Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I thank the Finance and Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee for their speedy work on the legislative consent motion, which has been necessitated by the timetable set at Westminster and the Scottish Government’s desire to ensure that the House of Commons is aware of the Scottish Parliament’s view of the bill prior to the conclusion of its stages in that chamber.
I note the report from the Finance and Constitution Committee, which has just come to hand, and its conclusion that the committee recommends that the Scottish Parliament does not consent to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill—a conclusion that was dissented from by Adam Tomkins, Murdo Fraser and Alexander Burnett.
I also note the other issues raised, including a request by the committee that the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government give their views on the changes that are required to the Sewel convention. I am happy to do so, and I have done so repeatedly to UK ministers, but they have never come back to me on those matters. It would be illuminating to know whether the UK Government has such a view, and how it could be taken forward.
I also note the observations of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee with regard to the issues of scrutiny, the exercise of joint powers, the programming of secondary and other Brexit legislation, the ability of UK ministers to legislate in devolved areas and the use of the affirmative procedure. I will respond to each of those issues in more detail in writing, but I am in broad agreement with the committee on all those matters, and am keen to work with it to ensure that there is effective scrutiny. To that end, discussions are under way about a new protocol between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, and I hope that the UK Government—even at this late stage—will recognise the need to be part of that process.
Last month, Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party suffered a heavy defeat in Scotland. The Tories lost more than half their MPs and now have barely 10 per cent of Scottish Westminster seats. Their Brexit plans were roundly rejected by the people of Scotland. Indeed, around 75 per cent of voters in Scotland supported parties that either want to remain in the EU or support a second EU referendum. Moreover, that result followed the EU referendum in 2016, the UK election in 2017 and the European election last year, all of which sent the unambiguous message that Scotland wants to remain in the European Union. That message has been relayed time and time again. That message to the Prime Minister is as clear today as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow. Let me put it this way: Prime Minister, we said no to Brexit, and we mean it. [
.] However, the Prime Minister is not listening to the Scottish people, just as his party—as we can hear—is not listening, because, in three weeks’ time, it is virtually certain that Scotland will be taken out of the European Union against our will, and each of us will be forcibly stripped of our European citizenship against our specific wishes. That is an intolerable position, and this Parliament, as the voice of Scotland, must say so. Therefore, at the outset of today’s debate, I urge this Parliament—all of this Parliament—to refuse consent to the bill and, in so doing, to say that we do not consent to being forced out of the EU.
The European Union is founded on values: democracy, equality, human dignity and respect for human rights and the rule of law. It has rolled back barriers to travel, work, study and trade across our continent. It has eased the movement of goods and workers, allowed the integration of supply chains and set standards of protection for the environment and workers’ rights. Perhaps above all, it has been the guarantor of peace and prosperity across Europe for more than five decades. Why should we consent to a process that removes Scotland from that project, strips people in Scotland of their rights and will cost jobs and living standards, all against our will?
This is a sad moment in the history of Scotland and the United Kingdom—a moment at odds with the outward-looking and internationalist values that so many of us, right across the UK, hold dear. The withdrawal agreement bill is a vehicle for implementing this disastrous process in domestic law. The withdrawal agreement that is contained in and amplified by the bill is deeply damaging to the UK, as the Scottish Government has set out in detail before. It is particularly bad for Scotland, as all the evidence shows, and it is uniquely offensive to Scottish democracy. England and Wales voted to leave and are leaving. Northern Ireland will have its own arrangements for closer alignment and the right to decide its own future. Scotland, alone of the four nations, voted remain but is being forced to leave with no special arrangements or say over its future relationship with the European Union. It is therefore axiomatic that any Scottish Government must recommend to any Scottish Parliament that it refuse consent for something of such massive significance and consequence to be done to us, which the Scottish people, to whom we report, have clearly, consistently and specifically rejected.
I believe that that argument on its own should be enough for all of us to refuse consent to the withdrawal agreement bill this afternoon. However, there are other strong reasons for doing so. The bill is in its third iteration. A first version was developed to implement the May deal, it was redrafted to implement the Johnson deal and it was revised to reflect the manifesto upon which the Tories stood in December—a manifesto that was rejected by Scotland. In each iteration, the withdrawal agreement bill has weakened parliamentary and devolved Administrations’ scrutiny and involvement, further undermined the rights of citizens and society and strengthened an already overbearing Executive.
In addition, the bill puts a no-deal Brexit firmly back on the table through the reckless and irresponsible determination of the UK Government to legislate to prohibit itself from seeking any extension to the implementation period. During the bill’s second reading in the House of Commons, Keir Starmer referred to the UK Government’s prohibition on extending the implementation period as “reckless and ridiculous”, and I echo that sentiment.
It is no secret that, like Scotland, the Scottish Government is opposed to Brexit. If it is to happen, however, we must do everything to limit the damage. That should mean the UK remaining in the single market and the customs union. We first argued that case in “Scotland’s Place in Europe” more than three years ago, and we have developed it further since that time. However, the UK Government has contemptuously ignored those proposals while bringing forward a close variant of them for Northern Ireland, and it is now adding insult to injury by imposing a hard Brexit process and outcome, with a completely arbitrary end date for necessary discussion and negotiation.
Negotiating a free trade agreement is extremely complex. Attempting to secure a deal between a former member and the EU will be a unique activity. As the President of the Commission has said today in London, doing so in under a year is unrealistic, especially if the UK is attempting at the same time to negotiate trade arrangements with the United States and other non-EU countries. It is undoubtedly true that only the narrowest and most superficial free trade arrangement could be agreed by the end of 2020. Any deal that avoids that risk so as to minimise the damage of Brexit would definitely need an extension beyond 2020. Therefore, legislating to rule out an extension does nothing but vastly increase the risk and likelihood of a no-deal exit.
The bill removes previous provisions safeguarding workers’ rights, which are to be replaced by a potential new separate bill—although it has only been promised and has never been seen by anyone. The same weak undertaking is attached to the removal of environmental protections. The Scottish Government has no confidence that the UK Government will maintain existing protections in any area, let alone strengthen them. Why would we believe that people who have spent their entire political lives decrying the high standards agreed in Europe would now lift a finger to maintain them? Of course they will not do that. They want them gone—and it is usually because they can profit by their removal.
In addition, the proposals on the removal of employment protections cut right across the Scottish Government’s commitment to fair work: a commitment that is central to the Scottish Government’s economic strategy and that is good for workers, good for business and good for Scotland. That decision by the UK Government leaves Scottish workers highly vulnerable to a deterioration in their conditions.
Amazingly, there is another group of people whom the bill has treated even more appallingly: unaccompanied children seeking asylum. They are among the most vulnerable people in the world: children who have been separated from their parents or any other adult familiar to them and who have witnessed horrors that we cannot fathom. It is therefore extraordinary—and almost inexplicable in its inhumanity—that the UK Government plans to remove from the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 the provision on negotiating arrangements to conform with the Dublin III regulation. That would mean that the UK Government would no longer be bound to negotiate appropriate agreements with the EU on unifying families and supporting vulnerable children. Instead, it will merely make a statement of its policy towards such children within two months. That is not a commitment of any sort, and it will not help a single child or stop a single tragedy. How can that be defended by any elected member in this chamber or any other?
As I conclude, I will touch briefly on wider migration issues. Scotland’s Parliament has a duty to protect the rights and wellbeing of EU citizens who have chosen to make Scotland their home. In addition, it is in our interests to continue to attract people from across the EU to visit, study, work and live here in the future. Freedom of movement is not a burden for Scotland; it is a boon. Its ending is something that we should not celebrate but condemn.
As the Scottish Parliament has already agreed, the UK Government should not be making EU citizens apply to maintain rights that they already have. Instead, it should implement in UK law—without precondition or unnecessary bureaucracy—the commitment made to protect EU citizens’ rights in the UK that was set out in the withdrawal agreement. There is no reason to tie that to agreement to the rest of the deal. Although we recognise that there is no guarantee that the EU would similarly ring fence UK citizens’ rights from the withdrawal agreement, that should not prevent the UK Government from doing the right thing here and now.
Nonetheless, I strongly urge EU nationals to apply for and obtain settled status. I dislike the scheme as much as they do. I am angry that the UK Government has implemented it and that last night in the House of Commons it would not even accept its many flaws. I want to do more to protect EU nationals who live here, and encourage more to come here, but at present, the Scottish Government can do so only by ensuring that the law is observed. The first step is therefore to ensure that each citizen has the right to be here according to the law as it now is. We will stand alongside every EU national who has done so and who has that status, and we will protect them in every way that we are currently able to while seeking more powers to do so, as a regular nation would do.
The withdrawal agreement bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation ever considered by the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. It will involve a fundamental adjustment to the constitution and will have far-reaching implications for everyone—not only on these islands, but across our continent. We cannot approve it, because it goes contrary to the wishes of the majority of the people of Scotland. We cannot approve it, because there has been no attempt by the UK to involve us in any sort of mutually agreeable Brexit process. Indeed, the reverse has been the case for the past three and a half years. We cannot approve it, because it alters and diminishes the basic rights of so many, including some of our most vulnerable fellow human beings.
