Meeting date: Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 12 December 2018
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Brexit Update, Scottish Government Draft Spending and Tax Plans 2019-20, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Remembering the Korean War
- Portfolio Question Time
- Brexit Update
- Scottish Government Draft Spending and Tax Plans 2019-20
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
- Remembering the Korean War
The next item of business is a statement by Michael Russell on a Brexit update. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement; there should, therefore, be no interventions or interruptions.14:41
When this statement was agreed by the Parliamentary Bureau, it was intended to give the Scottish Government’s response to the outcome of the so-called meaningful vote in the House of Commons. Right up until early Monday, even in the face of press reports to the contrary, the United Kingdom Government was adamant that such a vote was going to take place. On Sunday, the Brexit secretary said:
“The vote is going ahead”.
On Monday morning, the Scottish secretary—the always loyal and always straightforward David Mundell—speaking from Peterhead fish market, was adamant that the vote was on. And that paragon of plain speaking, Michael Gove, when he was asked directly on Monday,
“Is the vote definitely, 100 per cent, going to happen?”
answered with a single word: “Yes.” Yet, just minutes later, the press was being briefed by other Cabinet ministers that the vote was off.
Monday morning was a watershed moment. It revealed for all to see that what is now in office in the UK is a Government in a state of collapse. A Prime Minister who could not command the support of the House of Commons on Tuesday does not now command the confidence of many in her own party. It is a Government that is out of ideas, out of talent, out of time and needing to be put out of office. Most serious of all, it is a Government whose word—from any minister—cannot be trusted and, indeed, is not trusted by anyone who has to work with it. That is why the European Union is insisting so strongly on a watertight backstop; it simply does not trust the UK Government to honour its commitments, no matter what any minister says.
Moreover, it is a Government that makes crucial decisions—decisions that affect business, commerce, investment, health, public services, food security and the fate of all its citizens—on the basis of what that decision will mean not in terms of the public good but in terms of what is good for the Conservative Party, as the Prime Minister herself confirmed outside Downing Street this morning. Later this afternoon, my colleague Derek Mackay will deliver his budget statement against that backdrop of uncertainty and insecurity in the public finances caused by the Tory Brexit chaos. That is an intolerable situation in which the UK Government is placing the people of Scotland, and it cannot go on. Scotland and the UK must not continue to be blighted by this never-ending Tory civil war, in which we are all now merely collateral damage.
The Speaker of the Commons described the decision to delay the vote as “discourteous”, but it is more than that: it is disgraceful and it is contemptuous. But why should that surprise us? That has been the UK Government’s attitude for months, perhaps even years, and the Scottish Government has experienced it regularly at first hand. The Prime Minister and her Government have persistently proffered false choices, absolutist positions and self-defeating red lines, to the EU and to the devolved Administrations. The approach does not, could not and would never, in the Prime Minister’s hypocritical words, bring the country back together.
Nothing that she or her Government has done in the past two and a half years has achieved that. Nothing that they are doing today will achieve that. Nothing that they can offer could achieve that, not least because, by removing Scotland and the UK from the single market and the customs union and adopting, with relish, a hard-line rhetoric and practice on migration, the deal will make every one of us poorer, will deprive us of the company and contribution of many of our fellow EU citizens, especially in key areas such as health, research and agriculture, and will lead to many more years of uncertainty and protracted negotiations.
Not just this deal but this Tory Government is divisive and damaging, and it must be defeated. The first step to resolving a political and constitutional crisis the like of which none of us has ever seen is for the Prime Minister to get out of the way. Her back benchers and her payroll vote may not agree tonight, but there is no doubt that she is entering the endgame of her time in office.
However, we need more than that. What happens now is about much more than who leads a single political party, and the decision about where we now go has to be taken by more than a single political party. So, the second step is for all of us who recognise the huge dangers of this moment to coalesce around a way forward that can resolve the crisis. At the same time, we must strain every sinew to avoid what the extremists want—time to pass, so that no deal is the only possible outcome. That must never happen.
As the Taoiseach indicated yesterday, it does not need to happen. Speaking in the Dáil, he said this:
“There is the option to revoke Article 50 and the option to extend it. While there may not be a majority for any deal in the House of Commons, I am of the view that there is a majority which believes the United Kingdom should not be plunged into a no-deal scenario. It is in their hands, at any point, to take the threat of no deal off the table either by revoking Article 50 or, if that is a step too far, extending it.”
