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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 19 February 2019

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Brexit (Response to European Union Exit Vote in Westminster), Scottish Rate Resolution, Social Security Committee Announcement, Decision Time, St Rollox Railway Works


Brexit (Response to European Union Exit Vote in Westminster)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Russell on the response to the latest EU exit vote in Westminster. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, and I encourage all members who wish to ask a question to press their request-to-speak buttons now.


The Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations (Michael Russell)

The date on which the United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the EU is now 38 days away. That equates to 18 sitting days in this Parliament, including today. Yet there is still no resolution of the chaos that prevails at Westminster, no consensus about the way forward, no relief from the incompetence of the current UK Government and no respect for the decision of this country and this Parliament decisively against Brexit. Indeed, with every day that passes, the unrealistic, irresponsible and—in terms of realisable outcomes—impossible approach of the Prime Minister serves only to heighten uncertainty for communities, citizens and businesses across Scotland to an intolerable degree and increase the risk of a no-deal exit.

The well-connected Politico website reported yesterday:

“In European capitals there is now mounting alarm that Theresa May has set Britain on course for a diplomatic disaster ... One minister from a major EU power was left so shocked after a meeting with a U.K. counterpart last week they concluded Britain is now hell-bent on pushing the crisis to the wire in the hope of a last-minute concession from EU leaders, which will not materialize.”

Of course, last week, the House of Commons had the opportunity to agree to an extension to article 50 to allow us to avoid the economic damage of a no-deal or hard Brexit outcome. I pay tribute to those members of Parliament who supported the Scottish National Party amendment—the Liberal Democrats, the Green MP, Plaid Cymru, two Tories and 41 members of the Labour Party. Of the seven Scottish Labour MPs, three walked into the division lobbies to do what Scotland clearly wants. All the Scottish Tories opposed it, showing yet again that, for a Scottish Tory parliamentarian—there as here—the needs of their fractured and fractious party come a long way before the needs of their suffering country.

The Scottish Government continues to believe that the best outcome for the UK as a whole and for Scotland is to remain within the EU and that now, given the impasse that exists at Westminster, the best democratic way forward is to give the people the final choice. However, we have, over the past two and a half years, been very clear about our willingness to compromise, setting out credible and achievable positions in December 2016 and subsequently, which have been ignored or summarily dismissed by the UK Government.

No doubt, at some stage this afternoon, the Tory members will brazenly insist that the only way to avoid no deal is to support the Prime Minister’s very bad deal. However, surely even their certainty in that mantra must have been shaken a little this week when no fewer than 40 senior retired diplomats signed a letter that pointed out just how awful the Prime Minister’s deal actually is. That deal would not only make Scotland poorer, removing us from the European single market, risking a fall in Scotland’s working, tax-paying population and putting us at a competitive disadvantage to Northern Ireland. It would also, in the words of those very knowledgeable diplomats, result in what they call a “Brexternity” of endless uncertainty about our future for both citizens and businesses alike.

If there was ever to be an end to that Brexternity, the best that could be hoped for at that far-distant date, given the Prime Minister’s red lines, would be some sort of free trade agreement, which our modelling indicates would mean that, by 2030, our gross domestic product would be around £9 billion lower than if we had stayed in the EU—equivalent to £1,600 for every person in Scotland. As things stand, even if the withdrawal agreement were approved by the UK and European Parliaments, it is entirely possible, even probable, that a no-deal exit will only have been postponed rather than avoided. Such is the chaos that now engulfs Westminster, it is impossible to say with any confidence that the terms of any future trade deal with the EU would be approved by MPs.

Next week, the House of Commons will again get the opportunity to pass further judgment on the Prime Minister’s efforts, and we will continue to provide a voice for common sense. A no-deal outcome is not inevitable, but—alas—it is becoming more likely with every day that passes and with every attempt that the Prime Minister makes to bludgeon and frighten MPs into accepting her threadbare and damaging plan.

As a responsible Government, we must act wherever we can to minimise and mitigate the impact on Scotland as far as we are able to. In doing so, we must—as always—be very straight with the people of Scotland. Later this week, my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work will publish a paper on the likely economic costs and impact of a no-deal Brexit. It is vital that this chamber and Scotland should know that things will change—and change very fast for the worse—if a no-deal Brexit is forced upon us. For example, we estimate that a no-deal Brexit could result in an increase in unemployment in Scotland of around 100,000 people, more than doubling the current unemployment rate. We would go from a record low to a level not far off that which was reached at the depth of the last recession, with all the human cost that that would entail.

