Meeting date: Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 25 October 2017
Agenda: Urgent Question, Portfolio Question Time, Common Agricultural Policy Convergence Moneys, Withdrawal from the European Union (Negotiations), Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Withdrawal from the European Union (Impact on Musicians and the Music Industries)
- Urgent Question
- Portfolio Question Time
- Common Agricultural Policy Convergence Moneys
- Withdrawal from the European Union (Negotiations)
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
- Withdrawal from the European Union (Impact on Musicians and the Music Industries)
Withdrawal from the European Union (Negotiations)
Time is tight. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08352, in the name of Michael Russell, on Scotland and the negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom on EU exit.
I remind members who want to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons and I repeat that time is tight. Minister, you have 12 minutes, please.15:24
The fifth round of the phase 1 negotiations on EU exit concluded on 12 October. Today provides an opportunity to set out the Scottish Government’s assessment of progress on the EU and UK negotiations that have taken place to date; it also allows the Parliament to consider the process of EU withdrawal and to express its concerns about recent developments.
The context for so doing remains clear and should be stated at the outset of every debate about Brexit in Scotland. Scotland did not vote for Brexit, and opinion polls indicate that Scotland would still not vote for Brexit—indeed, it is likely that it would be rejected by an even wider margin now.
Scotland’s best interests, and the best interests of all who live and work here, would be served by remaining in the EU. That point was emphasised in the media yesterday following analysis by the London School of Economics of the economic consequences of Brexit, which presented stark figures for Scotland, even from a so-called soft Brexit. Its calculations showed that, over five years, Edinburgh would lose £3.2 billion from such a Brexit, Glasgow would lose £2.9 billion and Aberdeen would lose £2.4 billion. Even my constituency of Argyll and Bute would lose out, to the tune of £170 million—given the difficulties of the area, that would be a severe blow. If there was a no-deal Brexit, the figures would go from dreadful to catastrophic: Glasgow would be down by £5.4 billion, Edinburgh by £5.5 billion, Argyll and Bute by £350 million and Aberdeen by £3.8 billion—Aberdeen would be the worst hit by percentage in the country.
The economic, social and reputational damage that such an outcome would inflict would be excessive, unwarranted and unwanted. The first conclusion that the Parliament needs to draw is that no deal is a no deal; it cannot and must not happen. It is foolish for the UK Government to use such a threat even as a negotiating tactic. Things are bad enough without that.
Let us look at the state of the negotiations. There has been small progress in the past few weeks, which appears to have depended on the Prime Minister—as she indicated in her Florence speech—at last being willing to show a modicum of flexibility. However, negotiations are about dialogue, not speeches. Considerable challenges remain for the UK, and the devolved Administrations face additional problems as a result of the UK Government’s failure to abide by the agreed terms of reference of the joint ministerial committee on EU negotiations.
Nonetheless, I want to be as positive as I can be. I pay tribute to the attempts by the new First Secretary of State of the UK Government, Damian Green, to improve the situation, and I am grateful to John Swinney for his involvement. I am pleased to tell the chamber that all the parties in this Parliament have had constructive discussions about the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. I hope that such dialogue on Brexit matters will continue. It is encouraging that most of us have been able to agree on the motion that is in front of us and, although the Conservatives have not agreed, it is useful that their amendment refers to the likelihood of amending the bill, as the Secretary of State for Scotland did yesterday in his evidence to the Westminster Scottish Affairs Select Committee.
On the withdrawal bill, I can report that some progress was made at last week’s reconvened JMC(EN) meeting in agreeing general principles that should ensure the role of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Parliaments and Governments in any potential UK-wide frameworks. However, I am clear that the Scottish Government remains unable to recommend that the Scottish Parliament should consent to the bill as currently drafted, and the same is true of the Welsh Government. Neither Government will be in a position to recommend consent until the bill is amended in keeping with the proposals that have been tabled at Westminster by Labour, Liberal, Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and Green MPs. Those amendments will ensure that the devolved settlement is respected, not undermined.