It is incumbent on those who desire a better alternative—one that protects jobs, livelihoods and communities—to come together, first of all, to remove the threat of no deal, and then, in a determined but realistic way, to consider and choose the best way forward.
Let me set out the alternatives and indicate the Scottish Government’s preference. People in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union. In line with their wishes, the Scottish Government has always said that the best option is to stay in the EU. Of the available alternatives, the one that needs to be at the top of the list is, therefore, a second EU referendum with the option to remain on the ballot paper.
As we know from the European Court of Justice, it would be for the UK Government to decide to revoke the article 50 notification. That judgment makes it clear—subject to referral for final decision back to the Scottish courts—that, under EU law, a member state that has notified its intention to leave can, in layman’s terms, change its mind and think better of it. It is no longer an option for the UK Government to claim that no such process is possible. With that certainty in place, putting the choice back in the hands of the people must now be taken seriously. The European Court of Justice has said that notice of revocation must be made in accordance with the constitutional requirements of a member state and must be unequivocal and unconditional. It therefore seems likely that, consistent with the process for notification in the first place, a referendum followed by an act of Parliament would be a sensible way forward.
First, though, the Prime Minister must go to Brussels and make a request to extend the article 50 period. She could do that at the European council tomorrow, presuming that she is still in office. As we have seen, the Taoiseach and others have said that they would consider that if the request was made for reasons of significance rather than just to save her political scalp for a few more days. Those reasons would include a referendum with a clear choice to remain. That approach is possible. It would be likely to succeed and to create the space needed for calm thought and wider agreement.
By contrast, renegotiation, on which the Prime Minister is now fixated, is not possible, nor will it succeed in producing a majority in favour of the Prime Minister in the House of Commons. That way lies more confusion, more insecurity and more constitutional chaos. An extension would be needed, as the UK Parliament would then go on to pass legislation to set the rules for a referendum and agree a timetable that, although truncated, would probably mean nothing happening earlier than late spring or early summer.
I trust that those in the chamber, across all parties, who campaigned to remain in the EU will agree that a second referendum that resulted in our retaining our EU membership would be a good outcome for Scotland. However, short of the best option of staying in the EU, the only other acceptable compromise, which the Scottish Government has advocated for two years, is continued membership of the single market and the customs union. I stress that that would be acceptable only if there was absolutely no chance of our staying in the EU. That option could be achieved only if the UK accepted all the obligations—and benefits—that go with continued membership, including the four freedoms. That, of course, would allow the continuation of freedom of movement, which is essential for Scotland and almost every sector of our economy.
The UK Government could request an alteration to the political declaration, to make it clear that the UK wishes the basis of the future relationship to be membership of the European Economic Area and a customs union, with all the rights and obligations that would go with that. In such circumstances, the Irish backstop would never need to come into force. We could then use the transition period to negotiate the detail of the UK’s EEA agreement, including in those areas that do not come as part of the existing EEA agreement for European Free Trade Association countries.
The third possibility is a general election. I suspect that that option would be harder to pass in the House of Commons, but the Scottish National Party would support such an option arising out of a successful vote of no confidence. However, such a vote of no confidence would need the votes of the principal Opposition party to succeed.
I will say two final things. First, on preparedness for all eventualities, no responsible Government should allow the UK to fall out of the EU in a disorderly way or even in a “managed” way, which is what some of the Brexit fanatics are now talking up. As we have seen, the UK Government could remove that threat this week. Unfortunately, the Scottish Government cannot take that step unilaterally, so, as a responsible Government, we must continue our preparations for such an outcome. As indicated, I intend to make a further statement on those preparations next week. I assure the chamber that the Scottish Government is doing everything that it can to prepare for such an eventuality; however, equally, I must make it clear that no Government will be able to do everything that will be required in such circumstances.
Secondly, I make it clear that it is not just the Brexit clock that is ticking. For two and a half years, the Scottish Government has proposed compromise after compromise and has spent hundreds—probably thousands—of hours in discussion and negotiation. I believe that we, at ministerial and official level, have shown exemplary tolerance in the face of sometimes wilful ignorance of devolution, the flouting of the norms of co-operation, the withholding of information and the refusal to discuss and negotiate in the positive spirit that we—and, I have to say, the Welsh Government—constantly brought to the table. We have not been treated as partners, still less equals. I believe that most MSPs in this chamber have similarly tried to save the UK from the worst excesses of Brexit but, so far, to no avail.