Whatever we, as a Government, do—and we will do everything that we can—we simply cannot avoid that sort of damage being done to our economy and our country. One person could: the Prime Minister could, if she were to immediately agree to an extension to article 50 and rule out, with concrete legislative steps, any no-deal outcome. Getting such an extension would not be difficult. Indeed, President Juncker said yesterday:

“Any decision to ask for more time lies with the UK. If such a request were to be made, no one in Europe would oppose it.”

The only opposition to an extension lies within the House of Commons.

The work of the Scottish Government’s resilience committee and the Scottish resilience partnership on planning, mitigation and preparing arrangements to respond to the risks and impacts of leaving the EU without a deal is continuing and intensifying, as the First Minister made clear last week after our special Cabinet meeting. The resilience committee met in Glasgow last week—its ninth session—prior to that Cabinet meeting, and it will meet again tomorrow.

I will be in London tomorrow, attending yet another UK Cabinet EU exit sub-committee, and I will seek firm answers to the many questions that we still have. For example, we do not yet know how much ferry capacity is available, on what routes it will exist or exactly what priority goods will be carried. Nor do we know what priority will be accorded to each category of goods, nor what arrangements will be made to service Scottish requirements including the particular challenges of rurality. We have also not yet heard whether export of foodstuffs can be integrated with special arrangements for import, consolidating inbound and outbound capacity to maximise the benefits. There are many more matters on which we need clarity and on which we will continue to seek it, given that such clarity is essential for our preparations.

Leaving those difficulties aside, although we are working as closely as we can with the UK Government, we do not now believe that, even if there were a perfect information flow, there would be the time or the resource to ensure that absolutely everything required would be in the most effective place, in the most effective way, by the required dates. That is not a criticism of anyone who is working very hard on these matters north or south of the border; it is simply a fact, given the shortness of the time that is available and the size of the task to be undertaken.

There are those who seem to seek to normalise no deal or who, with a profoundly concerning sense of misplaced optimism, suggest that its effects will somehow not be as serious as has been widely predicted. They are utterly wrong. It is clear—it will be made even clearer in the chief economic adviser’s paper, which will be published on Thursday—that a no-deal Brexit remains a significant and live risk that would lead to a major dislocation to the Scottish economy. The impact of any shock would likely vary across sectors as well as across regions according to their economic structure and, if prolonged, could lead to significant structural change in the economy. In addition, the uncertainty about Brexit is already impacting key economic indicators for Scotland, including consumer confidence and business investment.

Let me indicate what we are doing, against the clock. Transport Scotland is working with providers and ports and airports in Scotland to assess existing capacity and to identify how that capacity could mitigate disruption to imports and exports. With regard to trade, although the UK Government is currently negotiating with 40-plus trading partners in an attempt to roll over existing EU third-country agreements, there is now no possibility that all or even a majority of those agreements will be in place. Access to some markets will therefore be considerably disrupted. Nonetheless, we are working to secure as consistent and wide-ranging a food supply as possible and to enable improved or new supply chains to get to every part of the country. We are trying to overcome barriers to the export of food and drink as well.

If free movement is curtailed, as seems very likely, that will have serious and immediate consequences for workers in health and social care, among other sectors. The Scottish Government is absolutely committed to doing all that it can to speak up for and support EU citizens who work in those roles and many others at this uncertain and anxious time. We passionately want relatives, friends, neighbours and colleagues from other EU countries to stay in Scotland. We have already committed £800,000 to Citizens Advice Scotland to provide advice and support to EU citizens in Scotland who are affected by changes in the immigration rules as a result of Brexit, and we will shortly intensify our information campaign to encourage EU nationals to stay.

In my statement earlier this month, I urged MSPs to reach out to small businesses in their constituencies and encourage them to seek the information that they need on Brexit. It remains of concern that so many small businesses, in particular, have not yet engaged in sufficient detailed planning and preparation. Undoubtedly, the normalcy bias is well established in Scotland, but the UK Government is not functioning as a normal Government. It may well allow a no-deal exit to come about either by accident or by design, contrary to all norms of government. Accordingly, I strongly urge all businesses to seek out the information that we have provided through our Brexit webpages on or the website for the prepare for Brexit campaign, which is a one-door online approach that is jointly delivered by Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland—and to do it now, whether or not they export.

