the level playing field provisions in the withdrawal agreement—or, rather, those that have been removed from the withdrawal agreement and put into the weaker, non-binding political declaration.
We know why that has been done—it is because of the hard-right libertarian agenda among some in the UK Government. Just this month, Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, said that scrapping those protections is
“vital for giving us the freedom and flexibility to strike new trade deals”.
On the same day, an unnamed Cabinet source told
The Sun that
“The level-playing-field promise has to go”, because
“It would seriously restrict our ability to deregulate”.
If the withdrawal agreement bill is brought forward after the election, is there anything in the current devolution settlement that would allow the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government to protect Scotland from that kind of deregulation agenda, even in devolved areas? I ask that in light of the effective abolition by the UK Government of the legislative consent principle.
Has the cabinet secretary withdrawn his legislative consent memorandum on the bill, given that it has fallen for the time being, or will he still ask the Parliament to scrutinise and formally consider the memorandum, given that the bill may come back in some form or another after the election?
On the legislative consent memorandum, I will bear in mind what the member says. The likelihood is that we will allow it to be considered, but I want a bit of time to think about that in the light of the parliamentary business that is building up. Of course, I have brought to the table at the joint ministerial committee proposals to reform the legislative consent process, which have been utterly ignored by the UK Government.
Unless those processes are reformed, it is impossible to see us giving legislative consent to the bill or any other bill to do with Brexit.
The level playing field issue is central to the matters that we are discussing. The short answer to Mr Harvie is that there is nothing in the present devolution settlement that, in the end, cannot be overruled. That is why independence is the only way to defend Scotland against Brexit and to get done with Brexit by ensuring that we move on from it once and for all.
Theresa May agreed to the level playing field provisions as a means of moving forward, but they are anathema to most current Tories in the House of Commons, and particularly to the Prime Minister and the hard right around him. It is clear that the level playing field will be the major issue to be discussed and debated in the transition period, and there is no way that the EU will weaken its position on that. Monsieur Barnier says:
“No tariffs, no quotas, no dumping”.
It is central to the relationship that will exist.
Because the Prime Minister and those around him hate those regulations—they hate workers’ protections, human rights and environmental protections—they will be chipped away at and eroded bit by bit, and ordinary people will suffer greatly. Most of the parties in the Parliament, although probably not all of them, want to protect people’s basic human rights, employment rights and environmental rights. In the circumstances, only by getting rid of Brexit—actually, only by choosing independence—will we be able to do so.
The cabinet secretary is rightly incredulous that the Conservatives can defend a deal that puts a border in the Irish Sea when they condemned that deal last year. I am not sure how they can call themselves unionists any more. However, I am puzzled that the cabinet secretary states that breaking from the EU will be a disaster but breaking from the UK will be of benefit. Does he not get it by now that putting up borders and barriers costs jobs and affects the economy? Does he not understand that we need to learn the lessons of Brexit rather than repeat them with independence? Instead, we should just stop Brexit.
I agree that we should stop Brexit, but the reality is that the member has no plan to stop it. His only plan to stop Brexit was to have a second referendum. We would still support such a referendum were there a prospect of its succeeding, but the member has consistently failed to address the central question. He cannot guarantee in any sense that there will be a defeat for the forces of Brexit now or in the future. He has to recognise that there is one surefire way of getting Brexit finished and moving on as a normal nation, and that is independence.
That fact will not go away. It is staring Mr Rennie in the face and, one day, he will have to recognise it.
The Presiding Officer:
All the parties have had a chance to make an opening statement alongside the questions, so I encourage all subsequent questioners to ask about the statement and the withdrawal agreement. In particular, I do not want to hear any pleas to vote for one party or another on 12 December so, if that is in your question, please remove it now before I call you.
I will simply ask the cabinet secretary, in light of the UK Government’s failure to stand by its cast-iron guarantees to refuse to send the letter to the EU, to Brexit by 31 October, which is tomorrow, and not to put a border in the Irish Sea, whether he believes that Michael Gove’s commitments to this Parliament that the transition period under this deal will end by the end of 2020 and that the UK will have negotiated and ratified a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU by then are just as vacuous and disingenuous as any other Tory promise.