The views of everyone in Scotland are equally valid—both those who voted to remain and those who voted to leave. However, we have a duty to respect the clear and consistent majority opposition in Scotland to leaving the European Union. The decision to leave was a bad decision, but we did not take it. This is a bad bill, and we should not approve it. Many of us now recognise that we live under a bad constitutional settlement, which the people of Scotland—and no one else—have the right to change.
However, no matter what members’ views on that might be, today this Parliament has a clear duty to express its opposition to both Brexit and the approach that the bill takes to Brexit. The Scottish Government therefore has no hesitation in recommending that the Parliament explicitly rejects the request for its consent to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.
That the Parliament notes the legislative consent memorandum on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill lodged by the Scottish Government on 20 December 2019; further notes that people in Scotland voted remain and for remain parties, most recently at the UK General Election on 12 December 2019; considers that the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the UK Government would cause damage to Scotland’s environment, economic and social interests; regrets that the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill has been amended to remove important protections from workers’ rights and asylum-seeking children, and to prohibit an extension of the implementation period to negotiate the future relationship with the EU; regrets that the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is to proceed through the UK Parliament with minimal scrutiny, failing to respect the significance of the decision to be taken by, or the role of, the Scottish Parliament in scrutinising legislation requiring its legislative consent; is determined to respect and uphold the views of the people of Scotland on this crucial issue to the future of the nation, and therefore does not support the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration negotiated by the UK Government, and does not consent to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill that would implement that agreement.
Thank you, Presiding Officer, and happy new year.
Here we are again, enduring yet another Scottish National Party debate about Brexit. It is all so last decade, don’t you think? The last decade ended with something of a triumph, did it not? I am referring not to the old firm match—magnificent though that was—but to the general election that was held last month, which resulted in a Conservative majority of 80 in the House of Commons.
Each and every one of our 365 Conservative MPs is pledged to support the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill that will give effect to it. The bill will pass, the withdrawal agreement will take effect and this United Kingdom will, at last, leave the European Union at the end of this month. Finally, it will all be over. Brexit will be sorted because a majority Conservative Government—that sounds good, does it not?—will deliver and give effect to the decision that the British people made more than three long years ago that we should leave. Those are the facts and all the rest is just noise.
In his opening remarks, Mr Russell made a lot of noise about the content of the withdrawal agreement and the bill, but none of that matters. His objection is not to what the withdrawal agreement and the bill say, but to their very being—their very existence. It would not matter what the terms of exit are, he would still invent a grievance and object to them. He gives the game away in his legislative consent memorandum, paragraph 5 of which says:
“There is no democratic mandate for withdrawal from the EU in Scotland and therefore the Scottish Government cannot support a Bill that implements the exit of Scotland, as part of the UK, from the EU.”
There we have it. [
.] Indeed, well done—mind what you wish for! No legislation of any sort—regardless of what it said, irrespective of its contents and whatever the actual terms of Brexit—could ever be supported by this nationalist Administration because it just does not like it. It does not like it because it knows that it will make its already threadbare and rejected case for independence all the more unattractive once we are out of the European Union.
Independence, once we are out of the European Union, will mean customs checks at Gretna and a border at Berwick. Compliance with the Maastricht convergence criteria will mean austerity on steroids, fiscal controls imposed by the Germans, spending cuts that would make even the Greeks’ eyes water and a legal requirement to take steps to join the euro—unsellable!
Worse, the Scottish ministers have the audacity to dress up their belligerent opposition to Brexit in the garb of a “democratic mandate”. Let us explore that idea for a few moments, shall we? We are leaving the European Union for one reason and one reason only: the British people decided that we should leave in a lawful referendum in 2016—the biggest single democratic act in the United Kingdom’s history.
That referendum took place under the authority of an act of the United Kingdom Parliament that was passed the previous year, which was supported in the House of Commons by Opposition and Government alike. Why did it apply to Scotland as well as to the rest of the United Kingdom? It applied because in 2014, the year before that, more than 2 million Scots had voted against the SNP’s ruinous fantasy of independence economics and to continue as part of the United Kingdom. That, too, was a decision taken in a referendum triggered by legislation that had enjoyed strong cross-party support. [
That is a democratic mandate—a lawful, fair and democratic decision to leave, which binds Scotland every bit as much as it binds every other part of the United Kingdom because of two referendums supported by two acts of two different Parliaments, and yet, the SNP has sought to deny and undermine that democratic mandate every single day since June 2016.
We have also heard a lot of noise from Mr Russell about Westminster somehow ignoring the will of the Scottish Parliament, in breach of the Sewel convention and other misunderstood rules of the UK constitution. Quite frankly, I think we have all had more than enough of that nonsense. The legislation before us today concerns the UK’s international relationship with the European Union before, during and after the Brexit process. That is a reserved matter under the Scotland Act 1998 and is for Westminster to determine.
The legislation that is before us today concerns issues such as citizens’ rights. Once again, matters of citizenship, immigration, border controls and the like are, under our devolution settlement, for the Westminster Parliament to determine, and not for us. The SNP likes to talk in a high-handed manner about respecting the devolution settlement, and we should do that, but it has never accepted that that means respecting what is properly reserved as well as what is devolved.
I do not want there to be any doubt about this. I am all in favour of the Sewel convention. Westminster should not and does not legislate on devolved matters such as health and education in Scotland without our express consent. However, the legislation that we are discussing is not about devolved matters such as health and education in Scotland. It is about Britain’s international relations with Europe, citizenship and border controls, and constitutional law. All of those are properly matters for Westminster.
We also heard noise from Mr Russell today about how the legislation is somehow being rushed so that Parliament has no time to scrutinise it properly. That is not only preposterous; it is also breathtaking hypocrisy. It is preposterous because, last year, the SNP complained that Westminster does nothing other than debate Brexit. It was right then, but it is wrong now—we have had too much debate on Brexit, and not too little. It is breathtaking hypocrisy because Mr Russell is trying to airbrush out of history his embarrassing and illegal emergency legislation—the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill. I am not surprised that he wants to forget the whole sorry episode, but he is the last person in the chamber to have any right to complain that others are rushing legislation.
I want to make a final point. I hope that even my staunchest political opponents would concede that I have never supported a no-deal Brexit. Indeed, I have expressed my opposition to a no-deal Brexit even when that has caused me some local difficulties in my party. I agree with others who have said that a no-deal Brexit is in neither Scotland’s nor the UK’s economic interests. However, if we want to avoid a no-deal Brexit rather than just make a lot of noise about it, we have to support a deal at some point, and that is what the legislation does. The withdrawal agreement is that deal, and the bill that we are considering today gives legal effect to that agreement.
However, at every step of the way, the SNP has withheld its support not only for the deal, but for any deal that has been agreed between the United Kingdom and our European partners. That just will not wash. In the end, one has to choose. One cannot be opposed to a no-deal Brexit and, at the same time, opposed to any and every available deal that would avoid a no-deal Brexit.
However, none of that matters any more. The only thing that matters is that, in a few days’ time, at the end of this month, we will leave the European Union as one United Kingdom. We will do so with a deal that was successfully negotiated and delivered by a Conservative Prime Minister, and we will do so because, at last, we have a majority Conservative Government that is determined finally to get Brexit sorted so that we can all move on. Amen to that.
I move amendment S5M-20318.1, to leave out from “people in Scotland” to end and insert:
“the legislative consent memorandum indicates that the Scottish Ministers would have recommended that the Parliament withhold consent from any legislation providing for EU exit, irrespective of its content; recalls that the decision to leave the EU was taken by a clear majority of those voting in the 2016 referendum; believes that the results of referendums should be respected and implemented, rather than ignored; welcomes that the UK will be leaving the EU later this month with a Withdrawal Agreement; recalls that all parties in the Scottish Parliament have called for such an agreement to be in place before EU exit and therefore supports the Withdrawal Agreement, and consents to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, which will implement this agreement.”
The Finance and Constitution Committee took evidence this morning from the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations on the LCM, and has received briefings on the LCM from our adviser, Professor Tom Mullen.
I draw members’ attention to the committee’s letter to the UK and Scottish Governments, which we have published following our meeting this morning. It sets out our views on the LCM. Inevitably, my contribution today, as convener of the committee, will concentrate on the procedural and technical aspects of the LCM and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. I will leave others to deal with the wider political considerations.
The committee is disappointed that no UK minister was available to give evidence on the bill. We have therefore sought assurances from the UK Government that its default position in relation to all future LCMs will be that a UK minister will ordinarily be available to appear before the relevant Scottish Parliament committee.
The legislative timetable at Westminster has meant that the committee’s scrutiny of the LCM has been truncated. However, I am glad to say that we have been able to draw on our previous scrutiny work on the LCMs for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the Trade Bill. Some of the issues relating to legislative consent that arise from the withdrawal agreement bill are similar to those that the committee expressed concern about in our reports on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and Trade Bill LCMs.
The bill includes powers in a number of devolved areas on which UK ministers could legislate without there being a formal role for the devolved institutions. They include aspects of the withdrawal agreement relating to, among other things, recognition of professional qualifications and co-ordination of social security systems. The delegated powers memorandum states that the bill
“adopts a broadly consistent approach to corresponding powers involving the devolved authorities to those powers already taken by the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018.”
