Scottish Devolution and Article 50

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:24 pm on 15th March 2017.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 5:24 pm, 15th March 2017

It is a pleasure to wind up for the Opposition with you in the Chair, Mr Gray.

I congratulate Deidre Brock on securing this debate, on focusing our attention on a really important issue and on setting the tone for the debate in a way that has been reflected in a number of serious, thoughtful and challenging contributions for the Minister to consider.

The hon. Lady was right to ask questions about the Government’s plan for Brexit; I have to say that it is not just Scotland that is being kept in the dark. She is probably right when she says the Government do not really know. It is not necessarily that they are hiding their secret plan; it is so secret that they themselves are not aware of it. Indeed, there were reports this morning in the papers that a battle is going on inside No. 10 about how much the Government will tell the EU about their plans for Brexit when they start the negotiations, and that battle has yet to be resolved.

In the winding-up speech by the Scottish National party spokesperson, Kirsty Blackman, the point was made that we really do not want to be here; none of us do, but clearly we are. Over the past few weeks, we have been talking very much about process and it is important that a debate such as this one takes place, because it begins to shift our attention back to substance. There are some very real issues on which we need to hold the Government to account in—let us not forget—what are the most important negotiations this country has faced since the second world war.

All our attention needs to be on that task, without distraction, because the Government’s approach so far really cannot fill us with much confidence. I do not know whether other Members have caught up with this story, but apparently this morning the Brexit Secretary told the Exiting the European Union Committee that the Government have not carried out an assessment of the economic impact of leaving the EU without a deal. I am not sure, therefore, on what basis the Foreign Secretary said that would be a good thing for Britain, when even the International Trade Secretary, who is a bit cavalier about these things, has warned about the risk of crashing out without a deal.

Those sorts of conflicting statements, as well as the lack of certainty and the lack of the type of information that hon. Members have been seeking, is causing huge uncertainty, which the Government must be aware of. We hear all the time from people who are wondering whether to build their lives here, what their future is for their businesses, and so on.

A lot of these issues could have received a positive response in many of the amendments that were tabled to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, but the Government’s obsession with having a clean and unamended Bill has added to the lack of clarity, not just on the issues we have faced this week on the final vote and on EU nationals but on the attempt by the Labour Front Bench to require the Government to consult regularly the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and to put the Joint Ministerial Committee on a statutory footing, and to consult it at least every two months.

I hope that the Minister will make up for that uncertainty by responding to requests from hon. Members and explain exactly how the Government will not talk but listen to, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen North said, the people—not only people in Scotland but around the country. Can he say how he and the Government will ensure that there is a strong voice for the nations and regions of our country in these negotiations? That matters, because although people voted to come out of the EU, they did not vote to be shut out of decisions, and there are a range of related issues that many Members have commented on and about which we need clarity.

Above all, it would be useful for the Minister to confirm whether there will be a presumption that any powers in the devolved areas that are repatriated to the UK following Brexit will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and other devolved Assemblies. What is the starting point for the Government’s thinking? Other Members have mentioned funding, which is important not only for agriculture but for structural funds and university funds. What sort of clarity can the Government give about their intentions? Will they seriously consider Scottish Labour’s suggestion about bringing all the peoples of the UK together in a constitutional convention, so that at this profound moment of change for our country we can bring in a new settlement on all these issues for the benefit of all the regions and nations of the UK?