For the purposes of rule 9.11 of the standing orders, I advise the Parliament that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, in so far as they are affected by the bill, at the disposal of the Parliament for the purposes of the bill.
I am pleased to present the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill to the Parliament for debate at stage 3. I invite members to agree to pass the bill.
We are nine days away from the end of the transition period that started when the United Kingdom left the European Union and that has protected the UK from feeling the full force of Brexit. It was intended to allow a comprehensive deal to be reached, and it could have been extended. However, despite representations in the strongest possible terms having been made by the Scottish Government and others, no extension was sought by the UK Government.
It is still not too late to say to the UK Government, “For heaven’s sake, be sensible.” Considering what is presently happening at the channel ports, the disaster that is befalling many shellfish dealers and fishermen in Scotland—particularly those in my own constituency—it is utterly extraordinary that the UK Government is proceeding with this madness, and apparently with the support of the Tories in the Scottish Parliament. Let me repeat what the First Minister said this week: please do whatever it takes, Prime Minister, to extend the transition period to ensure that this chaos comes to an end.
It is against that backdrop of instability and chaos that we can see why the bill is vital. Part 1 will provide ministers with the power to align the law in Scotland with that in the EU when that would be in Scotland’s best interests. I am grateful to members from across the chamber who came together to work with me to find a way of ensuring that the power has a clear purpose and is both operable and transparent and that the Parliament’s scrutiny role is appropriately recognised. I pay tribute to Angela Constance, Liam McArthur, Patrick Harvie, Alex Rowley and Mike Rumbles, among others, for their constructive approach in reaching consensus on those vital matters.
Part 2 incorporates into Scots law guiding principles on the environment, to replace the fundamental environmental protections that will be lost as a result of Brexit. It establishes environmental standards Scotland, which will carry out some of the functions that were previously carried out by the European Commission. As there are only nine days to go until 1 January 2021, we shall ask the Parliament, in a motion to endorse the setting up of that body on a non-statutory basis, to bridge that gap. I know that my colleague Roseanna Cunningham has had valuable discussions with the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee and with individual members as part 2 has progressed. I commend Gillian Martin of that committee for her effective management of consideration of the bill at stage 2. I also thank the Finance and Constitution Committee for its work. I thank Liz Smith for her constructive attitude to working on the amendment on the future review of governance, and I know that Roseanna Cunningham thanks her, too. Although the Scottish Government has not been able to support all the amendments, I am grateful to those who lodged them—although, perhaps, when they see a result of 90 votes to 26, they should be able to read the runes.
I commend the bill team, led by Emma Lupinska, which I have to say has been exceptional. I speak as someone who knows a thing or two about bill teams. I think that this is my ninth or 10th bill—not just this year, although it feels as though it could be so. However, I also have to say, with regret—although it will not be met with regret by some members in the chamber—that for both Roseanna Cunningham and me it is likely, although not certain, given the unpredictable situation, to be the last piece of legislation that we will take through the Parliament. That is an important part of the job of a minister, and it is a very important part of the job of a parliamentarian. I have learned a great deal during the legislative process, and I hope that I have been able to pass some of that on from time to time.
That the Parliament agrees that the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill be passed.
The bill is an exceptional piece of legislation. It gives the Scottish ministers exceptional powers to keep pace with EU legislation over a period of a decade.
Let us be clear: we are talking about laws made by a supranational body of which we will no longer be a member and laws in relation to which we will have had no formal input.
The Finance and Constitution Committee heard evidence that that will result in the Scottish Parliament becoming a passive rule taker of laws that will not be appropriate for the future needs of Scotland. Understandably, that has caused widespread concern among stakeholders. Scottish Conservatives accordingly sought to lodge amendments that would require meaningful stakeholder consultation on the keeping pace powers so that the
Scottish ministers could benefit from expert assessment of how any future EU laws might or might not be tailored to the needs of Scotland and receive guidance on which laws should be followed.
However, as the legislation currently stands, it will be for the Scottish ministers alone to make that decision on the future needs of Scotland, without the requirement for expert stakeholder input.