The chief constable recently announced plans to put 360 officers on standby from mid-March to deal with any incidents that may arise across the country, such as disruption at ports. That is just one more example of an initiative that seeks to align existing financial and staff resources to the challenges that we face to ensure that we have the right people with the right skills in the right places to respond quickly and effectively.

We have made it clear that any cost related to EU exit should not have a detrimental impact on Scotland’s public finances. Derek Mackay again raised that matter with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury when they met last week, although no satisfactory response was forthcoming. We are actively pursuing with the UK Government the issue of funding for the consequences of a no-deal outcome, along with a number of other matters. However, it is abundantly clear that Brexit is going to cost Scotland at every level of governance, in every business sector and in every part of the country far more than the existing consequentials.

I turn to the important matter of our legislative preparations. To date, only 30 of the 114 UK statutory instruments to which we have consented have completed their passage through the UK Parliament. I have made clear to the UK Government my concerns on that matter, and I have impressed on it the importance of ensuring that the deficiency fixes to which we have given our consent are delivered. We are still on track to have processed both parts of the programme—UK SI notifications and Scottish SIs—through the Scottish Parliament by the end of March, so our laws should be as ready as they can be for the shock of EU exit.?

However, the Prime Minister has now indicated that, in the event of an agreement being reached, she would intend to push through the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, as well as a range of other Brexit-related legislation, before 29 March. That could mean passing laws of the profoundest importance, with consequences for all the devolution settlements, in a few days. That cannot and should not be done. If that bill is presented to this chamber for legislative consent, the Scottish Government will recommend that such consent be refused because of that impossible timetable and because the UK Government has moved not an inch on the issue of essential changes to the Sewel process.

In conclusion, I reiterate the First Minister’s message from last week. The Scottish Government remains absolutely committed to preparing as best we can and to safeguarding the interests of businesses and communities in Scotland as far as possible. However, the way in which this has been approached by the Prime Minister is reckless and irresponsible. It is now clear beyond any doubt that the Conservative Party and the UK Conservative Government pose a real danger to Scotland. The only sensible solution now available is a delay to article 50, a ruling out of a no-deal exit and a people’s vote. We will continue to press for those things with every legislative and political tool and with every ounce of energy at our disposal.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you. The cabinet secretary will now take questions.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

Another week, another Michael Russell statement and another ever more repetitive account of the dangers of a no-deal Brexit, with no recognition whatever of the plain fact that those who risk a no-deal Brexit are those who, like Mike Russell and all his Scottish National Party colleagues, oppose the Prime Minister’s deal.

I wonder what the point of Mr Russell’s statement is. What is he seeking to achieve? What, indeed, has he achieved in the two and a bit years since he returned to Government? His flagship UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill was eviscerated by the Supreme Court, and three—or is it now four?—iterations of “Scotland’s Place in Europe” are doing nothing but gathering dust at the back of various filing cabinets. In addition, so desperate is the cabinet secretary that he is today reduced to taking his lines from online news sources and websites, casting around to fuel his on-going addiction to referendums—indeed, his on-going addiction to losing referendums.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the Prime Minister is working harder than ever across the parties—and with newly independent MPs—as well as with our European partners to ensure that we leave the European Union with a deal. It is manifestly in no one’s interests for us to leave without a deal. When is the SNP going to grow up, quit the grandstanding and work with us to get a withdrawal agreement that we can all support?

Michael Russell

I do not get much time to catch up on movies, unfortunately, but I am keen to see the movie “Stan & Ollie”. In that sort of slapstick comedy there is always a moment when one of the protagonists runs headfirst into a rake, a ladder or a wall, and that is how I feel about the questions from Adam Tomkins—he just gets up and runs straight into the wall again. Who is responsible for the mess that we are in? The Prime Minister and the Conservatives. Who has failed to back the deal? The Conservative Party at Westminster. Who was the Prime Minister defeated by last week? The Conservative Party at Westminster. I am afraid that the slapstick from Professor Tomkins is wearing a bit thin.

The only repetition is in the backpacking flights that the Prime Minister takes to Europe again and again to be met with the same answer. That answer came this morning from the European Union’s spokesperson, who said:

“The EU will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. We cannot accept a time limit to the backstop or a unilateral exit clause”.