I turn to the wider question of the negotiations between the UK and the EU. The first round began on 19 June, and the fifth round concluded on 12 October. Despite all the talking, last week the European Council did not agree that there had been “sufficient progress” to allow a move from exit discussions to consideration of the transition and the future relationship. Instead, the council called on the negotiators to make more progress on outstanding issues, including those in relation to citizens’ rights and the financial settlement. However, in a positive gesture, the EU27 have empowered Michel Barnier to make internal preparations for the second phase.
The Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis—always an optimist—asserted at the conclusion of the fifth round talks that
“we have come a long way”,
but even he could not avoid the fact that
“there is still work to be done”.
It is the work that is still to be done that remains my concern. The clock is ticking and it is vital that there is certainty now for individuals and businesses. Businesses are making planning decisions now for 2020 and beyond and citizens of other EU member states need to plan their futures. They will either leave the UK or choose not to locate here, based on the rights that they will have and the welcome that they will receive.
Given his point about business confidence and certainty, will the minister welcome the announcement that the Prime Minister made in her Florence speech that the UK Government intends to have a two-year transition or implementation period?
I will come to the transition issue and I will welcome that, in a way.
It is simply unacceptable that there is so much uncertainty surrounding the rights of EU citizens in the UK and of UK citizens in other EU countries after Brexit. It is disappointing that, in the Prime Minister’s open letter to EU citizens, she was still not able to give more clarity. The Scottish Government has repeatedly called for assurances that EU citizens will have their rights protected in the place that they choose to call their home. We have continually stressed that EU citizens and their families, who make a vital contribution to Scotland’s economy and demography and to our culture and society, must be able to feel that they are at home here.
We of course welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to ensure that the system of applying for settled status will be streamlined and straightforward. We believe that settled status should be granted free of charge. The First Minister has made it clear that, if a fee is imposed, the Scottish Government will, as a minimum, meet the cost for EU nationals who work in our public services. However, a number of key outstanding issues remain, and we therefore urge the UK Government to reach agreement immediately with the EU27.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister recognised in her Florence speech the need for a transition period, although she and her ministers had ruled it out on every possible occasion until then. It is good that they recognise that that was the wrong approach. At the minimum, a substantial transition period is essential to give people and businesses the certainty that they require to get on with their lives and work. However, we still need clarity from the UK Government on how that will work in practice. Mixed messages on issues such as membership of the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy and coded remarks about some parts taking less time are not helping anyone, except perhaps the extreme Brexiteers.
The substance of the transition must be clear, as must the long-term destination. Confusion about those and other issues simply adds to the overall atmosphere of chaos. The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, yet not only is the UK Government still mired in phase 1 negotiations but it cannot seem to decide what route it is asking to take after that in order to avoid the cliff edge. As a result, confusion reigns among businesses, investors and the public, and it is exacerbated by the stream of contradictions and mixed messages that flow from the internal divisions of the UK Government.
Considering all that, and after reading the UK Government’s negotiating and position papers, I think that it is little wonder that so many—certainly the Scottish Government, but also a growing number in the country and outwith it—firmly believe that full EU membership remains the best possible option for this country and for our economy. That is what we want.
On that point, does the minister welcome this week’s comments from the President of the European Council? He told members of the European Parliament:
“It is ... up to London how this will end: with a good deal, no deal or no Brexit”.
I welcome those remarks, which are to be supported, because they happen to be true.
We want full membership—now if possible, but later if necessary. In the interim, if we find ourselves having to be dragged out, we wish for and will continue to argue for continued membership of the European single market and the EU customs union, not as a transition but as a destination.
Many others have moved or are moving to that position, too, and we urge all parties that are not there yet—particularly the UK Government—to recognise that that is the only way of avoiding severe damage. There would still be damage, as we see from the LSE analysis, but it would be less under that scenario than under any other.
This month, the Scottish Government published “Brexit: what’s at stake for businesses”, which is a collection of commentaries from companies that have deep concerns about the consequences of Brexit. The document highlights the importance of the outcomes that are reached in the negotiations and the real issues that are at stake. Later, we will publish a parallel document about individual citizens’ concerns.
Will the minister give way?
Allow me to make some progress.