The memorandum also states that
“the UK Government will not normally use” those powers to amend domestic legislation
“in areas of devolved competence without the agreement of the” devolved Administrations. However, as the committee noted in relation to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill and the Trade Bill, and as we note again today in relation to the withdrawal agreement bill, there is no statutory requirement to seek such consent.
In our report on the supplementary LCM for the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, the committee stated that we were
“deeply concerned about the lack of any statutory provision within the Bill for UK Ministers to seek the consent of Scottish Ministers or the Scottish Parliament to legislate in devolved areas”, and that that
“cuts across the devolution settlement.”
The committee reaffirmed that view about similar provisions in the Trade Bill. The committee remains of the view, in relation to the withdrawal agreement bill, that providing UK ministers with powers to make secondary legislation in devolved areas without there being a statutory provision that they must seek the consent of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, cuts across the devolution settlement.
The explanatory notes to the withdrawal agreement bill specify the particular provisions where legislative consent is being sought. The Scottish Government agrees that consent is required for those provisions, but it considers that further clauses also require the Scottish Parliament’s consent—specifically, clauses 25, 26 and 36. The committee’s adviser’s view is that clause 25 will alter the executive competence of Scottish ministers in relation to their existing powers to fix legislative deficiencies. Our adviser also takes the view that, to some extent, clause 26 makes provisions on matters that are within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.
Clause 36 will remove an existing power in the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to implement the withdrawal agreement before exit day. The Scottish Government’s view is that clause 36 is due to be commenced as soon as the bill is passed, which is expected to be before exit day, and that clause 36 therefore alters the executive competence of Scottish ministers. The committee welcomes the UK Government’s recognition that implementation of international agreements, where they would otherwise fall within devolved competence, is devolved. In its letter, the committee therefore invites the UK Government to explain why clauses 25, 26 and 36 have not been included in the list of the bill’s provisions that will require legislative consent.
Part 3 and schedule 2 of the bill will establish an independent monitoring authority to monitor implementation and application of the EU-UK citizens’ rights agreements. That provision includes that one member of the IMA should know about the relevant conditions in Scotland. The bill proposes that before making that appointment, UK ministers must tell the Scottish ministers whom they propose to appoint and why. The Scottish Government’s view is that the consent of the Scottish ministers should be required for the appointment of the IMA member who it is intended should know about relevant conditions in Scotland.
The committee previously considered a similar disagreement between the UK Government and the Scottish Government in relation to membership of the trade remedies authority, as part of our consideration of the Trade Bill LCM. The committee therefore recommends that the UK Government and the devolved Governments work together to develop and agree a set of principles and criteria that should ensure that devolved interests are reflected in the establishment of bodies such as the IMA and the TRA, following Brexit.
The LCM states that the
“UK Government has demonstrated that it is prepared to proceed with legislation relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, even where that consent is required and sought.”
The committee has previously considered the operation of the Sewel convention. As the committee has said previously, the impasse between the Scottish Government and the UK Government in relation to the Sewel convention needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. We have reiterated that view in relation to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill and its associated LCM, and have requested responses from the UK Government and the Scottish Government on how that impasse can be resolved.
The committee notes the view of the Scottish Government, as stated in the LCM, that
“the Scottish Parliament should not agree legislative consent to the Bill, but should take a firm stance against withdrawal, against the Withdrawal Agreement, and against the bill.”
In conclusion, the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, as with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the Trade Bill, provides UK ministers with powers to make secondary legislation in devolved areas without a statutory requirement to seek the consent of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament: the bill provides UK Ministers with powers to legislate in devolved areas without seeking this Parliament’s consent. That cuts across the devolution settlement.
When combined with our other concerns, that means that a majority of the committee recommends that the Scottish Parliament should not consent to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.
In opening for Labour, I state that we will support the motion that has been lodged today by the Scottish Government.
It is important to give a clear overview of the situation that we now find ourselves in as a country—especially given the complexity of Brexit and the sheer volume of rhetoric surrounding it. It is now clear that, as a result of last month’s UK general election, and the fact that we do not have a Labour Government, the UK will be leaving the European Union under the terms of the Johnson Government.
That is made more evident from the revised withdrawal agreement. I believe in all sincerity that the revised agreement will damage Scotland’s environment, as well as our economic and social interests. It must surely be of concern to most people that the Johnson Government has removed important protections for workers’ rights and asylum-seeking children, as well as having restricted extension of the implementation period to negotiate the future relationship with the EU. That means that there is the very real prospect of us crashing out at the end of the year; it is now certain that we are, as a minimum, heading for a hard and damaging Brexit deal.
The Law Society of Scotland has also set out major concerns about the revised withdrawal agreement. They include concern about the time that is to be allowed in the UK Parliament for debate and about there being inadequate time for scrutiny, which adversely impacts on the quality of legislation, and concern about use of wide subordinate legislation powers, which applies to UK and Scottish ministers. It is concerned about the provisions in clause 26 on lower courts being able to interpret retained EU law and how that fits with consistency of interpretation, and it is concerned about the need to ensure the independence from Government of the independent monitoring authority. For all those reasons, we cannot support the Tories’ revised withdrawal agreement.
We also have to be honest and make it clear that, although Brexit will now happen, it will not be over with for a very long time. The people who voted for the Tory party based on the premise that it will “get Brexit done” have been sold a mistruth. I note that this week the European Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan, warned that the Johnson Government is swapping a Rolls-Royce trade deal “for a second-hand saloon”, and added that the consequences of Johnson’s policy are
“still not fully understood in the United Kingdom”.
“Get Brexit done” might well have fooled many people, but it is clear that Brexit and its consequences will impact on working people in a negative way for many years and decades to come.
Does Alex Rowley agree that the effects of Brexit will not be short-term but will be with us for decades to come, and for long after we have all left the Scottish Parliament?
Yes—I agree absolutely.
Only today, we have heard from Boris Johnston that, in his plan for a fast-track trade deal with the EU, Britain must have the right to diverge from EU rules. That move has been criticised by British industry, because it would introduce new friction and costs at the border, and it is seen in Brussels as an act of economic self-harm. Even Tory ministers have privately acknowledged that it will cause friction at the UK border, although they seem to be content to carry on regardless of the damage that will be done to our economy.
On top of that, we know that the Tory party has a strong desire to seek a trade deal with Donald Trump. Such a trade deal could include the prospects of our national health service being opened up to US markets, and of substandard food flooding the UK. The Trump Administration has stated that it does not want climate change to be mentioned in any UK-US deal. A deal that threatens our national institutions and puts profit ahead of protecting our environment is really not the kind of deal that people want.
It is for those reasons, and more, that Scotland must be at the table as an equal partner in negotiations about future arrangements that will impact on Scotland post Brexit.
As the motion that we are debating today states, it is regrettable
“that the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is to proceed through the UK Parliament with minimal scrutiny, failing to respect the significance of the decision to be taken by, or the role of, the Scottish Parliament in scrutinising legislation requiring its legislative consent”.
That is why we must be clear that, on such a crucial issue as the future of our nation and its relationships with Europe and the rest of the world, Scotland’s Parliament and Government must have key roles in the negotiating process. That will not happen under the bill, which is why we will support the Scottish Government’s position at decision time.
When the history of this dismal period of UK history is written, the Brexit saga will no doubt be described as a tragedy in which a combination of the hard right and political spivs and opportunists who believe in nothing but their own entitlement to power managed to hack the democratic process to suit their own short-term interests at the expense of the whole United Kingdom and the European Union. There is nothing to like about the process and those who have simply fallen into line and become apologists for it will not deserve to be forgiven. Alone, that position would be enough to reject the withdrawal agreement and the bill that seeks to implement it.
However, on top of that, we have the clear democratic view of the people of Scotland—expressed not only in 2016 but in 2017 and 2019—who saw through the Brexit project and rejected it. The members of this Parliament have a responsibility to respect that choice, as well as to safeguard the interests of Scotland, which will be done great harm by Brexit. Even before an assessment of the detail of the withdrawal agreement, that position would also be enough on its own to reject the agreement and the bill that seeks to implement it.
However, today’s debate needs to address the detail of the agreement and the bill. It needs to address every aspect and, in particular, the state in which they leave the position of the Scottish Parliament and the governance of Scotland, the sovereignty of whose people is expressly denied by the bill.
The changes in the withdrawal agreement and the bill from their previous versions are all for the worse. We have heard of the watering down of the rights of and protections for child refugees, who are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and about the block to an extension to the transition period, which again raises the spectre of pushing the country over the cliff edge at the end of the year. Moving the level playing field provisions from the withdrawal agreement into the non-binding political declaration undermines workers’ rights and environmental standards, and means that the alignment with the European Union is removed. A few words in the Queen’s speech are no substitute for the binding provisions that were in the earlier versions of the withdrawal agreement.
The bill removes the requirement for the future agreement with the EU to be consistent with the political declaration. That is a direct threat to environmental standards, which is all the more serious in the context of the many statements from members of the current UK Government over the years that indicate their desire for a race-to-the-bottom agenda of deregulation and free market extremism.