Tomorrow, the Prime Minister will—yet again—fly to Brussels and come back empty handed. It is time for the Conservatives to accept responsibility, in London and here, and to recognise that they are causing the disaster. They could avert it, but we have heard nothing yet this afternoon from the Tories that shows that they are conscious of the fact, and Scotland will judge them harshly for that.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

Mr Tomkins said that he wonders what the point of these statements is. I wonder what the point of Adam Tomkins is. He has gone through years of study and education, yet he gave that kind of statement to Parliament. That is utterly pathetic.

We have less than 40 days to go until the UK is supposed to leave the EU, and we still have gridlock. The Prime Minister has desperately tried to bribe her own back benchers and failed. She has tried to bribe MPs who represent former mining communities and failed. She has tried for the first time to meet trade union leaders—again, that has failed. Her red lines remain in place, and the EU has rejected her wish to throw Ireland under her Brexit bus by reneging on the backstop. It is right to do so, because there must be no return to a hard border.

All the while, businesses have grown more nervous, workers have feared for their jobs, and the public have grown ever more exasperated. Yesterday’s announcement by Honda at Swindon was not exclusively about Brexit, but it undoubtedly had a Brexit element.

The issue of the backstop can be resolved with a permanent customs union. The EU, businesses and trade unions want that. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that should be an immediate priority and that it would very likely gain a majority in the House of Commons? Does he agree that close alignment to and working with the single market is the best way to protect jobs and rights and ensure that there is no race to the bottom, and that we should continue to work across Europe with agencies and institutions in areas such as research and development, education, environmental protection and our future security? Labour has proposed those clear steps, which could be taken now and could build a majority in the UK Parliament and provide certainty for our people.

Tory chaos has to come to an end. There have been record defeats in Parliament, fortnightly humiliations and repeated rejections by EU leaders. It is time for the Prime Minister to end the chaos, admit that her Brexit plan has failed and support Labour’s robust and legally binding amendment next week, which will prevent no deal.

Finally, will the cabinet secretary update Parliament on what work has proceeded on common frameworks and on the redrafting of the intergovernmental agreements if the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 proceeds?

The Presiding Officer

This is a very robust argument, but I ask members to refrain from being so personal in their political attacks.

Michael Russell

I will deal with the common frameworks and the intergovernmental issues first. On common frameworks, as Neil Findlay will be aware, a publication shared between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations 10 days ago said that work was continuing and that, significantly, no section 12 orders had yet been used. As long as the section 12 orders are not used, we will continue to work with the UK Government on a voluntary basis. However, the same proviso exists that existed in relation to the previous two publications. If section 12 orders are used, we will cease to do that.

The UK Government is still doing nothing on the intergovernmental relationships. We are trying to bring those forward and we are talking about issues that arise, but we are getting no response. However, the UK Government is rather busy messing everything else up, so maybe we should keep it away from the intergovernmental relationships for a time.

On the customs union, I am pleased that the Labour Party now recognises the importance of the Norway or Norway-plus model. That model is not dissimilar to the one that we talked about in 2016. To that extent, I am happy to welcome the customs union issues. However, the customs union would not on its own resolve the Northern Ireland issue entirely, which is an issue that would have to be addressed. Freedom of movement in the single market is also crucial for Scotland—without it, we will have considerable problems.

I continue to support proper membership of the customs union, but more will be required. However, we have no movement at all from the Tories. As Mr Findlay said, the red lines exclude movement and, until they change, we will stay at an impasse.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

I thank the cabinet secretary for an advance copy of his statement. Those of us who support a people’s vote are sometimes challenged with the point that, if the public were finally given the chance to cancel this mess, there would be a backlash and people would be driven towards the far right. However, is it not clear that far-right sentiments have been deliberately cultivated in the UK over decades of racist rhetoric and policy, and that far-right sentiments have been deliberately cultivated and unleashed by the Brexit campaign to such an extent that the far-right threat will rise whatever the consequence of Brexit—whether people use a sense of betrayal and defeat or of triumphalism at the end of the process? What discussions has the Scottish Government had, either within the Government or with Police Scotland, about the potential of the far-right threat, the ways in which we need to tackle it and the ways in which we need to oppose the toxic values that underpin it?

Michael Russell

I should ask my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to respond on the detail about Police Scotland and the justice issues that Patrick Harvie raised.

We all agree that the rise of the far right comes not just from active encouragement but from passive encouragement, which occurs when the EU is misrepresented and when people do not stand up for the virtues of co-operation and working together as sovereign states in the EU. That is the crucial issue.