The bill also raises much wider questions about the role of the Parliament in a post-Brexit environment. Just a few weeks ago, we had an important debate on that very question. A number of committees looked at the question, and the overwhelming response was that the Parliament and stakeholders should be able to scrutinise decisions on the keeping pace powers—recommendations that committees of this Parliament made very clearly to the Finance and Constitution Committee. In fact, the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee went so far as to recommend that primary legislation should be used when significant changes of law and policy were introduced. That was the purpose of a number of the amendments that I lodged today—to give a voice and power to committees of this Parliament. When instruments are lodged by the Scottish ministers that will introduce a significant change of law or a significant change of policy, it is only appropriate that committees have a role in deciding how those instruments should be dealt with—all with the purpose of increasing parliamentary and stakeholder scrutiny. It is a matter of regret, therefore, that the voice of the Parliament’s committees will not be reflected in the bill this evening.
There are other serious concerns about the bill, given the ability of the Scottish ministers to keep pace with some but not all future EU laws. That will result in Scottish firms having to comply with a host of potentially conflicting regulations including devolved law that keeps pace, devolved law that does not keep pace and different regulations in other parts of the UK that no longer follow EU regulations. The Finance and Constitution Committee heard evidence that that will result in Scotland becoming a “regulatory no man’s land”, with the inevitable consequence that the expense and complexity of doing business here will increase, as will costs for consumers. It will also cause distortion between Scotland and the rest of the UK internal market, which, as NFU Scotland has made clear on a number of occasions, is by far the biggest market for Scottish produce. All of this at a time when we all know that Scottish firms are struggling to survive under lockdown restrictions.
I will conclude, because it has been quite a long afternoon. The other fundamental flaw in the legislation is the fact that it will not achieve its stated objective of keeping Scotland aligned with EU regulations, which the cabinet secretary has said all along is the overall policy intention. The Faculty of Advocates has made it clear that
Commenting on the proposed legislation, EU officials have been reported as saying:
“This legislation could create a difficult position for Scotland and wouldn’t be effective. Many regulations which are passed by the EU will be difficult to implement and will not apply to Scotland.”
There we have it, Presiding Officer—what we have before us is bad legislation. There could have been consensus on the way forward in a post-Brexit environment. We could have had a bill that allowed ministers to make minor, technical, non-substantial adjustments to existing legislation through the use of secondary legislation. Instead, we have a bill that will turn this Parliament and stakeholders in Scotland into passive rule takers. For all those reasons, Parliament should reject the bill at decision time.
I will come to the wider politics in a moment, but I want to talk about the bill first. At the outset, I should say that I might be coming in at the end for the glory on this, but all the hard work on our side has been done by my colleagues Alex Rowley and Claudia Beamish, and I thank them both for all their efforts in getting the bill to where it has finally got to.
I also thank and pay tribute to Michael Russell for his positive engagement with my colleagues and for his openness and transparency throughout. As he rightly noted, we got to a much more robust place in the end compared with where we were at the start of the process.
There are a couple of points that Parliament in the next session will need to reflect on in relation to some of its post-Brexit scrutiny. The Parliament recently had a wider debate on that in debating a Finance and Constitution Committee motion. There are issues to do with transparency, the role of committees in post-Brexit powers and how we scrutinise the keeping-pace powers. There are issues of scrutiny and transparency in relation to the role of the executive and the wider Government. We discussed all those issues in that debate, and I am sure that they will be debated even more in the next session of Parliament.
I should note that my colleague Claudia Beamish will be slightly disappointed that not all her amendments or suggestions were accepted, but I am sure that we will keep the proposals that were not accepted for another day.
I will not dwell on the wider politics for too long, because I know that members have been occupied for quite a long time today. However, I have to ask Mr Lockhart: where is the remorse? We should not be in this situation right now. I do not think that we should be in this situation at all with the mess of the Brexit process, which has caused constitutional paralysis in our country for the past four and a bit years. However, it is completely unacceptable and unforgivable for it to be happening now, at the height of a pandemic, when thousands of our fellow citizens have lost their lives and hundreds of thousands of people risk losing their livelihoods. Where is the remorse?