Let us be mindful that many of the people who are now in control of the UK Government see people such as Trump, Orbán and Bolsonaro not as far-right threats but as an ideological model to follow. Most disturbingly, the new bill deletes the scrutiny arrangements for negotiations on the future relationship with the EU. It implies that the UK Government alone—without any form of democratic scrutiny or accountability—will decide unilaterally what its negotiating objectives will be, keep draft texts that are being negotiated secret and sign off any agreement on the say-so of ministers alone. Not only MPs but we, as members of Scotland’s Parliament, will be cut out of the process, leaving a Government that was elected on 43 per cent of the vote and which lost most of its seats in Scotland able to impose its will, regardless of the wishes and interests of the country.
As for the impact on devolution, Scotland’s Parliament and the governance of Scotland, the country that we represent, the Secretary of State for Scotland indicated in the House of Commons today—in words that were echoed by Adam Tomkins’s speech—that this legislation will be imposed on us regardless of our consent decision. We have had this debate about the meaning of the consent provisions before. If the principle of consent is to be meaningful, it has to be freely given or withheld, it has to be revocable and, most fundamentally, it has to be respected.
The UK Government has already legislated in devolved areas without this Parliament’s—-and, therefore, without Scotland’s—consent. It is poised to do so again with this bill. In short, it is willing to go through the motions of seeking consent but it does not give a damn whether it gets it. There is no basis on which we can trust that it will not do so again whenever it sees fit, whether on future controversial legislation; with the powers that it is taking as a result of Brexit; or, indeed, by constraining the freedom of the Scottish Parliament by way of trade agreements that cut through swathes of our devolved powers—it knows that that will be consistent with the ideological bedfellows that it has in the Trump regime and the trade agreement that it wants to achieve with him. The intention to exercise power without scrutiny that is shown in this bill will no doubt be replicated in the Trade Bill when it returns.
Scotland no longer has the devolved Parliament that it voted for 20 years ago, because the principle of consent has been turned into a meaningless sham. We are being asked for consent under a clear threat that we will be utterly ignored. For this Parliament to give its consent in these circumstances would be supine, pathetic and entirely lacking in self-respect. We should oppose the amendment, oppose the bill and support the motion.
The Liberal Democrats will vote for the Scottish Government’s motion this evening. We do not support the EU withdrawal agreement bill and we do not support Brexit. That is what we said in the election, and it is how we will act now. I am disappointed that we were unable to persuade more people across the United Kingdom in that election. I accept their judgment, even if I do not like it. However, it does not stop me believing, and I will continue to make the case that we should make Brexit stop. I have an obligation to the people who supported our candidates in the recent election to continue to make that case. There is now an important role, which my colleagues and I will take up, to challenge, cajole and question the UK Government throughout the process.
Brexit is a Conservative project, and the Conservatives must own it now. Brexit has already divided our country, damaged our economy and diminished our place in the world. The Conservatives have an enormous responsibility to ensure that their Brexit does not damage our economy further, divide our country more and diminish our place in the world further. They also have a responsibility to ensure that their Brexit does not undermine the integrity of the United Kingdom. We do not want another border down the Irish Sea, just as we do not want a border between Scotland and England.
Our place in the world is important. Let us consider the current crisis over Iran. I am pleased that the Prime Minister is speaking with a united voice with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron in appealing for calm and de-escalation following the death of Qasem Soleimani. That shows the value of partnership with our friends in Europe and the value of working closely with them rather than leaving ourselves at the sole mercy of a volatile United States President. However, the idea that we can be a valuable bridge between the US and Europe is seriously challenged by the decision on Brexit. The Prime Minister has the difficult task of ensuring that the UK maintains its strength in soft power and influence. Brexit runs the risk that we will walk away from our friends in Europe and end up as Donald Trump’s poodle instead.
The Liberal Democrats have repeatedly warned of all those dangers. We have been dismissed as “doomsters and gloomsters” by the Prime Minister, who has promised a new age of opportunity, growth, jobs and wealth. The fishermen have been promised “a sea of opportunity”. Manufacturers have been promised a “golden age”. Those are big promises and, after all the turmoil and division, people are expecting them to be delivered. The millions of people who put their hopes in Boris Johnson are waiting, but I suspect that they will wait for a very long time.
Let me turn briefly to the lessons of Brexit for Scotland. The parallels between the Conservatives’ Brexit plans and the Scottish National Party’s plans for independence are striking. Any act of separation—whether between Scotland and the rest of the UK or between the UK and the EU—creates a reaction from those whom we seek to distance ourselves from. We have seen that with EU citizens who feel rejected in the UK. Mr Russell must accept that many English, Welsh and Northern Irish people could feel exactly the same way with independence. He may not seek that, but rejecting a partnership could have that effect.
I am sure that Mr Russell will have seen studies that show the effect of the border between Canada and the United States of America on trade. He has rightly pointed to the effect on trade of erecting a border with the EU, so he must accept that separating Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom could have a similar effect. Logic dictates that the effect would be even greater, because the trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK is much more valuable than the trade with the EU, even though that is incredibly valuable, too.
Not just now.
The common systems, regulations, controls and laws that have evolved and developed over 300 years would, of course, be abandoned with the split. What would the purpose of a split be if it were not to do things differently? However, that is what Mr Russell and I have decried about the Brexit project, which seeks to abandon the common systems, regulations, controls and laws that have evolved and developed over 40 years. We rightly point out the potential catastrophe that could come from breaking from a union of 40 years. Just imagine how difficult breaking up something that has lasted for 300 years would be.
Brexit is not a justification for independence; it is a warning that we need to learn lessons, not repeat them.
Since I was elected as the first ever SNP member of the Scottish Parliament for Renfrewshire South in May 2016, there has not been a single day when I have not felt honoured by the opportunity to serve my constituents and humbled by the responsibility that that entails.
I sit in this place, as we all do, as a representative. We are each expected by our fellow citizens to listen, consult and engage, but ultimately to exercise our own judgment on each issue that comes before us and in setting the course for our nation’s future.
That this place, our national Parliament, is the centre of Scottish civic and political life is beyond dispute. It is undoubtedly the case that both this Parliament and the Scottish Government as an institution command greater trust, respect and a sense of relevance from the people of Scotland than Whitehall and Westminster do.
Opinion polling suggests both that there is majority support across Scotland for this Parliament to take on additional responsibilities and that support for independence has increased since 2014.
That is the context in which we meet here this afternoon, to decide whether to express our consent to legislation made in another place that would end Scotland’s membership of the European Union. How each member votes at decision time will be a statement on the esteem in which they hold this Parliament. It will be a declaration of the regard in which they hold the devolution process. It will also be each member’s answer to the democratically expressed views of the people of Scotland.
Let us consider what those views are. In May 2016, the people of Scotland returned a Parliament that was overwhelmingly opposed to the principle of leaving the EU. At that time, although it would be easy to forget it, that principle was shared by the vast majority of Conservative MSPs. Indeed, ahead of the EU referendum, nearly all MSPs voted in this chamber to support the principle of remaining a member of the European Union.
That view was confirmed on 23 June 2016, when the people of Scotland voted 62 to 38 per cent in favour of remaining a member of the European Union, with each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities backing staying in the EU. At the general election of June 2017 and the European elections of May 2019, the SNP took the largest share of the vote on a platform that was opposed to the UK Government’s Brexit. At last month’s general election, the SNP won by a landslide on a pledge to do all that we can to stop Brexit. We even put those words on the side of a bus.
The only major party to stand on a commitment to “get Brexit done” was the Scottish Conservative Party. It lost tens of thousands of votes and more than half of its Westminster seats, including East Renfrewshire, part of which falls within my Renfrewshire South Scottish Parliament constituency. The remainder falls within the Scottish Parliament constituency of Eastwood, whose current MSP is Scottish Tory interim leader and former remainer—now Brexiteer—Jackson Carlaw. Elsewhere in my constituency, both Mhairi Black and Gavin Newlands were re-elected in 2017. They were returned again last month, with five-figure majorities for the first time.
I do not highlight those specific results to indulge in vain talk of my party’s electoral success—far from it. In recent years, we have all witnessed seemingly impregnable majorities crumble to dust and political upset follow political upset. Any party that takes voters for granted will quickly find itself out of office and relegated to irrelevance. The reason why I point to those results is that the ballot box remains the most direct, forceful and consequential way in which people can express their political views at a given time, and at each opportunity over the past four years, my constituents in Renfrewshire South have rejected Brexit and supported the SNP in opposing Brexit.
In Barrhead, where I was brought up; in Johnstone, where I live; and from Linwood to Lochwinnoch and in every other village that I am privileged to represent, my constituents have made it clear to me, and by majority at the ballot box, that they do not want to leave the European Union. Faced with that clear set of instructions from people in Renfrewshire South, there is no way that I can possibly support or give any form of consent to Scotland being forcibly removed from the European Union.
It seems likely that, at decision time, this Parliament will vote overwhelmingly to reject giving consent to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. It seems almost certain that the Tory UK Government will again ignore the will of this Parliament, just as it has ignored the democratically expressed will of the people of Scotland. In doing so, the UK Government will be making a statement of how it views Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. Gone is the talk of an equal partnership and of leading the UK. In its place is blunt power and disregard for devolution.