The Scottish Government and Parliament have a legitimate interest in the terms of withdrawal, including the transition, and in the overall shape of the future relationship. Many of the things that we do and the responsibilities that we have will be profoundly affected by withdrawal, transition and a negotiated future relationship. It is therefore highly regrettable that the UK Government has acted in direct contradiction of the terms of reference of the joint ministerial committee by publishing a series of papers that purport to set out a UK position without prior engagement with the devolved Administrations.
Some of those papers largely ignore the Scottish dimension; some mention it in passing without any detail. At least one seems to have been drafted in complete ignorance of the existence of a separate Scottish legal system and Scottish responsibility for, among other things, a separate prosecution and police system, an independent Lord Advocate and involvement in extradition and international justice co-operation, which are issues that long predate the UK’s membership of the EU.
I made it clear to David Davis and Damian Green that I remain deeply concerned that the Scottish Government’s views were not taken into consideration in the development of those papers. The EU can place no reliance on commitments that are entered into as a result of the UK’s presentation of partial or simply wrong information—that should not be happening. There is no reason why the Scottish Government’s position should not be fully reflected in any and all negotiating or position papers and in the UK Government’s current and future positions. It is therefore essential that the UK Government involves in a new and fundamental way the Scottish Government in any further developments on EU exit and in the next phase of negotiations. We indicated that at the JMC meeting that was held in London last Monday.
I welcome the fact that the JMC has been reconvened. I indicated that last Monday’s meeting set a positive tone for further engagement, but tone must translate into substance. I took the opportunity at that meeting to press the UK Government on the issues that I have touched on today. It is vital to utilise the JMC in the spirit for which it was created: for regular engagement between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. It is the space in which we can all be heard and in which we can reach a true UK-wide position. We must make sure that such meetings are at the heart of what we do.
Over the past 14 months—it is 14 months to the day that I have been in position as the Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe—I have welcomed the support and challenge from this Parliament and its committees. It is now more crucial than ever that our collective and unified voice is heard, that the threat to devolution is faced with solidarity and that we are clear together that Scotland’s interests in our future relationship with Europe cannot be ignored. I move the motion in my name in the hope that it will attract the support of the whole Parliament.
That the Parliament agrees that a “no deal” outcome from the negotiations with the EU must be ruled out by the UK Government; further agrees that such an outcome would be an economic and social disaster for Scotland; recognises the worry that the lack of clarity over citizens’ rights is causing to many people living, working and studying in Scotland; urges the UK Government to immediately guarantee the rights of fellow EU citizens in the UK without imposing charges on them; welcomes the reconvening of the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) on 16 October 2017 following an eight-month hiatus, and agrees that the EU Withdrawal Bill must be amended to respect the devolution settlement before it can proceed any further.15:36
I want to say a few things about the idea of no deal. It is absolutely not the UK Government’s preferred outcome to leave the European Union with no deal. What we want—when I say “we”, I mean both the UK Government and the Scottish Conservatives—is a bold, ambitious and comprehensive free-trade agreement with the EU27.
Will the member give way?
I am in my first sentence.
That is in the UK’s national interest and, likewise, it is in the European Union’s interest. Given that the UK starts from a position that is wholly compliant with EU law, such an outcome should not be difficult to achieve, if the political will is there on both sides. As the Prime Minister said in her Florence speech, to which the minister referred a few moments ago, we—the United Kingdom on the one hand and the European Union on the other—share the same fundamental beliefs: a fundamental belief in frictionless, free and fair trade; a fundamental belief in fair competition; and a fundamental belief in strong consumer rights. Given that starting point, it should not be difficult to arrive at the destination that has been outlined.
Will the member take an intervention?
I will in a second.
The United Kingdom Government has taken the view that the United Kingdom cannot remain in the European single market because the European Union insists that the four fundamental freedoms that form the core of internal market law are indivisible, and we cannot take back control of our national borders inside the single market. That is not the British Government’s conclusion; that is the European Union’s conclusion, and we must recognise and respect the European Union’s negotiating position as well. The European Union’s negotiating position is that the four fundamental freedoms are indivisible. That means that if one wants to be in the single market, one must accept all four of them.
It is worth noting—the minister spoke about this in his remarks—that the Scottish Government’s motion does not call for the United Kingdom to remain in the single market or the customs union.
Will Mr Tomkins give way?
Will the member take an intervention?