I will address that in a moment. However, it is worth reflecting on Mr Lockhart’s party’s position at UK level. In an election campaign, we were promised an oven-ready deal that was good to go but, instead, in the midst of a crisis with nine days left until the end of the transition period, we still do not have a deal on the table. We are two days away from Christmas, nine days from the end of the transition period and at the height of a global pandemic, but we have no deal. That is completely unacceptable.
Mr Russell and I are at one on the issue of Brexit. It is an act of folly that will damage Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It will damage the whole of the UK economically and it will damage our standing in Europe and the wider world. It is an act of gross self-harm that we collectively as the United Kingdom will come to regret. It will impact on all sectors of our society. We need only look at what is happening with the backlog of lorries in Kent at the moment to get a slight hint of what awaits our fellow citizens. As I said, for that to happen at any time is unforgivable, but for it to be happening now, in the midst of a pandemic, is completely unforgivable.
Mr Russell and I agree on the issue of Brexit. Whatever our differences may be on independence or other issues, let us recognise that our country has collectively gone through trauma and has taken an economic hit that is sharper than that of the banking crisis. In that context, let us collectively resolve to pull our people together, pull our country together and get us through this Covid crisis.
The need to get the bill right has been a big weight on members’ shoulders. There is a real sense of loss as we fully exit the EU, and there is a risk that hard-won protections and built-in solidarity with other European nations could disappear. That pressure has resulted in strong cross-party working across the chamber, with members uniting against the economic and environmental vandalism of the Tory party.
We can see that in the amendments that were debated earlier today, and particularly those on keeping pace. I hope that those amendments will ensure that Scotland stays on a parallel path to the progressive path in the rest of Europe. However, keeping that alignment will need a big collective effort, particularly between Government, stakeholders and the new body, environmental standards Scotland. I ask the cabinet secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, to clarify in her closing comments the role of ESS in relation to the section 1 powers on keeping pace. Will advice be sought from ESS and will it have a role in monitoring the progressive policies that are being developed in Europe and then applying those to Scotland?
I would like to thank Claudia Beamish, in particular. We have shared a lot of head space throughout stages 2 and 3, and I welcome the fact that the Government has shifted on much of the agenda that we had in the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee.
Although there are still weaknesses in the bill, a lot of progress has been made. Originally, there was no requirement for the environmental principles to be fully integrated into policy making, but that has been fixed this afternoon. There was no commitment to deliver a high level of environmental protection, but that has now been enshrined in the environmental strategy. In addition, there was no commitment to put the environmental strategy on a statutory footing, with enforceable targets. I regret the fact that the enforceable targets are not included in the bill, but the strategy is, and that gives us the leverage to have discussions with the Government about how we can ensure that time-bound action is taken to tackle the nature emergency.
The bill will give rise to a new watchdog, environmental standards Scotland, which will provide some of the oversight and enforcement that we will lose from the European Commission in nine days’ time. At stage 2, I argued that it would have been preferable for ESS to have been set up as a fully independent commission. Although that option was rejected, the new body is starting to look and feel more like a commission as a result of amendments that have been agreed to today.
In particular, I welcome the fact that the need for the new body to be financially independent has been recognised by the Government. ESS must have full confidence that, whatever action it needs to take, it will have the capacity to deliver. In the past, public bodies have arguably been hamstrung by concerns about the cost of their decisions being the subject of legal challenge. For years, Scottish Natural Heritage seemed unable to exercise its powers over deer management for fear of costly legal challenge. When ESS takes action, it will have the force of the bill behind it, which means that it will be provided with whatever resources it needs to get the job done.
There is much work for ESS to do. I hope that the current complaint to the European Commission about the use of acoustic deterrents, which are filling our seas with noise pollution, will be at the top of the list. With the Government consulting on a new air quality strategy, the importance of not just setting but meeting European standards will be critical to our lung health in a Covid-scarred population.
Some say that it is Parliament’s role to hold the Government’s feet to the fire on climate change, but short of burning committee reports, I cannot see how that can be done by Parliament alone. Parliament needs a strong watchdog with an enforcement role in relation to climate, and that is what it now has.
We stand on the Brexit cliff edge, but the bill will anchor the most critical tools that we need to stay aligned with a European Union that Scotland voted to remain part of and which we will one day rejoin.