We continue to offer solutions, as I have done again today. If those solutions are constantly ruled out and arrogantly dismissed by Westminster and by the Prime Minister herself, we, in this Parliament, must ask ourselves this question: why should people in Scotland—the people whom we are here to represent—have to pay the price of such a catastrophic policy that they do not support and that will harm their life chances and opportunities for generations to come? Put bluntly, if we cannot save the UK from itself, we must find a way to save ourselves from the UK. Scotland deserves better—no reasonable person looking at the clusterbùrach at Westminster this week could deny it. Finding a way to do things better must inevitably become an increasingly important task for everyone who believes in our country, its potential and our future, as all of us in this chamber should.
The cabinet secretary will take questions on the issues raised in his statement. I intend to allow 30 minutes for that.
I have a lot of requests to speak. I will do my best to allow everybody to ask the question that they wish, but members should bear in mind that, to allow that, questions and answers should be succinct.
I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement. Everyone here will understand that today is a difficult day, with the Prime Minister under unprecedented pressure. [Interruption.] Whatever the limitations on what they may be able to say in public, I know that there are members across this chamber who privately admire the Prime Minister, her resilience and her tenacity. [Interruption.]
Excuse me, Mr Tomkins. We have just started this session. Can we at least start off with a bit of good behaviour from members?
Whatever our differences, I think that most of us would concede that the Prime Minister has worked tirelessly to secure from the European Union a deal that she genuinely believes is in the country’s best interests. For my part, I wish her well, and she continues to have my support.
My role in the on-going Brexit saga has, I suppose, been twofold. First, I have sought to resist the SNP’s attempts to use Brexit as an excuse to launch a second independence referendum campaign. Whatever happens, I will continue to do that. Secondly, I have tried—as I hope that the cabinet secretary would acknowledge—to ensure that Brexit is delivered compatibly with our devolution settlement. That is why I, and colleagues, resisted clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and ensured that it was replaced and amended before that bill was enacted earlier this year.
The cabinet secretary and I have crossed swords on Brexit many times in this chamber, and I am sure that we both wish that we could talk about something else. Today, I find myself in agreement with much of what he has said—but not with everything. In particular, I agree that all necessary steps should be taken to ensure that we do not crash out of the European Union on a no-deal basis. Does the cabinet secretary not agree with me that one means of achieving that result would be to back the Prime Minister’s deal and to support her on-going attempts to get it through the House of Commons?
I am sure that it will surprise Neil Findlay to hear me say that, when I listen to Adam Tomkins, I am reminded of the Scottish socialist John Maclean’s famous speech from the dock at his trial—I can see that Mr Findlay does indeed look surprised by that. The reason for my being reminded of Maclean is his own words, which I read again the other night. In the last paragraph of his speech, he decided to say that he was satisfied that he had squared his conduct with his intellect.
I have to say to Mr Tomkins that I am not satisfied that he has done the same on this matter. As I said last week, I do not believe that he believes a word of this. The way to achieve a solution to this problem is not to back the Prime Minister; it is to refuse to accept Brexit. That is the way to do it. Indeed, that is the position that Mr Tomkins took during the EU referendum campaign and it is the position that Scotland still takes. An increasing number of people across these islands take that to be what they wish to do. It is bizarre that Tory members of Parliament can get a second vote—in this case, on who should be the leader of their party—but that nobody else can do so on the issue of Brexit. I think that that needs to change.
Let me also say this to Mr Tomkins. I respect him, and I agree with some of what he has said today, just as he would agree with some of what I have said. However, I will not agree with him in his admiration for the Prime Minister. My thoughts are not with her in her suffering today; they are with EU nationals, who have had months of agony over this matter. My thoughts are with the farmers of Scotland, some of whom I met yesterday, who have no idea what will happen next, and with the fishermen in my community in Argyll and Bute, who have been left with no defence and no prospect of selling their products because of the ridiculous nature of the Conservatives’ sell-out. My thoughts are also with the businesses of Scotland, which are facing endless insecurity as a result of Brexit. Therefore I am afraid that, as far as the Prime Minister is concerned, if I may quote Shakespeare:
“Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye.”