I now have four members who want to intervene on me and I have eight minutes. I give way to the minister.
You are just popular, Mr Tomkins.
I want to make it absolutely clear that, as I argued in my speech, have argued before and will argue again, the Scottish Government’s position is to remain in the single market if we cannot remain in the EU, but that to remain in the EU is our preference.
I thank the minister for the clarification. That is well understood, but it is not in his motion today, which I thought was worth noting.
Our amendment says that progress towards the end of a free-trade agreement, which I have just sketched, is being made but should be accelerated. It was the European Union and not the UK that insisted that progress should be made on three preliminary points before we can even start talking about a new free-trade partnership with the EU27.
The first preliminary point is the divorce bill, which, again, is something on which the Scottish National Party front bench has been entirely silent. There is nothing on that in the motion and there were no remarks on it in the minister’s speech. In closing, the minister might reflect on what the Scottish Government’s position is on the size and means of payment of the divorce bill that the European Union is demanding. Is the Scottish Government seeking to support the UK Government or the EU27 in that area?
The second preliminary point is Northern Ireland. The United Kingdom has given a clear and unambiguous commitment to protecting the Belfast agreement and the common travel area, which is a commitment that is—happily—shared by the EU27, including Ireland. Likewise, both sides have explicitly stated that they will not accept any physical infrastructure on the border, which is to be welcomed.
The third preliminary point is that there must be a safeguarding of the position of EU nationals, and the Prime Minister has been crystal clear about that, over and again. First, in her Florence speech last month, she said:
“I want ... all EU citizens who have made their lives in our country ... to stay; we value you; and we thank you for your contribution to our national life ... it has been, and remains, one of my first goals in this negotiation to ensure that you can carry on living your lives as before.”
Just two days ago, in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister added:
“we are in touching distance of a deal”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 23 October 2017; Vol 630, c 24.]
on EU citizens.
Will the member give way?
I will finish the point and let Mr Johnson in if I have time.
The Prime Minister continued:
“This agreement will provide certainty about residence, healthcare, pensions and other benefits. It will mean that EU citizens who have paid into the UK system, and UK nationals who have paid into the system of an EU27 country, can benefit from what they have put in. It will enable families who have built their lives together to stay together, and it will provide guarantees that the rights of those UK nationals currently living in the EU, and EU citizens currently living in the UK, will not diverge over time.”
The problem with that position is that it still treats EU citizens as a bargaining chip. That is not an unequivocal offer; it is contingent on acceptance and it is reliant on other people doing something. It is not the unequivocal guarantee that the UK Government could give now.
We are in touching distance of a deal on EU citizens and citizenship, which is exactly as it should be. The member would be better advised to welcome the progress that the United Kingdom and the EU have made on that, rather than to carp from the sidelines.
One part of the Scottish Government’s motion with which Conservative members agree is the welcoming of the reconvening of the JMC(EN). We like intergovernmental co-operation and we want more of it, as it is good for Scotland and for the union. We want it to be effective and we know that it will have to be effective if Brexit is to be delivered as it can be and must be, and in a manner that is compatible with our devolution settlements. That is why I welcome the communiqué, which was published after the JMC(EN) on Monday last week, with its focus on common frameworks, as that is one of the aspects of Brexit that we will have to spend quite a lot of time focusing on.
On the subject of common frameworks, I note and welcome the statement that was made by the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, in the House of Commons this afternoon in which he said that a UK framework means not the imposition of a framework by the UK but that agreement is reached. The minister has shared that position with me in evidence to the Finance and Constitution Committee and the secretary of state has endorsed it today, which we can all welcome.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is designed to deliver a smooth and successful Brexit. It was formerly—and rather oddly—known as the great repeal bill but, in reality, it is a continuity bill. It maintains the authority of retained EU law in the UK’s legal systems and it avoids precisely the legal and constitutional cliff edges that Scottish Government ministers and the Scottish Conservatives have been warning about.
The passing of the legislation through the Westminster Parliament requires our consent and that of the Welsh Assembly. The UK Government has made it crystal clear that it wants to obtain that consent. So do I, and so, I believe, does the minister and the Scottish National Party front bench. To that end, a series of meetings has been taking place to seek to understand different parties’ concerns and to relay those concerns to ministers and others at Westminster.