I associate myself with the comments of Mark Ruskell and Anas Sarwar on their regret surrounding the bill. It is not a bill that many of us wanted to see. The damaging legacy of Brexit is now becoming a firm reality. As well as the damage that it will cause to our economy and our communities, leaving the EU means that there are legislative gaps that need to be plugged. As I said earlier during the consideration of amendments, the bill provides the Scottish ministers with significant powers to keep pace with EU law.
As someone who worked in the EU institutions for many years, I am well aware of the volume of legislation and policy that they produce. I recognise, too, the need to avoid worrying ourselves about processing legislation and policy that has no relevance in Scotland, but it is important that we keep pace with the relevant and progressive elements when it comes to environmental standards and protections.
However, the power to keep pace should not mean that ministers have a monopoly of control. When the bill was first presented, it lacked proper safeguards on transparency and accountability, and the Parliament risked being left as a bystander in a process that is of fundamental importance to those we are elected to serve. That was a concern of the committees that scrutinised the bill, and it was very much shared by Scottish Liberal Democrats. However, I believe that we have been able to address that concern through cross-party collaboration and collaboration between the Parliament and the Government. I again put on record my gratitude to various members across the parties, but in particular to the cabinet secretary, for the approach that they have taken to this important bill.
As well as greater transparency and accountability in the way that the keeping pace powers are exercised, I am pleased that the bill sets out more specifically and comprehensively our shared commitment to the highest environmental standards, underpinned by a core purpose. That should allow greater public confidence that, even outside the structures of the EU, those protections and standards will be maintained. After all, Parliament has agreed that there is a climate and nature emergency, and in the midst of such an emergency there can be no let-up in our protection of the environment or our pursuit of the highest environmental standards.
I reiterate that Scottish Liberal Democrats are determined to do everything possible to limit the damaging legacy of Brexit, not least in the area of environmental policy. I pay tribute to Scottish Environment LINK and the other organisations that have worked hard to put into the bill a green backbone that incorporates key environmental principles, greater clarity on its purpose and stronger duties on public bodies.
As one might expect, the bill has undergone significant surgery through the scrutiny process, which underlines why it is right that we are enhancing parliamentary oversight in the area for the future. At the start of the process, I was highly sceptical of what the Scottish Government was proposing. Through the work of the committees and this Parliament, supported by the evidence of very many witnesses and in collaboration with the Scottish Government, I am confident that we now have a bill that is worthy of support. It is not a bill that Scottish Liberal Democrats wished to see, but it is one that we will be happy to support at decision time this evening.
This country is at a time of crisis on many fronts. I welcome the passing of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill today as an offering of stability against our exit from the EU. I particularly identify myself with the remarks of my colleague Anas Sarwar.
The bill is fundamental to our way forward for our devolved settlement and our environmental protections. We are in the midst of a climate and nature emergency. We are seeing the Scottish Government reporting back on the 2020 Aichi targets, and it is anticipated that the scorecard will not be exemplary. With one in nine Scottish species threatened with extinction, getting the provisions in the bill right has been a priority for Scottish Labour and indeed for many others.
Although there is still vast room for improvement, we have come a long way with the bill. I know that no one wants to see Scotland and the UK return to being known as the dirty man of Europe, as they were in the 1970s. Maintaining the progressive standards is crucial if we are to end the decline in our natural world, meet emissions reduction targets and deliver a green recovery from this awful pandemic.
There has been much to welcome in today’s stage 3 proceedings. I was pleased to work effectively with Mark Ruskell in committee, especially on climate change issues. I am also pleased that the Government changed its position on ministers giving “due regard” to environmental principles and corrected the undue exclusion of climate change from ESS’s remit.
My amendments on a statutory environment strategy will, along with Mark Ruskell’s work, be instrumental in structuring environmental policy making and keeping it to the fore. I thank the cabinet secretary and her officials again for their efforts and their compromise in relation to my amendments, and I thank Scottish Environment LINK for its wisdom.