I hope that a people’s vote would give people the chance not just to reconsider what has taken place but to have a new consideration of how the issue has developed and been presented in the past two and a half years. The people who have walked away from their previous support for the EU because the Prime Minister and the Tory party told them to do so are hugely culpable. We must recognise that and make it clear to them. Tory MSPs are hugely culpable, because none of them has been prepared to stand up and say that what is going on is utterly wrong and should not be allowed to continue. I long for the day when I see a Conservative with the courage to do that in Scotland.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

The penultimate sentence of the cabinet secretary’s statement was:

“The only sensible solution now available is a delay to article 50, a ruling out of a no deal and a people’s vote.”

I agree with him whole-heartedly. Yesterday, seven MPs left the Labour Party, in part because they feel so strongly about Europe. What practical steps will the cabinet secretary take in the next few days and weeks to build further support for a people’s vote, so that we can get out of this mess?

Michael Russell

I will not get involved in the Labour Party’s private grief; I leave that to others. Our group at Westminster has shown itself to be constructive on such matters—for example, last week’s amendment, which I acknowledge that the Liberal Democrats supported, was positive and said that we should immediately secure an extension.

From what one hears from the EU, it is obvious that an extension would happen—I quoted President Juncker on that. All that needs to happen now is that the Conservative Government needs to ask for an extension. It might well get an extension beyond three months—it is clear that the atmosphere is changing and that the fears about the European Parliament’s legitimacy if UK representatives were not seated there appear to be passing away.

I am working with our group at Westminster, as I am sure that Mr Rennie is working with his group there, to try to ensure broad support for a people’s vote. The position would be transformed if the Labour Party whole-heartedly supported that, and I wish that it would. I have repeatedly and constructively said that in the chamber and I will go on saying it.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

I note with a heavy heart the warnings in the cabinet secretary’s statement about the impact on Scotland’s unemployment figures. Does he agree that what we have seen in the past week—from job losses to souring trade relations—must act as a wake-up call for all members of this Parliament, and not least the Tories, about the seriousness of the situation that we find ourselves in and the risk that Theresa May’s approach to Brexit poses?

Michael Russell

I agree. Unemployment is, of course, a major problem for the economy; it is also a personal tragedy for everyone who experiences it. In the circumstances, we should try to do everything that we can to avoid such tragedies. There is a way to do so. The first step to restore confidence would be to extend article 50.

The warning has been there for a considerable period. The Japanese Government issued a letter to the UK Government in September 2016 that made clear its attitude and what the attitude of its companies would be on Brexit. The Prime Minister chose to ignore that letter. If members look at it—I read the letter again last night—they will realise that everything that the Japanese Government did not want to happen has happened, and has been allowed to happen by the Conservatives. It is therefore little wonder that the Japanese Government is now saying that circumstances have changed and that we cannot continue to get the level of investments that we have had.

Widely, businesses are saying that they cannot cope. The Confederation of British Industry and, today, the National Farmers Union in England—and whole ranges of businesses—are saying that the situation is impossible to live with, yet the Conservatives do nothing. They still pursue a chimera in Brussels, with the Prime Minister rushing back across to negotiate something that is not negotiable.

In the circumstances, the Prime Minister needs to wake up and recognise that this is her responsibility. First of all, she should resign—that is the most useful thing that she could do. If she will not resign, the next thing that she needs to do is get an extension to article 50, to make sure that processes are in place to avoid a no deal, and then have a people’s vote. After that, she can resign.

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

The Scottish Government has previously conceded that there are circumstances in which this Parliament will consent to Brexit-related UK primary legislation, such as the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill. Does the cabinet secretary accept that there may be scenarios in the next few months when a similar situation occurs and that it would be in the national interest for this Parliament to consent to UK Government Brexit legislation?

Michael Russell

I am not entirely sure that Donald Cameron and I would agree on a definition of the national interest, but I will let that pass.

I agree with Donald Cameron that there may be circumstances in which introducing partial or complete legislative consent motions would be the right thing to do. We did that on the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill. Although in the end I do not think that anyone would have suffered, there was the potential for individuals, including vulnerable individuals, to suffer, so it was right for this Government to say that we would make an exception in that case.