I fear that I feel the rumblings of Maclean, following his comparison with Adam Tomkins in the same sentence.
In his statement, the cabinet secretary mentioned the Welsh Government. I congratulate Mark Drakeford on his election as the First Minister of Wales.
These are very dangerous times for our country, our economy and our communities. Businesses are in a state of flux, with no idea of how to plan for the future, the pound has fallen and jobs are at risk. For the first time in a thousand years, the Government has been held to be in contempt of the Parliament at Westminster, and the Prime Minister is weak, incompetent, shambolic, embarrassing and utterly hopeless.
The Tory party has taken us to the brink of a chaotic departure from the European Union, with the Prime Minister existing only in the fantasy world of her own mind. Her level of delusion is matched only by her level of incompetence. However, she can always rely on the supine sheep in the Scottish Conservative Party, even following the humiliation of David Mundell on Monday at Peterhead fish market. She has spent weeks warning a diminishing band of people who pay any attention to her that this deal cannot be changed, only to pollute the atmosphere by flying around Europe in a vain attempt to change the deal that she said was fixed. The Prime Minister has zero credibility. She is sidelined in Europe, in contempt of Parliament and loathed within her party. The Democratic Unionist Party has bailed out, her time is up and the country is crying out for change.
Does the cabinet secretary accept that this goes way beyond Brexit, and that for those affected by universal credit and by poverty, pay cuts and the impact of a broad sweep of Tory policy we need a general election now to end this shambolic paralysis?
I have indicated that I would support a general election, and Neil Findlay’s points are well made. The problem is not simply the Prime Minister, but the Tory Government. Brexit is the huge symptom of a Government that is completely out of ideas, out of time and operating against the national interest, so if the opportunity exists to remove that Government at a general election, of course the SNP will support that.
I associate myself with Neil Findlay’s remarks about Mark Drakeford, who I am very pleased to call a friend. I have worked with him over the past two and a half years in very difficult circumstances. I congratulated him privately on Thursday when he was elected leader of the Labour Party in Wales and I am very pleased to see him as the First Minister of Wales. I hope that I will have the opportunity to go on working with Mark Drakeford, because I regard his contribution as significant. It shows that we can work across parties on these issues and maintain a constructive, positive and effective working relationship. We may not agree on the final destination, but we certainly agree on the road that we have to take.
On behalf of those of us who took the case to the European Court of Justice, I thank the cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government for their supportive words since the ruling came in. We always knew that article 50 could be revoked, and we now have absolute legal clarity that that is an option, that this crisis can be ended and that a people’s vote is the most likely way of achieving that. What is the Scottish Government—rather than the SNP as a party—doing to ensure not just that a people’s vote becomes more likely but that, were a bill to be passed in the House of Commons, it could be facilitated as easily as possible here in Scotland?
I congratulate Ross Greer on the part that he played in the case. He had a faith and a confidence in the outcome that some of us did not have, and I am always pleased to be proved wrong in such propitious and happy circumstances. I pay tribute to those involved. I gave Ross Greer a name check in an answer to a question from Mr Crawford, and I do it again here today.
If we have a role to play in facilitating a referendum, we will of course play that role. At present, as I understand it, it would be a United Kingdom referendum, so it would be run according to United Kingdom electoral law, but there would be a role for returning officers in Scotland to be involved. Wearing another hat, given my responsibility for elections, I would be glad to do everything that we can to help facilitate that. Should a referendum bill be passed, we will endeavour to ensure that that takes place. We have some experience in referendum bills, so if people would like advice on a referendum bill we would be happy to give it.
The Prime Minister refused at Prime Minister’s questions today to remove the threat of a no-deal Brexit. I am sure that the cabinet secretary noted that. Given that Jeremy Corbyn seems so reluctant to propose a motion of no confidence in the chaotic UK Government, what will the Scottish Government do to try to make that happen with other parties at Westminster?
I tried to indicate in my statement that it is important for us to continue to have dialogue and to talk about how we can move things forward, so I will not use this opportunity to attack the Labour Party on this; I know that that will disappoint some. As I said in my statement, I do not think that a motion of no confidence could succeed without the support of the principal Opposition party.
Or the DUP.