My amendments to protect the right of an individual to raise a complaint against a public body were, in my view, immensely important. The very purpose of the bill is to keep pace with the EU, and the failure to include the amendments, in my view, represents a terrible erosion of environmental governance and citizens’ access to justice. The conviction that I expressed in lodging the amendments was affirmed by many constituents, who took the time to write to me and others to share their concerns, as well as the more than 6,000 people who signed Scottish Environment LINK’s petition.
Our environment laws are only as good as the institutions that uphold them, and the watchdog will be effective only if it is independent of Government and its powers are not constrained. On that theme, Liz Smith’s amendment, which provides for a check-up on how well ESS is functioning and consideration of an environmental court for the future, is welcome.
Scottish Labour is pleased to be voting for the bill, which will underpin the accountability of future Scottish Governments. It will keep us aligned with what many consider to be the progressive force of the EU in the dire circumstances in which we find ourselves, with only nine days to go, and, indeed, it will mitigate the potential degradation of our environmental standards.
There is a little time in hand, so I can give members an extra minute for closing speeches. That is generosity, which is perhaps not desired, as you are all very tired, I know, but there we go.
I thank the Finance and Constitution Committee and the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee for their hard work in scrutinising the bill, and I thank the clerks for their work at stages 1 and 2. I also thank those who gave evidence and the Law Society of Scotland, which has been giving its expertise and advice to members.
The bill allows our legal system to keep pace with EU law in devolved areas where appropriate, which is right and fit, as well as ensuring that there continue to be guiding environmental principles in our post-Brexit landscape. Those general principles are supported by the Labour Party and we will be voting for the bill. We support creating new powers to allow the Government to keep pace with EU laws. It is particularly desirable to be able to deliver the strong environmental standards that we want to see in Scotland.
I believe that there is a real threat from the Tory Government in Westminster—and Boris’s Tories sitting across from Labour members here—and the ideological view that it takes of the free market, which will create a race to the bottom. That is a threat not just to the environment but to the whole of the United Kingdom, because so many people believe that we have to find an alternative to being dominated and run by ideologues who have no interest in people or the environment and whose only interest is a race to the bottom in order to create the greed and wealth that they stand for.
It is unforgivable that potentially no trade deal will be agreed between the UK and the EU, with just 10 days left of the transition period. That is causing unnecessary chaos and, indeed, anxiety and worry for people and businesses, which is why, even at this late stage, Scottish Labour calls on the UK Government to extend the deadline and give us the chance to get a deal that, in this Covid crisis, could at least get some kind of certainty for Scottish businesses.
The Scottish Labour Party will put forward what is in the best interests of the people of Scotland, and we will always stand up for what is right for Scotland. This Brexit deal is not right for Scotland. When it comes to a choice between the rights and interests of the people of Scotland and the interests of Boris Johnson and his wealthy chums, it is clear what side the Tory party will come down on: the rights and interests of Boris Johnson and his wealthy chums.
More than 15,000 lorries are stuck in Kent at present, waiting for a deal to be reached so that they can get across to Europe. That demonstrates the threat that we and Scottish businesses and industries face. The Tory party will not stand up for Scotland. It will stand up for ideologues, for greed and wealth, and for Boris Johnson. We should be under no illusions about that.
It is right that we pass the bill today. It is right that we reject a fall in standards to the lowest common denominator and it is right that we stand up for Scotland. The only party in the chamber that would put Johnson and Tory ideologues first is the Scottish Tory party, and the Scottish people will see through that time and again.
I add my thanks to the Finance and Constitution Committee and the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee for all the work that they have undertaken on a bill that Conservative members never wanted to see. It is interesting that several parties across the chamber, perhaps for different reasons, never wanted to see it. However, I commend the work that has been put in. In some cases, that has been very constructive work that will make the bill better than it might otherwise have been.
I want to take up points that Labour members have made. I say to Mr Sarwar that I was firmly of the view that we should vote remain, and I am still very much of that opinion. Nonetheless, the UK did not vote to remain in the EU; it voted for Brexit, and we have to get on with it.
There is an expectation among the Scottish public. They would like to see the Westminster Government and the Scottish Government working together, so we have an obligation to ensure that any legislation that is passed in the chamber is good-quality legislation. Our reason for raising issues in parts 1 and 2 of the bill has been to ensure that anything that is passed is better, for example in relation to scrutiny. That is why Mr Lockhart lodged the amendments on additional scrutiny. We believe that there are still issues with that as the bill goes to its closing stage.
