European Free Trade Association — [Mike Gapes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:30 am on 7th February 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 10:30 am, 7th February 2018

I am grateful for the opportunity to begin the winding-up speeches. Scotland’s preferred option was not to leave the European Union at all. It is dangerous to conduct this debate on the basis that all the arguments have been lost. I sympathise with a great deal of what hon. Members have said today, but their starting point seems to be, “We have now lost the argument—we are in for a hard Brexit and for coming out of the customs union and the single market, but let’s see how much we can salvage.” It is not too late for the Government to come to their senses and decide not to leave the single market or the customs union.

It is important that we continue to compare the benefits and disadvantages of EFTA membership not with the hard Brexit that we are heading for, but with where we are now. As hon. Members have said, we had a referendum over membership of the European Union but nobody in the United Kingdom has ever voted in a referendum on the single market or the customs union, so none of us has the right to say that we know how people feel about our membership of them.

I must remind hon. Members of the likely economic impact. Some have decided that the economic forecasts are not worth the paper that they are written on. Presumably they think the billions of pounds it costs to run the Department that produces those forecasts are not worth it either, so I look forward to the Estimates debate in a few weeks’ time—I can think of a big saving to our spending on the Treasury. The Scottish Government’s paper “Scotland’s Place in Europe” indicates that over the 10 years after Brexit, GDP in Scotland is likely to fall by £11 billion a year and public spending is likely to fall by £3.7 billion a year, on top of any reduction imposed from Westminster. That is twice Scotland’s total expenditure on further and higher education, which demonstrates the scale of economic damage that we face.

The UK Government say that they have not done any impact analysis, but they have done analysis of the impact, which is not the same thing. I have not yet seen those papers in their Fort Knox establishment on Parliament Street, so I can only quote from what has already been put in the public domain. The Buzzfeed papers show that the Treasury think that at best we will see a 2% reduction in economic growth, even if we remain in the single market, and at worst we could face an 8% reduction, which would be a recession like none that we have ever seen or ever want to see. We are talking about a serious threat to the economic and social wellbeing of these islands.

I recognise that membership of EFTA—if we are allowed in, although it is still not guaranteed that the four existing members will want us to join—would not be as bad for us as falling off the cliff edge, but it would still be significantly worse than where we are now. I hope that all hon. Members who have argued for EFTA today will not accept that the argument about full membership of the single market or the customs union has been lost. EFTA countries are not in the customs union; we heard evidence from several witnesses in the Exiting the European Union Committee yesterday about what that means for Switzerland. In some ways, the Swiss position appears to be closest to what the Government want, because officially it does not include free movement of people, although in practice it pretty much does.