That poses a question to each of us in this place and to the people of Scotland. It is a question that cannot be avoided, that will not be denied and that needs to be answered.
This will be a bitter time for those of us who value our place as a European nation, but I hope that it will be a time when, as a Parliament and across parties, we can come together and chart a course for our country that puts Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.
The background to this debate is that we, the United Kingdom, are leaving the EU. That was not my choice; I voted remain in the 2016 referendum, but I am a democrat and accept that the majority of the UK population voted in that 2016 referendum and voted to leave. That gives the UK Government both a mandate to deliver Brexit and an obligation to deliver on the outcome of that referendum.
For the avoidance of doubt, that UK Government mandate derives not just from the result of the general election in December, but, crucially, from the outcome of that referendum in 2016, which was—let us remember—a UK-wide vote to leave the EU. It was not a vote in Scotland alone, and there was never any suggestion that the votes of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom should be treated on an individualised basis.
Scotland voted in 2014 to be a part of the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom voted in 2016 to leave the EU. That is that, and it is time that the Scottish Government accepted that Brexit is happening and got on with the job of trying to make it work, rather than trying to throw obstacles in its way.
I am sure that the member well knows that Northern Ireland shares a land border with the EU and that its troubled history means that we have to find different solutions to deal with it. She will recognise that there is a strong historical legacy in Northern Ireland that means that we have to treat it differently.
At every turn, the SNP has got it wrong on Brexit. It spent much of last year scaremongering about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, when it was clear that that was never going to happen. It opposed the deal agreed by the former Prime Minister Theresa May; then it said that that was the best deal on offer and could not be improved upon. It said that Boris Johnson could not possibly get another deal, and indeed, the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and the Constitution told us, time and again, that the Prime Minister and his Government were not even serious about another deal and that the UK would be crashing out of the EU without a deal at the end of October last year.
On every single one of those points, the SNP got it wrong. Boris Johnson did get a different deal from the EU: an improved deal that protects the rights of EU citizens, that avoided a no-deal Brexit and that delivers on the outcome of the 2016 referendum. The contrast between a UK Conservative Government that is delivering on its promises and its commitment to respect the 2016 referendum and the SNP Government here that is getting it wrong on Brexit at every turn could not be clearer.
We have already heard today from the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and the Constitution, who, with breathtaking irony, warned of the economic risks of Brexit. This comes from a cabinet secretary who represents a Government whose overriding purpose is taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom, a separation project that would do untold damage to the Scottish economy—far worse than the most pessimistic projections of the impact of Brexit.
I need hardly remind the chamber that Scottish trade with the rest of the UK is worth three times as much to our economy as our trade with the EU single market, and yet it is our trade with the rest of the UK that the SNP would put at risk with their plans for separation.
It should not surprise any of us that the Scottish Government opposes the legislative consent memorandum before us. As Adam Tomkins reminded us, back in June 2018, Michael Russell said that the SNP Government would oppose any Brexit legislation and would vote out any legislative consent motions about Brexit because the Scottish Government was opposed in principle to Brexit happening. He reiterated that position to the Finance and Constitution Committee this very morning.
It does not matter what the terms of the withdrawal agreement, the bill or the legislative consent memorandum are. The Scottish Government had already made up its mind 18 months ago. It will vote against the LCM and the withdrawal agreement, whatever those documents say, and we have known that since June 2018. The motion is simply grandstanding on the Scottish Government’s part, and it has come from a minister who has made grandstanding an art form. It is a political stunt and has nothing to do with the good governance of Scotland.
To illustrate that point, I will give an example of a provision in the withdrawal agreement bill that is causing the Scottish Government difficulty—or so it says. The bill establishes an independent monitoring authority, which is an important body that is being set up to monitor the rights of EU citizens post-Brexit. One of the members of that new UK-wide body will have expertise on relevant conditions in Scotland. The UK Government has proposed that the person on that UK body should be appointed in consultation with Scottish Government ministers, who will be entitled to make their views on the suitability of that person known. On any objective basis, that is a fair and balanced way for the UK Government to proceed in relation to a UK-wide body. However, for the Scottish Government, that does not go far enough. It demands a right of veto over the appointment of that individual to the independent monitoring authority and, without that right of veto, it will vote against the legislative consent memorandum tonight. That is not a matter of high principle, nor does it go to the heart of the devolution settlement. That is finding grievance for grievance’s sake, no more and no less.
There are many predictable things in life. It is predictable that in a Scottish winter the weather will be miserable; that the SNP Government will find a grievance with anything that the UK Government does; and that in a debate like this Michael Russell will go red in the face and the level of hysterical rhetoric from him will reach fever pitch. None of that takes away from the fact that we are leaving the EU at the end of this month and entering a transition period. The Scottish Government should be getting on with dealing with the consequences of that and not indulging in yet more grandstanding.
In Scotland, there is no democratic mandate for withdrawal from the EU. In the 2016 referendum, 62 per cent of people in Scotland and 74 per cent of people in its capital city voted to remain. The people of Scotland are sovereign. That is the Scottish constitutional tradition, and it was confirmed in 1989 through the signing of the claim of right at the General Assembly hall by the vast majority of members of Parliament, members of the European Parliament, local authorities, churches and civic Scotland. It is time that everyone in the Scottish Parliament listened to the people of Scotland.
This is the third iteration of the withdrawal agreement bill, and each version has been another step closer to a hard Brexit and the removal of democratic scrutiny. I cannot understand how any member can argue that the bill could be good for Scotland or for the people they are supposed to represent. To put it simply, this is a bad deal and a bad bill. The bill as drafted does not respect the devolution settlement. In the Scottish Parliament information centre’s words, it will
“allow UK Ministers, acting alone, to make provision in devolved policy areas”.
Since this Parliament was established, in 1999, it has operated under a reserved powers model, which means that everything that is not specifically reserved to Westminster is assumed to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Section 2 of the Scotland Act 2016 put the Sewel convention, which stated that the UK Parliament will not normally legislate in devolved areas without the consent of the local legislature, into statutory form. If the UK Government could do that in 2016, why will it not put the same statutory commitment into this bill if it does not plan to interfere in the devolution settlement?
The withdrawal agreement bill seeks to make a fundamental change to the constitution of our nations. It is one of the most important pieces of legislation ever to be considered by the UK and Scottish Parliaments. Therefore, if the Scottish Parliament does not give its consent today, it would be outrageous for that to be ignored.
The bill also puts Scotland at a competitive disadvantage. Scotland is being singled out for unfair treatment: we are the only UK country to be being taken out of the EU against our will and with no say over our future. England and Wales voted to leave and they will get to leave. Northern Ireland voted to remain and is getting a special deal with frictionless access to the single market while maintaining its place in the UK customs territory and the right to decide its own future.
Scotland, which voted to remain more decisively than any other UK country, is now the only UK country that is being forced to leave with no say over our future relationship with the European Union. That is nothing short of antidemocratic. We are a net exporter and depend on that trade to support our economy, with more than £15 billion of sales to the EU every year. Yet, the UK has still to negotiate a trade deal with the EU to ensure that UK goods and services are not subject to tariffs after the transition period ends, on 31 December this year.
Scotland has also benefited from the 40 trade deals covering more than 70 countries that were negotiated by the EU. However, according to recent reports, the UK Government has managed to sign or roll over only 20 continuity deals to date, thereby putting at risk some of the £18 billion of exports that Scotland makes to the rest of the world.
The BBC reported that any trade deal with Japan will not be ready by the end of this year. We sell more than £500 million of goods, including whisky and salmon, to Japan, and that is all being put at risk over the Conservative Party’s obsession with Brexit.
Make no mistake: this is a hard Brexit deal that will hit jobs and living standards and take us out of the European single market, which is eight times the size of the UK alone. By 2030, Scotland’s gross domestic product could be around 6 per cent, or £9 billion, lower than if we had stayed in the EU, which is the equivalent of £1,600 per person in Scotland. That is the result of an increase in non-tariff barriers, the removal of free movement and a reduction in investment outside the single market.
Fundamentally, it is about devolution and respecting the right of the people of Scotland to choose their own future, especially when they have made it abundantly clear that they do not want Brexit in any form. At a time when the clear view of the Scottish electorate is that more decisions should be made here at Holyrood, we cannot allow Westminster to plough ahead with an undemocratic power grab.
Back in May 2018, we rejected the Westminster Brexit bill when we voted 93 to 30 to refuse consent. Let us reconfirm that commitment to devolution tonight.
The new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, met Boris Johnson at Downing Street this morning, with the Prime Minister expected to use the meeting to stress the importance of reaching a trade deal by the end of 2020 and to express his confidence of doing so. However, the new President has already warned of the “extremely challenging” timetable that the UK Government is insisting on, and s he has now said that it would be “impossible” to conclude a comprehensive trade deal by the end of 2020.
The reality is that the EU will not agree its mandate until the end of February, so trade talks and other discussions with the European Commission will not begin until March. At the end of the process, it will take around three months to ratify the agreement, so we will actually have only around six or seven months in which to reach an agreement. I do not believe that doing so is possible or sensible. There is no need to go through the process under unnecessary pressure or in a curtailed timescale. By refusing to extend the transition period, the UK Government is creating a timescale that makes long-term decision making very difficult.