I agree. If we look at the track record and history of the person who made those commitments, we will see that the person has not been right about much, over a long period.
We have to look more widely at what the UK ministers said about the process of negotiation with the EU over the withdrawal agreement. This was meant to be the easiest agreement on record. I think that it was David Davis who said that all the cards were in the UK’s hands and the process would essentially be over by Christmas—it will not even be over by this Christmas, let alone the Christmas that he meant.
The reality of the situation is that nobody who has any involvement or interest in, or knowledge of, free trade negotiations, particularly with the EU, which will have the best negotiators in the world, believes that the process will be concluded by the end of 2020. What is more likely—some European research group members have given the game away on this—is that the side assurances from people such as Michael Gove that there is in fact no intention of coming to a deal, because they want no deal at the end of the period, are the things that count.
People should remember that. Getting Brexit done means getting what the Tory right wing wants, and the Tory right wing does not want to be tied down by the things that the EU insists upon in the level playing field. That is the reality.
“this agreement provides the gateway to the UK’s exit from the Common Fisheries Policy, and the UK becoming an independent coastal state.”
Those are the words of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. If the agreement is good enough for our fishermen, why is it not good enough for Mike Russell and the SNP?
It is not good enough for many of the fishermen whom I represent and very considerable fears are arising. Let me give Jamie Greene one example; given that he represents the west of Scotland, he might consider it, because it will affect people that he knows. The agreement would permit boats, particularly inshore boats that fish in the Clyde and on the other side of the Mull of Kintyre, to register in Northern Ireland and to sell their produce in Northern Ireland. That would allow them to sell their produce without tariffs and without difficulties, so it could spell the end of the processing sector in parts of the west coast of Scotland. That is the reality.
Moreover, I do not think that anyone who has been involved in any way in looking at fishing over the past 10, 15, 20, 30 or 40 years would believe a word that the UK Government said to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation or anyone else, because what will happen is that fishermen’s rights will be traded away, as they always have been.
Jamie Greene needs to consider the reality of what has happened and the reality of what can happen as a result of the agreement, and perhaps be a little more sceptical about what he is told by the UK Government.
The Tories in this Parliament used to hold to the principle that they would not support a deal that created a border of any kind in the Irish Sea or that led to Northern Ireland’s relationship with the EU being different from that of the rest of the UK. Given that Boris Johnson’s deal does both, will the cabinet secretary say whether he has had any indication that the Scottish Tories oppose the deal, or is it simply a case of the Tories in Scotland saying, “Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others”?
“there can be no separate Brexit deal for each of the nations that comprise the United Kingdom”, and
“any sort of differentiated deal” is something that
“no unionist could ever endorse”.
This is a differentiated deal—there are no ifs and buts about it; that is what it is—and it has been endorsed by the Scottish Conservatives because they are Conservatives first and, I have to say, anything else a long way behind.
Acknowledging the paper that has been published today, will the cabinet secretary join me in calling on the UK Government to publish its economic analysis and forecast for this damaging deal, so that the electorate can be properly informed about the impact that the deal will have on our country as they go to the polls?
I agree with Claire Baker, certainly with regard to the UK Government publishing information. However, 10 days ago I asked Michael Gove whether there had been any work done on the comparative disadvantage to Scotland and to Northern Ireland as a result of the deal, and he said that there had not. I suppose, therefore, that it is pretty impossible for the Government to publish work that it has not done, but it should have done work on the impact of the deal, and that work should be published.
The cabinet secretary will note the UK Migration Advisory Committee’s conclusion in 2018 that European Economic Area migrants are net contributors to our health service and the provision of social care through both financial resources and work.
My Ayrshire constituents who require vital support, both in hospital and at home, value and depend on the care that they receive from our workers from EU countries, yet the Tories cannot stop boasting about how this deal will end freedom of movement.
Will the cabinet secretary set out exactly what the deal means for EU migration? Does he agree that the implications of this Tory deal are nothing to boast about?