I will close on this point. Much of the focus on the withdrawal bill has been on clause 11. It is worth recording what the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, said in his evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee in the House of Commons yesterday. He said that powers will either be with the Scottish Parliament—here—or they will be subject to a UK-wide framework to which the Scottish Government is a party. That is what will happen.
If we can all agree around such a position, we can obtain the consent that both Governments want. For all those reasons, I will move the amendment in my name.
I move amendment S5M-08352.1, to leave out from “that a ‘no deal’ outcome” to end and insert:
“with the UK Government that it is in everyone’s interest for the Brexit negotiations to succeed; welcomes the fact that progress is being made in the negotiations but considers that progress needs to be accelerated; calls on the EU to allow the negotiations to move on to the next phase; welcomes the unambiguous commitment on the part of the UK Government to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and calls on the EU to make the same commitment for UK nationals living in other member states; welcomes the reconvening of the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) on 16 October 2017, and understands that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is likely to be amended to ensure that both devolution and the UK’s internal market are strengthened and safeguarded”.15:46
Members of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee went to Brussels last month and met Michel Barnier. The European Union’s chief negotiator made many important points and addressed some complex issues. However, one of his simplest points was also one of the most telling. When negotiations fail, that usually means going back to the status quo, but in the case of Brexit, no deal would mean something quite different. It would mean Britain becoming a third country, with no agreed trading relationship with our main trading partner. It is a simple point, but it is hugely important. No deal would not mean standing still; it would mean going backwards by 40 years.
Despite the opening comments from the Conservatives, it is clear that some ministers in the UK Government believe that the threat of walking away without a deal will concentrate minds and persuade EU leaders to make fewer demands and more concessions. There is no evidence of that, just as there is no evidence that there is a whole world out there of friendly countries just waiting to reach trade deals with the UK that are more generous than their trade deals with the EU.
Boris Johnson, for example, recently suggested that Commonwealth countries might provide an alternative field for British economic activity. Clearly, he did not know that New Zealand and Canada are already lining up with the United States, Brazil and Argentina to demand increased access to our markets for their produce once the UK is no longer covered by EU quotas for farm produce, under World Trade Organization rules. It is a pity that the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was not a little bit better informed before he laid out such wonderful visions—or at least a bit more honest about just what trading under WTO rules will be like if there is no new deal with Europe.
Even more remarkable was the sight of the Chancellor of the Exchequer apparently being put in his place by the Prime Minister on preparing for an outcome with no deal. Philip Hammond told MPs that spending now on preparing for failure in the negotiations was likely to be “nugatory expenditure”—more commonly known as a waste of money. The very next day, Theresa May was keen to say that that money was already in place, and that her Government would be ready in the event that no deal could be agreed.
It is easy to see why the chancellor did not want to admit to planning expenditure to build giant lorry parks at Britain’s ports to allow our exports to get off the road while they wait to join the queue to go through customs before crossing the Channel or the North Sea. Hundreds of millions of pounds will be spent on trade policy—not on speeding it up or increasing it, but on slowing it down.
It is also easy to see why David Davis is so reluctant to publish the UK Government’s assessment of the impacts of a no-deal Brexit—or indeed any Brexit—on the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. This week’s LSE report on national and regional impact shows that economic output in Scotland could fall by almost £30 billion over five years in the absence of a positive agreement. As the Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe said, Aberdeen is predicted to take the biggest hit in Britain after the City of London, with Edinburgh and Glasgow not far behind.
Mention has already been made of this week’s comments by David Mundell. So far, he has declined to tell us what the Government’s findings with regard to regional and sectoral impact are, but he concedes that “a degree of analysis” has been done in relation to Brexit, and yesterday he told the Scottish Affairs Committee that that analysis would be shared with the Scottish Government.
I understand that the same assurance was given by David Davis to my colleague Joanna Cherry at this morning’s meeting of the Westminster Committee on Exiting the European Union, but it is very difficult to get clarification of those commitments. I hope that, by working on a cross-party basis, we can persuade the Conservatives to make sure that that documentation comes to Scotland and is published.