Mr Findlay shouts, “Or the DUP.” There are circumstances in which that might not be the case, but we must ensure that we continue to find a way to work together. I return to what I said about Mark Drakeford. Over the past two and a half years, I have often been struck by the potential that comes from trying to work with people across parties even if they do not agree on the final constitutional destination.
I have tried hard in this chamber to do the same. We did it on the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill. I hope that we will continue to do it as these issues arise. I would be keen that this moves on in the House of Commons. The SNP stands ready to help move this on in the House of Commons. We have to find a way to do it together.
I remind members that we must have brevity if we are to get through the questions.
I wonder whether the cabinet secretary, like me, has businesses the length and breadth of his constituency that are concerned about the huge uncertainty that surrounds Brexit—businesses such as McQueen Gin in Callander, which is just trying to get on with growing its business.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that the Prime Minister made the uncertainty worse by postponing the promised meaningful vote in a doomed attempt to save her bad deal? Now the vicious civil war that is taking place in the Tory party is heaping uncertainty upon uncertainty. When will all this uncertainty end? Surely it is time to put the people in charge and hold another referendum on EU membership.
I am tempted to pluck a date out of the air, give it to the member and see what happens. Unfortunately, nobody can say when this will end. There is a heavy irony—it is also distressing, particularly to businesses such as that which the member mentioned in his constituency—when the Prime Minister stands outside 10 Downing Street and says, “People want us to get on with Brexit”, having only 48 hours before that cancelled a vote that was meant to conclude the matter. The reality is that this is all about the Tories. It is about the internal division that has bedevilled the Conservative Party to start with, and now the whole of the country, for far too long.
I feel sorry for those people who were trying to back the Prime Minister’s deal, not because they thought that it was good but because they thought that it would bring an end to uncertainty. I regretted that we had to say to people that it would not have brought an end to uncertainty and that the uncertainty would continue and grow. However, the Prime Minister proved that by her actions of Monday in pulling the vote.
We will do everything that we can to offer support, reassurance and assistance to companies in those circumstances. What would really help them, however, would be to get the nightmare over with by deciding that we were not leaving the EU, and then we could get on with life.
The cabinet secretary set out a hierarchy of alternative outcomes that he would prefer, the second of which was continued membership of the single market and of the customs union, which has been described elsewhere as the Norway plus proposal. The proposal has its pros and cons. Does the cabinet secretary accept that one of the benefits of that proposal is that there would be no requirement to negotiate a bespoke set of arrangements, so it could be agreed to straight away, which would deliver the referendum result on schedule?
Yes—I broadly agree. That has been on offer for a long time. There are issues in respect of EFTA membership. Not unnaturally, Norway is balking substantially at the prospect of having to get into bed with the UK Conservative Party. It would be possible to construct a bespoke deal that has the advantages that Donald Cameron interestingly raised.
The Norway plus proposal would be clear: it is obvious how it would work and it would have the enormous advantage for Scotland of continuing the four freedoms—in particular, freedom of movement. As a Highlands and Islands list member, Donald Cameron knows perfectly well that freedom of movement is essential for the Highlands and Islands. Without freedom of movement, there will be continuing depopulation of the constituency that I represent, which he sought to represent at the previous election and which he might—who knows?—seek again to represent. In that constituency, depopulation is chronic and is getting worse. It will only be accelerated by what is taking place in respect of cancelling freedom of movement.
I agree with Donald Cameron and am grateful to him for his enlightened question.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that, under the Prime Minister’s current withdrawal agreement, Northern Ireland will, in effect, be in the single market and Scotland will not. That is extremely worrying for ports such as Cairnryan in the South Scotland region. Will the cabinet secretary give me assurances that the Scottish Government will continue to fight against this boorach of a Brexit deal that will surely put Scotland at a competitive disadvantage?
The details of how the Northern Irish situation would work still require to be fleshed out, but there would certainly be substantial problems for the ports on the western side of these islands when they look to Ireland—in particular, Northern Ireland. The matter has not been thought through.
When Emma Harper asked the question, I heard some dissent from Tory members about whether Northern Ireland would continue to be in the single market. To all intents and purposes, it would, as is absolutely clear from what has been said and in answers that UK ministers have given. There was an attempt by David Lidington to play that down when he gave evidence to the joint meeting of the Finance and Constitution Committee and the Culture, Tourism and Europe and External Affairs Committee.