Ministerial powers are an issue. As far as we are concerned, there are still issues relating to the possible excess of ministerial power for the Scottish ministers. We do not accept that.
We had a great deal of concern about the fundamental principle of keeping pace. That means that, in some circumstances, we would keep pace with legislation and laws on which we would have absolutely no say. That in itself is a major issue.
I accept that Liz Smith was on the remain side and I accept what she is saying about where we need to go with the bill post-Brexit. However, she is a very fair-minded person, and I am sure that she accepts that the situation that we find ourselves in nine days from the end of the transition period is chaos, and that it is unacceptable and lets down the British people. Surely she, as a fair-minded person, can acknowledge that.
It would not be the first time that I have put on record in the Parliament that I am not happy about the Brexit process. I said that when I began my closing remarks, and that was certainly not for the first time in the chamber. However, as democrats, we accept that the vote was for Brexit at the UK level. We have to get on, and the electorate expects that, whatever we do, we must ensure that the Scottish Government and the Westminster Government work together in the best interests of the electorate.
If it were being made possible to work together, that would be all very well, but the Conservative Party’s central political project now is to remove us from the democratic structures of Europe. Its Government has already legislated in devolved areas without the Scottish Parliament’s consent, and its United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 promises to do the same thing many more times in the future. Is it not breathtaking irony that the Conservative Party now accuses others of turning Scotland into a rule taker?
I completely disagree with Mr Harvie. It is painfully obvious that we will not, sadly, have any input into keeping pace with EU law, so the argument that Mr Harvie has just put cannot be accepted at all. That is the principle on which we have fought the bill. There are certain key principles in the bill that simply do not match up to the best interests of Scotland and the UK working together, which as I have said, is what the public expect.
I know that time is short, so I will conclude.
Although we are against the principles that I have spoken about, we have tried to work constructively. I once again welcome the engagement that Roseanna Cunningham and her officials have provided, because there are important aspects in part 2 of the bill.
I will finish on that point. Obviously, I will agree with Dean Lockhart when it comes to the final vote.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am wondering how I will take us up to decision time, but I will do my very best.
I start by addressing the point of substance that Mark Ruskell made in his speech. ESS will have no specific role in making proposals for keeping pace, but it has a general power to consider the effects of European environmental legislation. If ESS believes that a European regulation would be useful, desirable and better than a Scottish regulation, there is absolutely nothing to prevent it from making a recommendation on the matter. That may not be an absolute power, but it is fair. That is the situation as I understand it. My colleague Roseanna Cunningham has confirmed that, so I feel confident that I am not trespassing on her area of responsibility.
I listened with respect, as I always do, to Liz Smith. She is one of the very few people who has called for my resignation in trenchant terms with whom I still get on well. I know that that does not do her any good in the Tory party—
Such is the measure of my respect for Liz Smith and, I hope, my friendship with her that I would not mind her doing so. Indeed, I would much rather hear her demand my resignation than listen to some of her colleagues making recommendations and proposing amendments, because she makes a lot more sense.
I ask Liz Smith, with the greatest respect—in this case, it is meant; usually, when we say that, it is not meant—how can we work with people who will not work with us? That is the key issue. We made recommendations and introduced the “Scotland’s Place in Europe” documentation—the first report was exactly four years ago. We sought a compromise—we have sought compromises repeatedly over a long period. I do not agree with Scotland being dragged out of Europe against its will, and neither does Liz Smith, but if there was a compromise to be had, we would have had it.
One of the great ironies of the Brexit process—one of the great moments at which things did not happen, when a dog did not bark that should have barked—is that Theresa May should have brought into Downing Street, in October or November 2016, the leaders of the political parties and the devolved Administrations and said, “Look, we’ve all got to get something out of this. Scotland did not vote for Brexit. Northern Ireland did not vote for it. The vote in Wales was narrow and the Welsh Government was against it. Let us find a way forward.” That did not happen.
The joint ministerial committee (European Union negotiations) was set up with a remit that has never been observed—
One moment, please.