I hope for the same. I also hope that Mr Russell will agree that, if that documentation comes to the Scottish Government, it will be of legitimate interest to the Scottish Parliament and, indeed, to the citizens whom we are here to represent.
Of course, the implications of no deal do not stop at trade. A failure to agree would also be devastating for the rights of citizens of other EU countries to stay here and of UK citizens to stay in other EU countries post-Brexit. That is the area in which Mrs May and Adam Tomkins want to tell us that we are closest to agreement. When Mr Tomkins talked about us being within “touching distance” of a deal, he might have been right, but as Daniel Johnson said, it is an area that should not have been subject to a bargaining process in the first place, and it is an area that is at as much risk as any other if the bargaining process is unsuccessful. Whatever progress might be achieved as part of a negotiated settlement will be abandoned if there is no deal, and that will be hugely damaging for our economy and our society, as well as deeply distressing for the individuals and families concerned.
Just as the UK Government is failing to make real progress in Brussels, there seems to be an equal lack of progress at Westminster. Today’s Conservative amendment states that the withdrawal bill is “likely to be amended” to address the devolution issues. It certainly should be, given the force of the many amendments to the withdrawal bill that have been tabled with cross-party support to ensure that powers over devolved areas are repatriated to the devolved Administrations and not the UK Government.
The failures and shortfalls of the withdrawal bill do not stop there. Last weekend, Keir Starmer called for action to improve the bill in six areas. He said that ministers need to act to remove obstacles to transitional arrangements—an issue that the Conservatives have raised this afternoon—based on the terms of membership of the single market and customs union beyond March 2019; to safeguard against law making by decree by reducing the sweeping powers that ministers want to have to amend retained laws without full parliamentary process; to guarantee continuation of workers’ rights, consumer rights and environmental standards; to protect the devolution settlement; to entrench fundamental rights; and to ensure that Parliament rather than Government has the final say on whether to approve the withdrawal agreement and on how to implement it.
In all those areas, we need a change of attitude and a change of approach from UK ministers before the withdrawal bill will be fit for purpose. We need a Government that wants a deal with Europe and that is willing to listen to others in the UK Parliament and in this and other Parliaments in order to safeguard democracy. Frankly, if Mrs May’s ministers are not up to that challenge, we also need a change of UK Government.
Before we move to the open debate, I point out that time is very tight. I ask for speeches of six minutes. However, I want to allow time for interventions—please make those brief. If managing the time becomes difficult, closing speakers might be asked to take a minute off their speeches. I think that that is fair to back benchers.15:53
We are 16 months down the line from the Brexit vote and seven months down the line from the triggering of article 50, so we must ask, what is new? I do not think that many of us are much the wiser now on what Brexit will actually look like than we were last year.
I sit on the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee, which has been undertaking an inquiry into the article 50 negotiations, and I want to focus on some of the key elements that we have heard evidence on. In particular, I want to focus on the rights of EU citizens.
Although we keep hearing from the UK Government that much progress has been made, there remain serious hurdles that have to be overcome. David Davis confirmed that this morning in his evidence to the Committee on Exiting the European Union, and he gave no explanation of how those hurdles will be overcome. The issues involved include the rights of future family members; the recognition of professional qualifications; UK citizens’ rights to move within the rest of Europe; and the role of the European Court of Justice in dispute resolution. The one thread running through all of that and all of the evidence that my committee has heard is the remaining uncertainty and lack of clarity for all involved. We heard from panels of legal experts, from academics and from Lord Kerr, who played a role in drafting article 50 itself.
Dr Tobias Lock from the University of Edinburgh highlighted the situation of EU citizens who are now
“finding it difficult to find jobs, because employers do not know what their situation is going to be in 18 months’ time, and to find housing, because landlords are reluctant to take them on as tenants.”—[Official Report, Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee, 21 September 2017; c 22.]
That was not just speculation; we had confirmation of it from EU citizens themselves who are living that experience every single day.
Ewa Smierzynska of the Fife Migrants Forum said that she had been told directly that she had been turned down for a job because her prospective employer would have had to spend time training her only to be told, perhaps, that they were no longer allowed to employ anyone from the EU and to let her go. That is simply blatant discrimination, and it is based on an incredibly worrying lack of knowledge and certainty not only on the side of those working here about their rights but on the side of employers, who are very badly informed.