The UK Government’s intransigence in ruling out any extension to the transition period is disappointing and ignores the reality of difficult negotiations and the need to put the interests of the country first. Parliament must resist the stubbornness of the Government and push for any extension that is necessary.
The purpose of the transition period is to negotiate the future relationship between the UK and the EU in areas such as trade, fishing and security. It must not be unnecessarily rushed.
The clause in the withdrawal agreement bill that makes it illegal to agree a longer transition seems to exist as a means of leaving with no deal, which must be avoided at all costs. We must ensure that protections are in place for Scotland and the rest of the UK to avoid a worst-case exit, as there is simply no need for that to happen. The fact that the bill rules out extending the transition period beyond the end of 2020, even in the absence of a free trade deal having been agreed, seems extreme and unnecessary.
The withdrawal agreement will have implications for Scotland’s economic and social interests and for the environment. The removal of the protections for child refugees that were previously secured by Lord Dubs is a real concern. The UK Government will no longer be legally obliged to seek agreement with the EU; instead, it will just have to “make a statement” on the issue. The removal of a right for unaccompanied minors to be reunited with family in the UK in order to improve the negotiating position, as the Home Office has said, should sit uneasily with us all.
The Conservative manifesto promised that the future relationship with the EU would allow the UK to raise standards in areas such as workers’ rights, agriculture and the environment, but the current intention is to introduce separate legislation to protect workers’ rights and environmental protections, and those promises have been removed in the revised bill.
The EU’s environmental legislation is arguably one of its greatest achievements. The EU has developed world-leading legislation in areas such as pollution, protected species, water quality, genetically modified crops and the use of dangerous chemicals. Market access is unlikely to be granted by the EU without retention of some environmental regulation, and we should ensure that the issue remains a focus. If the UK Government insists on setting environmental standards at Westminster, we must ensure that they are stringent and will be adhered to.
It will be difficult to pursue a free trade agreement without alignment with EU rules. The EU is unlikely to allow access to the internal market without the application of some regulation, notably on labour and environmental standards. It is fanciful to approach negotiations with the view that the UK can pick and choose entirely on the basis of the Government’s wishes. The Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee has heard evidence from trade organisations and trade negotiators, who raised concerns relating to capacity and experience in the UK Government when it comes to negotiations with the EU. Those concerns must be heeded.
The bill contains a part on citizens’ rights. The Scottish Parliament has previously raised concerns about the settled status scheme. Behind the debate over the withdrawal agreement bill, sovereignty, devolved competences and repatriated powers—all of which are fairly abstract notions for those who are not involved in parliamentary scrutiny—there are real people whose lives have already been impacted by the decision to leave the EU. They are individuals and families who have chosen to come here and contribute to our society, invest in our economy and enrich our culture. The settled status scheme is still not fit for purpose. Changes must be made if we are to protect the rights of EU citizens and prevent a repeat of the terrible treatment of the Windrush generation.
During the 2016 campaign, EU citizens were promised automatic indefinite leave to remain in the UK, but we are now some way from that. The bill will establish an independent monitoring authority to monitor the implementation and application of citizens’ rights agreements in the UK. The Law Society of Scotland has highlighted that it is important that people have access to legal advice if they are to have confidence in the IMA.
The IMA has the potential to be an important body, so it must have accountability, credibility and authority in Scotland. The membership of the IMA must meaningfully reflect Scotland, so I understand the Scottish Government’s push for consent over its membership. I have concerns over the establishment of an IMA if it will then be open to having its powers transferred for the purpose of improving “efficiency, effectiveness and economy”. Surely those factors should be demonstrable by the IMA as established.
The papers for this morning’s Finance and Constitution Committee meeting show that the Scottish Government recognises that some previous requests to change the bill have been accommodated. Although I endorse the decision not to support an LCM, I hope that every effort will continue to be made to engage with the process, to raise concerns and to push for them to be addressed as the bill progresses through Westminster and throughout the forthcoming implementation period.
Who would have thought it possible that the current version of the Tories’ Brexit bill would actually be worse than its predecessor? It is completely mythical to suggest that it removes the risk of a no-deal Brexit, and we have seen the downgrading of concrete commitments, which have been replaced with blank sheets that raise even more questions. There is deep suspicion about the removal of clauses and commitments on human rights, environmental standards and safeguards to workers, which have been replaced by vague commitments to future policy statements and as yet unpublished bills.
In the cabinet secretary’s evidence to the Finance and Constitution Committee this morning, he reflected on why the UK Government would remove those basic rights if it was not intent on interfering with them. An old saying that remains true today is, “You just can’t trust the Tories.”
Why on earth would it be acceptable for EU citizens who have spent years contributing to our economy and the very fabric of our country to experience the indignity of having to apply for the rights that they already have? It is both stupid and wrong, and, in the context of a hostile immigration environment, it is a dangerous example of othering. Further, if Iain Duncan Smith can be given a gong—an honour—is it any wonder that the Scottish Government is concerned about being frozen out of the selection of individuals who are meant to represent our needs in the rather Orwellian-sounding independent monitoring authority for citizens’ rights agreements?
The harsh reality is that, when it comes to this bill, the unelected House of Lords will have more of a say on Scotland’s future than this Parliament. We have seen the analysis from SPICe that found that the withdrawal agreement bill will allow UK ministers, acting alone, to make provisions in devolved policy areas. Indeed, in the report that it published today, the Finance and Constitution Committee identified no fewer than 10 clauses that permit the UK Government to act in such a way—or, in other words, to interfere.
There are many reasons to withhold our consent, but at the top of my list is the removal of obligations on the UK Government to negotiate with the EU regarding child refugees or families seeking to be reunited, and the risk of the Tories walking away from Dublin III regulations and removing the rights of unaccompanied children to be reunited with their families in either the UK or Europe. Unaccompanied child refugees are the most disadvantaged and vulnerable group of children and young people in the world. I know that those matters have always been reserved to the UK and remain so—for the time being, anyway—but we should not let it do that in our name.
Of course, the Tories, with their trademark lack of humility and compassion, come to this Parliament and lodge an amendment that
“welcomes that the UK will be leaving the EU later this month”.
Well, we do not welcome Brexit, as there is no mandate—in Scotland—for Scotland to be dragged out of Europe against her will. The democratic deficit in this country is unsustainable and it is incomprehensible that the UK Government was not prepared to compromise with the highest remain-voting part of the UK.
Given the views of the people of Scotland, as expressed electorally—with 88 per cent of seats in Scotland being won at the general election by remain candidates—I cannot imagine how a remain-supporting SNP Scottish Government could ever become a bunch of Brexiteers. However, it is always possible for two people, two parties or two Governments to stick to their diametrically opposed points of view and principles and still find compromise and common ground—that is, after all, what grown-ups do. However, when it comes to all matters Brexit, the UK Government has remained resolute in its intransigence. It is either its way or the highway. Aye—indeed, it is time to choose; and I will always opt for the highway to independence. However, the point is that the Brexit boorach did not need to be this way. There could have been an accommodation for Scotland, given the efforts that were made, for good reason, in relation to Northern Ireland. The UK Government’s standing—as well as democracy across the UK—is all the poorer because of its disrespect for devolution.
I do not expect for a minute that Westminster will start to listen to or respect the views of this Parliament, but we should continue to have the very highest of expectations, on behalf of the people of Scotland, and demand that it do so.
I mean it; I do.
It might have been wishful thinking on my part, but I had hoped that, in our first week back, we might have been discussing important devolved matters that are fully under the control of the Scottish Government. However, given the bad news that it snuck out during recess, it is no huge surprise that Mr Russell wants to talk about Brexit instead. Not only that, but we are being asked to prematurely reject, in principle, a bill that has not yet completed its passage through Westminster. That sums up Mr Russell’s position and the position that his Government has taken since the day that we decided to leave the EU. The people who are now shouting, “Reject the bill” were shouting “Reject the bill” before they had even read it.
Before I came to the chamber today, I was watching the BBC Parliament channel, where I saw members from all parts of the political spectrum debating—as they are this very second—the withdrawal agreement bill, arguing for and against amendments to it, in sensible, academic discussion and debate. People may disagree hugely on various constituent parts of the bill but, to their credit, they are arguing over its substance.
What are we doing instead? We are debating a motion penned by the Scottish Government that is as factually vacuous as it is predictable. Our precious chamber is spending hours today discussing not a technical LCM of substance but a motion of repetitive spin, from a Government that refuses to concede that Brexit is actually happening after all. The motion before us is full of opinion, not fact. It is full of points of view, unsubstantiated claims, ludicrous assumptions and well-rehearsed mantras from a party that is outraged that the UK Government is honouring both the outcome of the referendum and its own manifesto—something that may seem alien to SNP members, I admit. The motion before us bears all the hallmarks of a frustrated Government that has failed miserably in its mission to overturn the referendums of 2014 and 2016.