Yes—of all the things that the Tories presently boast about, the boast that they have ended freedom of movement is among the most horrible and self-defeating. Freedom of movement is immensely beneficial to Scotland, and to rural Scotland in particular.
In my constituency, freedom of movement is vital as a means of trying to stem the rise of depopulation and the difficulties that we have. This deal will continue to drive EU citizens out of Scotland, and it will act as a disincentive for EU citizens to come to Scotland.
Last Friday, I was speaking at the NFU Scotland autumn conference. There were farmers there, from the east coast in particular, who are involved in fruit farming; they have seen part of their crop rot on the bushes this year. In England, part of the apple crop has rotted on the trees this year because of a shortage of labour. That will only get worse.
Supporting the end of freedom of movement is bad for incoming labour, and it is really bad for people who want to go elsewhere. This morning, I recorded a brief message for a Scottish lady who is a teaching assistant in the south of France. I did it on the basis of supporting what she is doing so that her class could also understand that Scotland is keen to continue that type of exchange rather than making it more difficult.
Less than 10 days ago, Michael Gove confirmed to the Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee that the deal that is on the table would provide easier access to the European single market for Northern Ireland in comparison with elsewhere in the UK, including Scotland. With that in mind, what are the implications for Scottish business given that it will be at a competitive disadvantage? Does the cabinet secretary believe that the Tories have now thrown Scottish businesses under Boris’s Brexit bus?
The number of bodies under the Brexit bus is quite considerable. Northern Ireland has been thrown under the Brexit bus, along with Scottish businesses—soon there will be no room underneath it, and they will have to get another bus with another vacuous and inaccurate slogan on it.
The reality of this deal, as I indicated in my statement, is that Scottish businesses will be put at a disadvantage. It is obviously so, because Northern Ireland will have direct access to the single market and will be in two customs zones. There will be considerable difficulties in implementing that, including at Scottish ports, but there is no doubt that it will work against the interests of Scotland. If people were going to set up a business that needed to work with or within the EU, they would do so in Northern Ireland and not in Scotland. That is where we are now.
The other great disadvantage is the democratic disadvantage. It is wrong that Northern Ireland should have the opportunity to say yes or no to this deal on a regular basis. It is quite interesting that, apparently, having an independence referendum after six or seven years is wrong but the situation in Northern Ireland can be looked at every four years. That seems a rather curious contradiction. The reality is that the deal favours Northern Ireland. I am not against Northern Ireland being given all the special treatment that it wants, but Scotland should not be left at a disadvantage as a result.
On 17 October, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, the director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said:
“this deal unlocks a transition period, guarantees rights of the 4 million citizens living abroad in the UK and EU, and opens a pathway to a new EU/UK partnership. It would keep trade flowing freely across the island of Ireland and, most importantly, avoid a damaging no deal scenario.”
Why does the cabinet secretary think that he knows more about what is best for business than the leader of British business?
I know that the member has been a keen Brexiteer, so maybe his eyes glossed over the start of that statement but, in fact, the director general’s first premise was no Brexit at all—she said that she did not want Brexit to take place. That is exactly my first premise, too, because Brexit will be damaging, no matter what. At the stage at which businesses are suffering greatly, of course, people will grasp any straw that they can. However, a straw is what this is, and it is a very weak one. In fact, it is a straw that will not raise anyone up in the water in the slightest, because it will cause enormous difficulties, and even worse difficulties for Scotland.
I invite Mr Simpson to go online and look at the map of Scotland that we have put up that shows the impact of Brexit on 7,000 data zones. If he does so, he will find that, in every part of Scotland, damage will be done and that, in some parts of Scotland, the damage will be enormous.
At least Mr Simpson has had the courage of his convictions from the beginning. He wanted to pursue Brexit no matter the evidence, and I think that he would pursue it no matter the evidence—if he was the last man standing in a Brexit Scotland, he would be happy. However, there are people on the Tory benches who were opposed to what is happening—who knew how bad it would be—and they are really culpable, because they are allowing it to happen. They are allowing that damage to take place and they are not lifting a finger to speak up for the people they represent.