However, we will not be bludgeoned, bullied or frightened into doing the wrong thing. As I delivered my statement—some people may not have heard this; the microphones may not have picked it up—Adam Tomkins was shouting remarks about voting for the Prime Minister’s deal, which would be the utterly wrong thing to do. To give legislative consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which would also be the utterly wrong thing to do, will not happen—I will certainly recommend to this chamber that that does not happen. However, I do not want people individually to suffer, as might have been the case in relation to the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill, and if there were circumstances in which that would be the case, I hope that I would make the right decision. I respect Donald Cameron for raising the issue.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

With a no-deal Brexit being increasingly likely following last week’s vote, what clarity has the UK Government given the Scottish Government on post-Brexit funding, especially to replace current EU funding that supports jobs, infrastructure, research and our rural communities?

Michael Russell

There is no clarity on replacement funding. Some guarantees are in place in relation to continuation funding, such as for the agriculture sector, but they are limited, and the closer we look at them, the more insubstantial they become. We have tried to make it clear that where guarantees exist, we will honour them, provided that we are funded to honour them.

On the wider issues, there are no such guarantees, which is very concerning. For example, infrastructure funding, which would be of enormous importance to the Highlands and Islands, has dried up completely, and the money available from the European Investment Bank has also dried up. There are potentially new schemes, such as the so-called shared prosperity fund, which is regional and will be run from London—although that seems a bit of a contradiction—but we know virtually nothing about how that will operate; there was meant to be a consultation on it at the end of last year, but it has not taken place.

We would like to know what the proposals are; even better, we would like to be part of the discussion about how things should move forward. However, we simply do not get the answers.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

The cabinet secretary said in his statement that he remains concerned that so many small businesses have not yet engaged in sufficient Brexit planning. Does he have a sense of the number of businesses that have not yet engaged in any form of preparedness, or of why they have not, given the prominence of Brexit in politics at the moment? What can he, his Government and all of us as MSPs do to better signpost to local businesses some of the excellent joint agency resource that is available, including through the many excellent events that are being hosted across Scotland?

Michael Russell

Each individual member should know their own constituencies and regions and how to contact small businesses, and should be in the local newspapers encouraging that to happen. For an estimate of the number of businesses, I would have to rely on, for example, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has said that a vast number of businesses have not yet taken the issue up. Regrettably, that experience is true across these islands and for a number of reasons. I mentioned normalcy bias, for example, which means that people do not believe that a government could be as incompetent as the Tory Government, and are only now waking up to the fact that it could be.

If members have the ability to talk to small businesses, they should please do so and make sure that businesses use the resources that are available.

Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

European structural and social funds have been a very important source of additional resources for my constituency since the 1980s, when the Thatcher Government slashed regional aid to the north of England, Scotland and Wales. For example, in Clackmannanshire, such funds have supported economic development, job creation and training to the tune of £1.13 million since 2014. Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on whether that vital funding for my constituency will be provided after Brexit? Given that we have only 38 days to go, can he advise—I think I know the answer—whether the UK Government has provided any information on whether the shared prosperity fund will replace those resources?

Michael Russell

The answer to the second question is no, we have no such information.

The member is absolutely right to stress the importance of such funds. In the current 2014 to 2020 programme, £480 million has already been committed to projects across Scotland. I ask members to think about circumstances in which, over the next six years, say, £480 million pounds could be extracted from the Scottish economy, because there is no money available to replace those resources. We are in a very serious situation.

I know that the member speaks for his constituency, which has received £1.13 million in the current European programme. There are many constituencies that have received more. It is vital that we know what is happening, but we have heard no more about it, largely owing to the complete chaos in the Westminster Government.

James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary has outlined how the Government has made representations to the UK Government on the funding required to meet the cost of exiting the EU. If the full costs of that are not met by the UK Government, what contingency planning has the Scottish Government put in place to deal with that scenario?

Michael Russell

The member raises an important point. The Scottish Government is very limited in its ability to produce new resources and if money is not provided, it becomes a matter of whether we are able to spend or not. In the circumstances of a no-deal Brexit, we would feel an imperative to do everything that we possibly could, but we could find ourselves very short of resources to do so. That is why my colleague, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work, is pushing the issue with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, among others.

A commitment of that sort is needed but has not been entered into. Therefore, I think that the issue will be dealt with a day at a time. Were we to find ourselves in such circumstances, we would have to continue to spend money on the things that we need to do and continue to pressure the UK Government, which has indicated that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, there would be a supplementary budget. We would be very clear that we would require substantial resources to be made available within that supplementary budget to do the jobs that we would have to do.