However, when we see the list of areas that are involved, we see that Northern Ireland will, to all intents and purposes, have membership of the single market. That would disadvantage Scotland and create issues in respect of there being a border in the Irish Sea.
I seem to remember that prominent Conservatives in Scotland said that they would resign in those circumstances, but I do not remember seeing their resignation letters.
Notwithstanding the despair across the country today, does the cabinet secretary agree that there is still common ground to fight for among the remain parties, especially if we were to be part of a customs union, which would negate the need for the backstop to protect the interests of Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland?
Also, is it worth reminding people that we do not really have a deal? What we have is a withdrawal agreement with the detail of a future deal still to be negotiated.
That is a very important point. The withdrawal agreement is a legally binding agreement about how to get out of the EU. It says nothing about what happens next. The political declaration is not legally binding: it is vague and insubstantial and it uses the language of aspiration but offers nothing beyond that. That is why there is no security or confidence in Theresa May’s deal. There is no certainty about what will happen next, which is another reason for saying that it should not be supported.
I remind members that what we have just been through was meant to be the easy part of the negotiations. We are about to go into negotiations, over a number of years, that will be much more difficult. As the Government has not been able to manage that first part, who knows how bad things could become when it starts to manage the hard part?
The cabinet secretary was absolutely right to quote Shakespeare, because for the Tories “the native ... resolution” has been “sicklied o’er”. I cannot believe that we are in the position that we are in today—
Can you get to your question, please, Mr Arthur?
—and that the Tories are still parroting the line that Theresa May’s deal is the only one on the table.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that the European Court of Justice’s judgment that article 50 can be revoked by the UK is all the proof that is needed that the Tories’ barely credible claims have been blown out of the water?
I agree with that.
Thank you, Mr Russell. You caught me unawares.
The minister made prudent reference in his statement to preparations for all potential exit outcomes. I appreciate that we will be updated on that next week. However, can I ask that, in addition to the papers that his Government has already produced, he will in that statement provide specific details on any further scenario-planning that his Government has done, including potential legislative consequences for this Parliament?
Jamie Greene will have to wait for my statement next week.
However, allow me to say that it is how the Tory Party has behaved that has created these difficulties. That is resulting in an enormous amount of additional work for civil servants, ministers, public officials and businesses. Given that, Jamie Greene would be wise to accept that we will, in doing our best, bring to Parliament as much information as we can. To ask for more information would simply add to the burden that has been created by a problem that he helped to create in the first place. It would be useful if he would just read the statement, listen to what we say and, perhaps, regret his role in this complete mess.
My constituent Dr Petra McLay has lived in Scotland since 2003. She is married to a British citizen and both her children were born in this country. Dr McLay is a faculty head who has taught in our schools for more than 14 years. What assurances can the cabinet secretary provide to my constituent, who now faces a settled-status fee as a direct result of the callous actions of the UK Government?
I have the most enormous sympathy for people who find themselves in that situation. I read a tweet this morning from somebody admitting that when they were trying to fill in the form on their phone, in the human resources department of their company, they suddenly burst into tears in distress that was caused by the experience that they were going through. I hope that every single member in this chamber regards what EU nationals are having to go through as utterly unacceptable. We apologise to them for their having to go through it. It is not of our making, but we are deeply sorry about the circumstances.
We, as a Government, are doing everything that we can to help our own employees, although that is not being made easy by the UK Government. I hope that we might get to the stage at which all this is just a bad memory—when we again have the freedom of movement that is, like the contribution of the people who have come here, so valuable to Scotland, and we can say to those people honestly that it will never happen again.
I am going to an actual pantomime tonight, but first I will deal with the pantomime of Brexit and the current Conservative Party. Does the cabinet secretary have more detail on the Court of Justice ruling as to what actions would be in accordance with constitutional requirements? Does he believe that it is possible to deliver a process that is unequivocal and unconditional, given the divisiveness of the debate as it currently rages across the UK?
Claire Baker has raised a good point. The reality is that the Court of Justice ruling is clear. It is quite obvious that there is a process to be gone through. Interestingly, I saw a Tory MP denounce the Court of Justice ruling as attacking the UK. Actually, one of the biggest losers in the ruling is the European Commission, whose interpretation of how article 50 should be rescinded was rejected by the court.