Boris Johnson’s commitment to protect workers’ rights has been shown to be nothing but smoke and mirrors. Does the cabinet secretary view this deal, as I do, as facilitating a race to the bottom when it comes to standards and rights derived from EU membership, particularly with regard to environmental protection and the rights of working people?
As I keep stressing, the level playing field is central to this issue. If we look at what has happened to the level playing field commitment, we can see that it has moved from the legally binding withdrawal agreement into the non-binding protocol, which should make anyone suspicious. With regard to the non-binding protocol, we are in a position in which, behind the scenes, senior Tory figures are saying, “Don’t worry lads, we’ll get rid of this—we don’t really want this at all.” I am afraid that, in those circumstances, anybody who believes that the deal guarantees workers’ rights, human rights or environmental protections is very easily taken in, or is someone who has not read it.
Out there in the real world, just yards from this place, we see people sleeping on the cold streets of this city, people dying from drugs in record numbers and waiting times for health services growing. I wish that we were hearing from the Government on those important issues rather than witnessing this pathetic knockabout today.
Does the cabinet secretary accept that Brexit is nothing compared to the complexity and upheaval of unravelling 300 years of social, economic and political integration with our friends and neighbours across the UK, and that what would be a better option for Scotland is further devolved power and no barriers with the UK market?
I note that it is difficult for Mr Findlay to be self-reflective or self-critical, but I ask him to try that for a moment and to think about the fact that the actions of the Labour Party have enabled Tory Governments to run Scotland for generations, and that, if we had taken actions that would have prevented that happening, we would not have had austerity, we would not have had the cruel social policies that we have seen and we would not have had the bearing down upon Scottish local authority budgets that has taken place.
There is a choice for Mr Findlay to make because, no matter what he says, the longer he perpetuates the ability of the Tories to run down Scotland, the more he himself will be culpable for the problems that he talks about.
Scottish exports of technology, digital and media services represent nearly 10 per cent of our total exports to the European Union, resulting in more than £1.4 billion-worth of trade. Can the cabinet secretary confirm that, under this deal, Scotland and the UK will be operating outside the digital single market? What clarity has the UK Government provided about what that means for issues such as e-commerce, country of origin principles and geo-blocking?
The member raises an important point. The digital single market offers a huge opportunity to companies large and small in Scotland. During the transition period, we will continue to be part of it. However, at the end of the transition period, unless it is specifically negotiated—and because it involves issues of data security, it would be complex to negotiate—we will not be part of the digital single market. That would be bad enough, but in Brexit there are opportunities foregone—things that we would have been involved in, which will continue to grow and develop, which we are shut out from. The digital single market is a strong example of that. Not only will it disadvantage us not to be in it, if we cannot continue to progress with it, it will greatly disadvantage our growing, exciting tech sector. We should also concentrate on those opportunities foregone, which are difficult to quantify but great in number.
This week, Channel 4’s “Dispatches” uncovers secret talks between the UK and US Governments and pharmaceutical industries, regarding the US having post-Brexit access to the NHS, in the form of trade deals. I find that deeply concerning. Will the cabinet secretary join me in condemning the US involvement in our NHS? Will he encourage the UK Government to disclose fully all talks between the Governments, with regard to trade deals, particularly when it comes to our NHS?
Emma Harper makes an important point. Not only were the revelations in the “Dispatches” programme deeply troubling, they illustrated the fact that Scotland had not been consulted. My good friend, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, did not get a phone call from Matt Hancock or anybody else to say, “What do you think of this? How should we have these conversations?” We were deliberately cut out.
As with health, so it will be with agriculture, fisheries and all sectors of the Scottish economy. There will be every attempt to keep us away from any discussions on trade. Last year, we published a paper on trade. My friend, the Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation, stands firmly behind that paper. There are ways in which we could be informed and consulted but, as I said in my statement, without that, the talks will be an attempt to give extra money to American billionaires, at the expense of ordinary people in Scotland.