Let us be clear: we are not having this debate because the SNP has a problem with the withdrawal agreement; we are here because the SNP has a problem with Brexit per se. We have spent far too many hours in this chamber pandering to the cabinet secretary’s only raison d’être, with his constant faux outrage over a withdrawal agreement that delivers all the very things that his Government has been asking for all along. The cabinet secretary wanted a transition period, and the agreement delivers that. He wanted to secure EU citizens’ rights, and the agreement does that. He did not want a hard border on the island of Ireland, and the agreement gives a guarantee on that. He wanted a deal that was as acceptable to Europe as it is to us and—guess what?—the agreement provides that.
The reality is that there is no deal that the SNP would support, and today’s debate proves that point. SNP members rallied calls against no deal, but the SNP’s MPs at Westminster voted for a no-deal outcome not once, not twice but three times. We would not even be having this debate today if we had moved into transition when we were supposed to. The people who are arguing that the new withdrawal agreement has been watered down are the same people who voted against the previous version of it.
We could, and arguably should, have been spending that valuable time discussing the important matter of the future relationship between the EU and the UK. We have lost valuable time when we could have been negotiating a new trading relationship or formalising a new security partnership. However, we are where we are. Thank goodness, however, that the endless stalemate at Westminster is finally resolved.
To members of parties other than the SNP, I say that supporting the Government today will send a simple message to the electorate that those members are still in denial and are not willing to accept that Brexit is happening. However, it is happening in a few short weeks. If they would prefer to make the point that they do not want it to happen, that is fair enough, but wishing it would stop is not the same as trying to make it work. It was clear from the opening speeches that members, rather than working constructively with the reality that faces us as a country, still have their heads buried in the sand. Members are ignoring the fact that we are leaving, they are ignoring the fact that 1 million of their fellow Scots voted to leave, and they are ignoring the fact that Scotland chose overwhelmingly to take that decision as a United Kingdom. How this Parliament can keep up the pretence that it is proportionately representative of the Scottish electorate when it comes to Brexit is simply beyond me.
Let me also say to members, especially those who claim to be democrats and who want to have a sensible debate about our future relationship with Europe, that pandering to the motion simply gives credence to Mr Russell’s desire to pitch Parliament against Parliament and Government against Government. How is that in anyone’s interest? How is that respectful of devolution? How is that respectful of the results of the referendum?
Members should not give in to the cabinet secretary for constitutional grievance, because the truth is that we all know what really lies behind his endeavours over Brexit. The word is never far from his lips. It starts with an I—and I will leave the rest to him.
It is a sad day for democracy if we say that it extends only to one vote on one day in 2016, but not to democratic scrutiny of the withdrawal deal itself. That is a very narrow view of democracy, and there are extremely objectionable aspects to it.
Labour will not support the legislative consent motion, and we will not let Boris Johnson ride roughshod over this devolved Parliament. We are not trying to overturn the democracy of the people’s decision on Brexit, but we will have a say in the manner of our leaving the European Union. To answer Jamie Greene’s question, our message to the electorate is that Labour will defend the devolution settlement that we fought for, and we will have our say.
The Scottish Tories say that the only thing that matters is that we are leaving, but that is not the only thing that matters. How we leave and the terms under which we leave matter a great deal to the people of Scotland. It is a mistake for the Tories to argue that because matters including immigration are reserved, it is not for us to demand at least a say and a seat at the table in order to work towards a sensible solution, given the known damage that leaving Europe will do to the Scottish workforce, which relies on immigration.
I know that previously there were certainly remainers on the other side of the chamber, but today they seem to be doing an awful lot of cheerleading for the Brexit ideologues in their party.
As Alex Rowley outlined, the Labour position is that we cannot agree to the LCM because we do not have a say.
It is clear that we are leaving the European Union, but there is a rushed endeavour to force through an amended withdrawal agreement that is significantly worse than the previous one, in an attempt to show Brexiteers that we are on our way out of Europe.
On removal of the backstop arrangement, which other members have referred to, the backstop least gave some measure of protection for Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. They now face unknown and unclear trade checks at their borders. The convoluted arrangement was arrived at not to help Northern Ireland or Ireland, but to keep the hard Brexiteers happy. That is the only reason why it has been changed. Why would we support that in the withdrawal agreement?
The Law Society of Scotland points out in its briefing that legislation that is made in haste is problematic. We should all know from experience that haste can lead to unclear and unworkable legislation.
The recent Supreme Court judgment in Cherry and others v Advocate General for Scotland shows the importance of parliamentary scrutiny, and of the accountability of the Executive to legislators during the process of European Union exit. That decision seems to have been overridden.
Scrutiny of the bill by the devolved Administrations’ legislators is a legislative act. Since the UK Government requires our consent to the changes, what is the point of having any say if we cannot have a say in its outcome?
The Johnson Government has made dangerous choices and is playing fast and loose with a large majority by fast-tracking an agreement that includes unacceptable changes. It seems that some Tory rebels remain: some MPs will defy the Government in a vote to restore a commitment to family reunion for child refugees in the Brexit legislation. Alf Dubs, whose amendment to the previous withdrawal bill has been removed, has written with other parties a letter to Boris Johnson, in which they say that although Boris Johnson has won a majority in Parliament, he did not win the moral argument to absolve himself of responsibility for some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
I know about the plight of lone refugee children, because I tried to locate the family of a young boy whom I found in the Calais jungle, as it is called, when he was only eight years old. He had been separated from his family for almost a year. He suffered trauma during that time, and it is thanks to pro bono lawyers that he found his family. Is that the Britain out of Europe that even the moderate Tories want—a heartless “No refugees here” approach in the new nationhood for Britain out of Europe? I want to fight against that.
Brexit is not just being done; it is being done in a Boris Johnson way that is highly political and highly economically damaging, and which does not have the interests of working people at heart, as has been shown by the removal of clauses that pledged alignment with the EU on workers’ rights. The EU has, for the most part, been the only thing that has protected the rights of workers in the past. We only have protection of low-paid workers’ entitlement to four weeks’ paid holiday because of Europe. Do members need any more convincing than that?
We accept that we are leaving Europe, but we want a say in how we will go about it. The UK Government has asked this Parliament for our consent. It is supposed to have a relationship with the devolved Parliaments, but it is not demonstrating any respect for them, at all. The UK Tories have been warned time and again to respect the role of the Scottish Parliament, but it seems that they will not give it time, or respect the rights in the Scotland Act 1998, to have a say in withdrawal.
We demand the return of powers to the Scottish Parliament if we are leaving Europe, because respecting the settled will of the Scottish people means respecting the devolution settlement. We demand that powers be repatriated to Scotland, where they should be. Boris Johnson and his style of government is the biggest threat to the union. The first test for him of whether he respects this nation is how he involves us and gives us a say, as we leave Europe.
We cannot support the legislative consent motion. We will continue to fight for Scotland’s interests to be considered in what is a very damaging process, and we will support the Government in the vote tonight.
In preparation for the debate, I had a brief look over the many speeches that I have made on Brexit over the past three and a half years. Some common themes have emerged in the points that I have made in the chamber. The first is that we should respect the result of the Brexit referendum, regardless of how we voted in it. The second is that a negotiated exit remains the best way to deliver that result, so that we leave with a deal.
The third is that the SNP has time and again voted against any deal that seeks to implement the result of the 2016 referendum.
I was struck by something that Jamie Greene picked up on: the SNP and others now hold up the deal that was reached by Theresa May’s Administration as a better deal than the one that is before us now, but they voted against it three times in the House of Commons.
I could go on, but after three and a half years of debate on Brexit it seems that we are finally making progress: the end is in sight. The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill passed its second reading overwhelmingly, and will complete its passage through the UK Parliament with relative ease. We will be leaving the EU on 31 January, as promised, and nothing that is said this afternoon will change that. Whatever one’s view, Brexit is happening: that is an incontrovertible political fact.
Therefore, there is a reality facing the SNP Government and other parties in Parliament, and with that reality comes a choice for the Scottish Government. It is a simple one, which is brought firmly into focus by this debate. Will the Scottish Government engage constructively with the UK Government over Brexit, or not? [
.] Put another way, does the Scottish Government want to make Brexit work for Scotland and the people whom we represent, or would it rather carry on with a campaign of attrition—rejecting every overture, agitating at every perceived slight and thereby continuing with years of tumult and division such as we have already witnessed?
Following the bill, there will be others. There will be a trade bill, an agriculture bill, a fisheries bill and more, and there will be subordinate legislation. Each piece of legislation will be highly important in its own way for Scottish industries, businesses and individuals, and Scotland will be watching the Government to see whether it finally clambers out of the trenches and joins in a common endeavour.
It will not be easy; there are many challenges. I am not someone who thinks that Brexit will bring about unbridled opportunities all the way. The next few years will have difficult moments. Trade negotiations are, by their nature, tough, but how will the SNP maintaining its current position help? How could that possibly be it acting in Scotland’s interests?
I will come to that in a moment.
] Let me answer.
The UK Government, for its part, has accommodated many of the concerns that have been raised by the devolved administrations during the process. When last we debated a legislative consent motion in May 2018, we noted the concessions that had been made by the UK Government on clause 11, and the broad agreement that it was met with by, for instance, the Welsh Government.