There is a simple process to be gone through. Insistence on constitutional due process is not unexpected or unusual. Quite clearly, that is how article 50 should be implemented. Article 50 refers to the constitutional due process that is required to give notice of withdrawal from the EU, so it is quite obvious that the court would say, “If you’re going to revoke, you must go through the same process.” That process is clear.
Constitutional due process in a country that does not have a written constitution could be variable—there would be a number of ways in which it could be done. I would have thought that a resolution of the House of Commons would be one. A people’s vote to inform that resolution of the House of Commons might put a double lock on it.
Has the cabinet secretary received any assurances from the UK Government about when the House of Commons vote will take place, or does he consider that the delay is just a cynical attempt to run down the clock, thereby forcing a choice between Theresa May’s shambolic deal and a no-deal Brexit?
We have had no indication of when the vote will be. There is an indication that the UK Government regards itself as being bound by the previous resolution that says that there should be something by 21 January, but given that it changes its mind and its promises all the time, that could mean absolutely nothing.
In the circumstances, I do not overthink the motivations. It seems to me that Theresa May wanted to continue as Prime Minister and the delay allowed her to do so. I do not think that the motivation is any greater than that, but it is a shameful thing, given the damage that is being done because of her individual ambition.
The cabinet secretary says that any notice of revocation must be made in accordance with the constitutional requirements of a member state. What does he understand those requirements to be? Could the Prime Minister do it under her prerogative? Would it require an act of Parliament or a referendum?
I do not like to correct a lawyer, but it was actually the ECJ judgment that said that about notice of revocation. I think that any or all of those would do. As I said in answer to a previous question, the real question is the determination to do it. Once people were determined to do it, they would find the right way to do it. It could be done by resolution in the House of Commons, which could be added to by having a referendum.
If Liam Kerr is keen on making that happen, he might bring a resolution to this Parliament advising the UK Government that it should happen. I do not think that that would be enough, but it would be a start. Now that the Tories seem to be so fixated on it, I encourage them to follow through their interests with some actual action.
After a chaotic week in Westminster, Theresa May has become the first Prime Minister in the UK for 70 years to cancel a vote on a major international treaty. With Theresa May having ceased to govern in Westminster, does the cabinet secretary agree that it is time for all parties to unite to remove the Prime Minister and pave the way for a people’s vote?
I rarely, if ever, disagree with George Adam. On this occasion, I agree with him absolutely.
What would be the financial implications of a no-deal Brexit for the national health service in Scotland?
A no-deal Brexit has financial implications for all parts of the public sector. When I make a statement next week on preparations for a no-deal Brexit, I will try to say what those would be.
I do not want to pre-empt anything that my friend, Derek Mackay, will say in a few moments, but it is important to say that—as I said in my statement—the budget is being announced in the shadow of Brexit. A hard Brexit will require a different set of budgetary figures and requests being made. That would be a very serious situation.
I will do my best to give as much information as I can next week, but I do not think that we will go down to the level of detail of finances on each portfolio. However, I can say that, for example, the stockpiling of drugs, some of which will have to be stockpiled in Scotland, and of consumables in the health service, will cost the Scottish Government money. That money will have to be brought forward from future years in order to stockpile this year, which will have implications.
The cabinet secretary said that the first step must be to rule out a no-deal Brexit. Given that the cabinet secretary also objects to the deal that would do that, what mechanism does he propose to ensure that that could not happen?
I have a great deal of time for John Scott, but he was clearly not paying a great deal of attention when I made my statement. I will, therefore, go back and quote a much greater authority than I on these matters: the Taoiseach. Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, he laid out exactly what would take place. He said:
“There is the option to revoke Article 50 and the option to extend it.”
Speaking about the UK Government, with which he is familiar and which, I understand, he would still support—although I cannot for the life of me understand why—he said:
“It is in their hands, at any point, to take the threat of no deal off the table either by revoking Article 50 or, if that is a step too far, extending it.”
I am fascinated by Tory members’ detailed interest in the issue. There might be, on this darkest of days, some hope that they are beginning to realise what absolute mayhem they are wreaking on the country. In those circumstances, if they were to approach me to seek a common front in order that we try to find a way to send that message to Westminster, I would work with them.