Angela Constance (Almond Valley) (SNP)

Paterson Arran is an award-winning food and drink company that employs 200 people, providing much-needed employment in my constituency. The company has written to me in detail about its concerns about the—I quote—“catastrophic consequences of Brexit”, given the impact on its cost base and supply chain of delays at ports etc. Will Mr Russell and/or Mr Ewing visit Paterson Arran to discuss its concerns and what more can be done to support this small but key manufacturer in our food and drink industry?

Michael Russell

I am sure that Mr Ewing would be happy to visit, as would I. The origins of the company are fascinating; it has been in existence for more than 100 years, since its earliest incarnation—I think that the Paterson part of the business was founded in 1896. It is world renowned for its shortbread and oatcakes and, of course, for the Arran brand of preserves and chutneys, and if the chain of production and export is interrupted, that will present an enormous problem.

I am sure that Mr Ewing—who tells me that he is undertaking a food resilience teleconference in 10 minutes’ time—will come back to the member about a visit. I would be happy to visit too—and, I might suggest, to sample the oatcakes.

Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

The UK Government gave Derek Mackay £92 million in funding to prepare for leaving the EU. In England, funding was passed on to local authorities; in Scotland it was not. Why not?

Michael Russell

I know that some people have said that, but I dispute that account. I have met and continue to meet the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and I will see it again this week. We recognise that local authorities will have a requirement for funding and, in such circumstances, will work with COSLA to ensure that funding flows from the UK Government.

Of course, one of the differences—Rachael Hamilton needs to think about this for a moment—is that there is a direct line from the UK Government to local authorities whereas in Scotland there is a direct line from the UK Government to the Scottish Government. If the UK Government wants a direct line to local authorities, there is a discussion to have, but the routes for money are different. We will ensure that we assist local government as much as we can do.

It is very rich for a Tory to criticise a lack of funding for local government given the Tories’ attitude, first, to the budget in this place, and secondly, to Brexit. That is particularly so when the criticism comes from a Brexiteer—an original Brexiteer, I believe—[Interruption.] Or is Rachael Hamilton a born-again Brexiteer? Did she espouse Brexit originally, or has she come to Brexit new formed? Whatever it is, it is pretty rich, anyway.

Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

Has the Scottish Government considered commissioning an equalities impact assessment of the UK Government’s settled status fee, given that the requirement to pay the £65 remains in place for people over 16, although it is now refundable, and given that people are forced to travel from places such as Glenrothes in my constituency to Edinburgh to register for the scheme, at personal cost?

Michael Russell

I understand that travelling is required for document upload if the app does not upload documents. That is unacceptable. The technological history of the matter is a pretty sad one.

I am very glad that the fee has now disappeared. It is extraordinary for a Government to say, “Here’s a fee; you’ve got to pay it”, and then to celebrate when it abolishes it. I am glad that the fee has gone, but it should never have come in in the first place.

There is a wider issue around this, which is about how we say to EU nationals, “We need you here.” It is not a question simply of being nice to people; the Scottish economy needs the presence of EU nationals—people who have chosen to make their homes here.

I want to hear about that from the Conservative benches; I do not want to hear “Brexit” from the Conservative benches—lots of people are saying that. I want to hear the Conservatives say, “Stay” to EU nationals, instead of pandering to the hard right in their party, which is all that they are presently doing.

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

The Tory defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, caused great offence when he suggested that a post-Brexit Britain would use lethal force and threatened to park a new aircraft carrier in China’s back yard. The Financial Times reports that that has resulted in UK trade talks in Beijing being cancelled. What effect does the cabinet secretary think that Mr Williamson’s speech has had on Scotland’s trading relationship with China?

Michael Russell

If anyone is listening from Beijing or elsewhere, I want them to know that the Scottish Parliament has no interest in supporting Gavin Williamson. He is a comic-opera figure; he is the Private Pike of the UK Government, and his speech was nonsensical—it also used words that are not in the English language. [Interruption.] For him to give a speech that had such an effect shows that we are dealing with people who have no sense of how a Government should operate.

The real tragedy is that, as I was saying that, I could hear words of support for Gavin Williamson coming from the Tory benches. The Tories are so out of touch with what is happening, not just in Scotland and in the UK but in the world, that it really is time that they stepped back and—as my old granny said—took a jump to themselves.