Scottish ministers are concerned about the continuing lack of progress in the talks between the United Kingdom Government and the EU in respect of the Northern Ireland protocol. I, and fellow Scottish Government ministers, have repeatedly urged the UK Government to approach the on-going discussions with the EU seriously and constructively and to meaningfully include devolved Governments in that process.
If the UK Government were to trigger article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, that would have profound and deeply damaging consequences for every part of the UK and could result in a disastrous trade dispute with the EU. It is one of the most irresponsible things that could be done right now in the face of Covid and other Brexit implications.
I agree with my colleague. The hard Brexit that the UK Government chose, which removes us from the single European market and from the customs union, is being pursued irresponsibly during a global pandemic. It is causing significant economic damage in Scotland. In the first half of 2021, Scotland’s food exports to the European Union were 14 per cent lower than in the equivalent period in 2019. That compares with a 3 per cent drop in food exports to non-EU countries over the same period. Scottish goods exports fell by 24 per cent in the latest year to June 2021, compared to the equivalent period in 2019.
Last Thursday, the Irish Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, said:
“Where there is a will, there is a way, and I think both sides just need to knuckle down and get it resolved.”
Last week’s talks were intensive and constructive and there is continuing momentum in the discussions. Will the cabinet secretary explain why the First Minister’s tone suggests that she wants the talks to fail and why she has downplayed not only the UK but the Republic of Ireland in her recent media commentary?
I do not recognise the Conservative member’s characterisation. In my conversations with Lord Frost, I have repeatedly impressed on him the need for a positive relationship with the European Union. I very much welcome the comments made by An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, about that issue.
The ball is in the UK Government’s court. As the member and her colleagues will remember, it was the UK Government that signed the Northern Ireland protocol and described the deal as “oven-ready”. It is they who are calling it into question. I urge the member to impress on her colleagues the need to find a resolution, because the impact on Scotland’s economy will be devastating if article 16 is triggered.
I think that there is an element of confusion, Ms White. I understood that you were pressing your button for a supplementary to this question. We will get to your question.
We move to question 2.