The failure to observe the JMC(EN)’s remit was not that of the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government or even the Northern Irish. It is the UK Government that has refused to allow the JMC(EN) to operate its remit. The JMC(EN) has not met in the past three weeks, and no information has flowed from it.
I am happy for Liz Smith to intervene once I have made my point. My conscience is absolutely clear on this matter. We have worked hard to work with the UK Government and successive secretaries of state, such as those who have chaired the JMC(EN). The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, which I shall come to in a moment, once Liz Smith has intervened, illustrates that, but it also gives the absolute lie to things that we have heard today.
Of course that is not the impression that the UK Government would give. I am absolutely confident that we have sought constructive compromise all the way along. Indeed, when I write the story, as I hope to do, I hope that I will be able to illustrate with many examples how that is the case.
The relationship has deteriorated repeatedly as a result of Tory ministers, particularly in the Boris Johnson Administration. That continues to be true today. There has been no further COBRA meeting today. There has been no phone call between George Eustice and environment ministers. That is absolutely typical of how the UK Government behaves. That is the reality.
I would have worked with the UK Government, but not only have I been disappointed, but the people of Scotland have been insulted.
I turn to the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. Dean Lockhart has repeatedly said that his objection to the bill that is before us is that it is deficient in scrutiny terms because the Scottish Government has not been listening and has not compromised. Let me call in evidence the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. It was refused consent by the Scottish Parliament and by the Welsh Parliament. The Northern Ireland Assembly voted against it. It was completely gutted and filleted—if I may use a fishing allusion; I know that Boris Johnson likes them—by the House of Lords. There was, however, no compromise from the UK Government, there was no listening on the matter and there was an absolute—[
.] No, I want to finish my point. There was an absolute refusal to have proper scrutiny.
The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 tells us two things. First, it tells us that the Tory arguments this afternoon have been absolute hogwash.
No, I will not take an intervention—I am awash with hogwash from the member, and I do not wish to hear any more of it.
The reality of the situation is that we have had nothing but excuses. This is a bill that we have brought back to the chamber, its having been overturned in the court by a UK Government that changed the law to overturn it. That is what happened, and because the UK Government does not like the bill it has tried to scupper it again—[
] I am sorry—the member is not guilty of this, but other Tory amendments have been wrecking amendments.
No. I am not prepared to discuss the point.
The lady who spoke from the public gallery is not there now, but I remind members that, during the French Revolution, the Montagnards were the most extreme of the Jacobins—they gave birth to Robespierre—and we had the Montagnards up in the gallery today. All that we have had—
Indeed. I am sorry if inertia—a word in French—is unparliamentary, but I recognise that that may be what is happening.
In all the circumstances, there has been a deliberate attempt to wreck the bill, and I am glad to say that that attempt has been refused. First, we have had constructive engagement on the bill from stages 1 to 3, and I pay tribute to all those who have been involved in that. I have always believed that when a bill is introduced it is not perfect and can be amended. I hope that that has been demonstrated with this bill, and that we have managed to work together to get a better bill. However, it is clear that, even if the bill had been handed down on tablets of stone by the archangel Gabriel, it would not have got the support of the Conservatives.
The second thing that the bill illustrates is that the Conservatives refuse to listen to Scotland. We have heard again and again, “Ah, but we have to accept democracy”—[
.]. I am sorry, I have given way several times.
The people of Scotland have to accept democracy, but what were the people of Scotland told in 2016? They were not told that at this stage—nine days before the deadline—there would be no agreements in place. They were not told that the final choice would come down to a no deal or a very bad low deal. They were not told that. The people of Scotland have been conned, and I will not allow democracy to be called in defence of a con, yet that is what has happened.
The people of Scotland are entitled to continue to say that they do not wish to be taken out of the EU against our will. They will continue to say that and I am proud that the Scottish National Party, in government, will also go on saying that. Our task will not be finished until two things happen: that we are independent as nation and that we re-enter the EU.
We are today setting a marker for a process in which we will remain close to and listen to our friends in the EU, because they are people who will compromise and discuss and who will not treat us in the way that we have been treated over the past four years by the UK Government.
That concludes the debate on the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill. There will be a short pause before we move on to the next item of business.