However, even more worrying trends are developing. Yesterday, The Guardian published an article highlighting how uncertainty over Brexit is leading to downright exploitation by unscrupulous employers across the country. It cited case after case of workers, particularly those in low-paid jobs, being mistreated and having their rights abused. Barbara Drozdowicz, chief executive officer of the East European Resource Centre, echoed what we heard in committee. She commented:
“People are worried that they will hire someone and they will have to leave, which isn’t true, but shows employers are badly informed.
The other side is that there are employers who I believe now want only eastern European workers because they can treat them badly and threaten them with false information”.
Margaret BeeIs, who chairs the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, highlighted an even more sinister side. She stated:
“People have gone from being unsure about their rights to being tricked into thinking that they have no rights at all. By adding yet another layer of uncertainty, Brexit has made it even easier for people-trafficking and slavery to take place”.
It is not hard to understand the lack of knowledge on rights, given the continued uncertainties around the negotiations. Are EU citizens living here directly given the most up-to-date information to help ease that situation? When the committee posed that question to the Fife Migrants Forum, the answer was that they pretty much had to source that information themselves.
On the Government website, we are told that Theresa May
“wrote directly to EU citizens in the UK”
prior to her recent visit to Brussels. Well, no—she did not; she published a letter online, offering “reassurances” that she hoped would provide “further helpful certainty”. However, such reassurances are meaningless, because there is no certainty, and people are losing out on homes and jobs as a result.
This issue is particularly personal to me and my family, because I am married to an EU citizen. We have gone from looking at him applying for permanent residency here to being told that doing so was pointless, because everyone would have to apply for settled status, to being told by David Davis two weeks ago that permanent residents would not have to make a full application for settled status. We then considered making the application again, only to be told online that it would not be valid after Brexit; we then heard from Amber Rudd that there was no point, as everyone will have to apply for settled-status biometric residence permits. There is something about the use of the term “biometric” that makes me think that the process will be anything but simple. Even then, what will “settled status” mean? What will the process involve? Who knows? As Dr Rebecca Zahn from the University of Strathclyde stated, the new status is “particularly problematic” because it
“creates legal uncertainty for landlords, employers and even the national health service with regard to knowing whether an EU national can be treated and on what grounds they can be treated post-Brexit, depending on what status they fall into.”—[Official Report, Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee, 21 September 2017; c 23.]
My husband is just one of the thousands of EU citizens who have built their life in this country and who have absolutely no say and no control over the negotiations that will determine not only their future but the future of their families—my family—here. There was no clear defined plan going into the negotiations; there has been backtracking during them; and there is still no clear idea of what our relationship with the EU will be post the negotiations. All of that means a lack of clarity for EU citizens here and UK citizens abroad.
That is why that we in this Parliament have to work together to press the UK Government to immediately guarantee the rights of EU citizens in this country and provide some certainty for their future. Right now, the only certainty in all of this is that no matter the outcome of the Brexit negotiations—be it a soft exit, a hard exit or a no-deal scenario—Scotland will lose out.15:59
The UK Government recognises that British nationals who live in the EU27 countries and EU nationals who live in the UK have been concerned about potential changes to processes after the UK leaves the European Union. However, as we know, last week the Prime Minister addressed EU citizens who live in the UK and reassured those 3 million citizens that the Government is in touching distance of an agreement. The UK Government wants people to stay and wants families to stay together. It hugely values the contributions that EU nationals make to the economic, social and cultural fabric of the UK, and it knows that member states equally value UK nationals who live in their communities.
The Prime Minister’s recent address is good news. It is positive, progressive steps have been made, and Brexit will be better because of that. It is in everyone’s best interests to have pragmatic and progressive talks to get the best for the UK and Scotland and to seek progress.
If the SNP had had its way, Scotland would have left the EU and UK markets. The UK single market exists, and it should not be ignored. As we know, it is worth four times as much as the EU single market to the Scottish economy.