Let me give Stewart Stevenson a more specific recent example that was mentioned by Murdo Fraser. In the December letter that he sent to the cabinet secretary, Steve Barclay stated that extensive engagement between the two Governments had
“resulted in the UK government making significant changes ... including giving devolved ministers a strong role in relevant appointments” to the proposed independent monitoring authority. As Murdo Fraser said, that was a reasonable position in respect of a UK-wide body. That example is a far cry from the picture that the SNP regularly likes to paint, which is that it is being ignored and disrespected throughout the process.
The cabinet secretary knows fine well that the previous Deputy Prime Minister, David Lidington, engaged with him here and at Westminster. As many of us have said time and again, the deal meets many of the SNP’s demands. As SNP MP Alan Brown has noted, he called on the UK Government to
“do a lot more”, to
“explore options, and” to
“work hard to secure a deal”.—[
Official Report, House of Commons
, 19 July 2018; Vol 645, c574.]
We have a deal.
The cabinet secretary said in 2018 to the committee that I sit on:
“we hope that there will be a transition period”—[
Official Report, Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee
, 6 September 2018; c 15.]
There will be a transition period.
However, none of that is good enough for the SNP. It is expert at moving the goal posts. Where others have taken tough decisions and have compromised, the SNP continues to drag its heels and refuses to accept the reality of the situation. That is what is truly holding Scotland back and creating increased uncertainty for our economy.
Let me take the whisky industry, which is of particular importance to the Highlands and Islands. In October, the Scotch Whisky Association said that a deal being rejected will only add to the uncertainty that the industry has been subjected to over the past three years. We now have an end in sight.
In the minute that I have left, I will turn to a few remarks that have been made by others across the chamber. Adam Tomkins and Murdo Fraser said that the cabinet secretary would vote against any deal, regardless of what the bill said. The Scottish Government made up its mind 18 months ago that it would vote against the deal. Jamie Greene said something very important towards the end of his speech. He said:
“wishing it would stop is not the same as trying to make it work.”
The bill has overwhelming support in the House of Commons, but it also has the support of the European Union. Ursula von der Leyen, who is the President of the EU Commission, has been in London today. Among many contributions, she had a message for younger people and students. She said that
“Brexit does not only mark the end of something. It also marks a new phase in an enduring partnership and friendship.”
All the significant players want Brexit to happen now and there is an overwhelming public desire to put the past three years behind us. Voting against consent merely signals that this Parliament refuses to accept the reality that Brexit is happening. Fundamentally, this is now a time to look forward, not backward, and to address the future and not the past. For all those reasons, I support Adam Tomkins’s amendment and urge others to do so.
Let me start by addressing some factual errors that have been made in this debate, before I come on to the position of the Conservatives and the extraordinary parallel universe in which they are presently operating. I say to Jamie Greene—I note that he is not here—that it is extraordinary not to define workers’ rights, human rights, environmental protections and the alleviation of the suffering of young children separated from their parents as important matters.
That those are not important matters is the most extraordinary thing that I have heard in the chamber in a very long time. I simply cannot understand that and if Jamie Greene had an explanation for it, I would take it.
No. I am sorry, but Mr Findlay did not participate in the debate and I have too much to do in my speech
I want to stand very firmly on the allegation that, in some sense, the SNP is not democratic. Scotland is not, as we might have noticed, independent today. Therefore, we must have accepted the result of the 2014 referendum, and we did. What changed, of course, was what happened in 2016. However, even then, we made every possible effort to secure a compromise, but that was not accepted. We have therefore rigorously respected the result of the referenda, but the trouble is that the Scottish Conservatives have not; they wish to make sure that the voice of the Scottish people is not heard or, rather, that it is selectively heard, which is not acceptable.
Finally, the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill does not get Brexit done. That is a very simple fact that must be known to Mr Tomkins, who made the allegation that it did so. There is no end in sight, as Mr Cameron said there was. The bill is the end of what was meant to be the simple part of the process—I think that David Davis called it that. The complicated part of the process is just about to start, and already the UK Government has hobbled itself by limiting the time for that to the end of this year. However, the bill is not the end of the process.
Before I start on the position of the Tories, I will make a point on the issue of the independent monitoring authority, which a couple of Labour members and Murdo Fraser raised. There are three issues with regard to the IMA that need to be considered. The first is the fact that there can be a veto from the UK Government on appointments to the IMA, but no veto from the Scottish Government. That is an inadequate position, but that is where we are. Both Governments should be given a veto or neither should be given one, but a veto should not be given to only one side. However, there is no need for a veto for either side, because we can work together.
No. I am not going to, because I have to address the errors of fact from Murdo Fraser.
There is absolutely no reason why there should not be the opportunity for the Scottish Government to nominate or to accept or refuse a nomination—that opportunity would be normal. However, Murdo Fraser’s argument is particularly strange, because what it says is that the test of whether a matter is devolved is up to the UK Government; it is not to do with the Scotland Act 1998 but is to do with the UK Government. The UK Government can therefore decide what the person nominated to the IMA is to do and how they are to do it; and if that person has been involved in devolved actions, it is up to the UK Government to decide whether to appoint them. That is a very slippery slope for devolution and Murdo Fraser knows it.
I am sorry, but I am not giving way to Mr Fraser at all. It would be best if he did not waste his time and mine.
On the issue of appointments to the IMA and its functions, it is important to recognise, as I think that Mr Rowley recognised, that the body’s powers can be taken away and given to another body without any consultation. Those are all a serious set of circumstances.
I turn now to the Tories in this debate. I actually want to congratulate Adam Tomkins on his tour de force performance. I have a rule of thumb in these matters: I always assess how closely Mr Tomkins believes in what the Tories are doing by his performance. Usually, if he is calm and reasoned, I think that he is in agreement with the Tory position and that therefore there can be a constructive debate. However, the more hysterical he becomes, the less I think that he is in sympathy with the Tory position. And, boy, what a performance there was today! I have to say that it was completely off the scale.
About halfway through it, what suddenly came into my mind was Richard Hannay in “The Thirty-Nine Steps” appearing—as members might remember—at a free trade meeting held somewhere, with a Union Jack in the background. I had to look it up while Mr Tomkins was talking and found a fantastic quote from Mr Hannay. Mr Tomkins was doing what Mr Hannay was doing: he had to make it up as he went along and he got angrier and angrier. In the book, Hannay says that he did not do
“so badly when it came to my turn ... I started ... to tell them the kind of glorious business I thought could be made out of the Empire if we really put our backs into it.”
That is exactly what we heard from Mr Tomkins. There is also another parallel, because “The Thirty-Nine Steps” is of course a book about a man on the run, and the performance of Mr Tomkins and his party shows a man on the run and a party on the run.
What a contrast with the calm and measured analysis from Bruce Crawford, who made every point that the committee agreed clearly and, in so doing, rebutted every point that Mr Tomkins made. The bill does cut across the devolved settlement, as the committee says. The bill does raise questions about the rights of the devolved Administrations to be involved in the implementation of international agreements, as the committee recognises. The bill does not resolve the dispute about appointments to the IMA, and it ignores the Sewel convention, just as the committee has concluded. The bill should not have the support of Parliament, as the committee recommends—with the exception of Mr Tomkins, Mr Fraser and Mr Burnett.
What lies behind Brexit? What lies behind the Brexit process? We should ask that question, given the seriousness of the choice that Scotland has to make. What lies behind the hoarding of power at Westminster? It is undoubtedly a distaste for devolution. It is the promotion of an image of the UK that is a century out of date, which brings us back to “The Thirty-Nine Steps”, which was published as a series in 1915. It is that out-of-date view of the reality of the world today that Brexit epitomises.
However, we on this side of the chamber should welcome the way in which the Tories have treated today’s debate. I notice that somebody on Twitter said they were “gloating” and that is what it was; the four Tory speeches were gloating speeches. According to Murdo Fraser, the SNP has got it wrong. What he meant to say was that the voters of Scotland got it wrong, because it was the voters of Scotland who said, not just last December but at every possible opportunity, that they do not want to leave the EU. That is the key issue; the Tories have got it wrong. Scotland is turning its face from the Tories.
I was listening to Mr Tomkins and thinking, “Nobody believes this any more.” Nobody believes the dire warnings, the manufactured attacks on the SNP in Government, the lauding of ministers and management in another place, the Tories’ support of each and every diminution and erosion of devolution, and the Tories’ grievance-driven agenda. Do we know what the Tory grievance is? Scotland no longer supports them. That is their grievance.
Scotland has had enough of the Tories. It has had enough of Adam Tomkins pretending to take a position that he does not hold. It has had enough of the ludicrous performance of Murdo Fraser. It has had enough of Jamie Greene, who does not even understand the parliamentary process. It has had enough of Scotland being told that we are too wee, too poor and too stupid to be a nation within Europe. It has had enough of being spoken for and spoken over, as we can hear happening now from the Tory members. It has had enough of Brexit, and we should say that loud and clear as a Parliament and a country today.
I am grateful that the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the Labour Party are supporting our position. No matter what other positions we might take, the truth of the matter is that Scotland has rejected Brexit and those who espouse Brexit are also being rejected. I ask members to support my motion.