The SNP finds it hard to acknowledge that the Prime Minister has given reassurances to the 3 million EU citizens who live in the UK that they are welcome, their contributions are valued, and they are needed. Those who are granted settled status will be able to live, work, study and claim benefits, as they can now.
Perhaps Rachael Hamilton has more inside information than we have about what settled status will mean, what the process involves and what people have to do to get settled status. If people have been reassured, why are people losing out on jobs and homes?
The Prime Minister made quite clear what settled status means in her recent address and in her Florence speech.
However, the guarantee to EU citizens will not solve our skills shortage. The Scottish Government has failed to recognise and address that. We must give businesses certainty. The Scottish Government fails to admit that the skills shortage in Scottish sectors existed before Brexit, and it is time for it to admit that Brexit cannot be used to brush over that problem.
“Brexit: What’s at stake for businesses” highlights recruitment issues. Many businesses fed into that document and highlighted skills shortages.
Many of the skills shortages are in areas in which incomes are not particularly high, so why does the Conservative Government propose setting a minimum income threshold, which would deny many people the right to come and live here and unite with their family?
What I am trying to highlight is that those recruitment issues were there before Brexit.
The Scottish tourism sector has reported that many college and university graduates have left the sector within the first two years after qualifying, and it has drawn attention to the fact that modern apprenticeship programmes encourage the delivery of level 2 qualifications over level 3 and level 4 qualifications, which limits the ability to develop higher-level skills within key roles. Apprenticeships are also targeted at 16 to 19-year-olds, and that does not address business needs. Those issues, which were recorded in 2015 and were present before Brexit, still persist today. We need to work to resolve that.
Will the member give way?
No, I will not, if Michael Russell does not mind.
The lack of skills is hindering one of Scotland’s biggest economically advantageous sectors at a time when that sector is seeing increased visitors and trade. That is because of Brexit. Office for National Statistics data show that the number of overseas visitors to the UK in July topped 4 million for the first time, and VisitBritain has said that, over the first seven months of the year, the number of overseas visits to the UK rose by 8 per cent to 23.1 million, compared with the same period last year.
The SNP has failed to recognise that sectors such as the service industry have experienced recruitment issues for years—Brexit or no Brexit.
Moving forward, we need to look at how we can develop our future relationship with the EU. As well as kick-starting regular joint ministerial committee meetings, the Scottish and UK Governments should be working hard to secure opportunities for our biggest markets and businesses. I believe that the Scottish Government should invest time and energy in exploring more opportunities, not try to disrupt and hinder Brexit negotiations. Indeed, that goes for all parties that have taken umbrage with the democratic decision to leave the European Union.
It is time for the SNP to change the narrative and work pragmatically with the UK Government to get the best deal and focus on the opportunities. The UK Government is listening; it has guaranteed EU citizens’ rights and we expect amendments to ensure that devolution and the UK’s internal market are strengthened and safeguarded. The Scottish Government should now listen, too.16:05
There is no issue more important than the Brexit negotiations and their outcome. The quality of people’s lives and the stability of commerce and business across the UK depend on the negotiations delivering the best arrangements for the UK when it is outwith the European Union, as required by the referendum outcome. Leavers promised better trade deals and alternative trade deals when we were out of Europe and a better world outwith the EU—we have yet to see it—and all that we had to do was vote for it. The way I see it now is that Brexiteers wanted to leave at all costs. There is no detailed plan and no thought was given to where Britain would then be.
In my opinion, the single most destabilising event following the referendum has been the disgraceful behaviour of the British Cabinet, whose members undermine each other at every turn while trying to negotiate a deal for the citizens of the UK. They have been embarrassing on the world stage and have refused to recognise and understand the basics of a negotiation strategy. If we choose to leave the EU, we have to pay our debts. A measure of good faith should have been courted in the EU, and a good start would have been recognising the rights and needs of EU citizens in the UK, who should not have to live with uncertainty.
The UK Government has ridden roughshod over the Scotland Act 1998, which most of us fought for, by seeking to grab all current EU powers. No wonder the devolved nations are up in arms about the sidelining of their interests. There is also deep concern among our Irish friends across the water. Incidentally, I am opposed to charging EU citizens a fee to remain in the UK.
The process of disentangling citizens’ rights and financial obligations and disengaging from 40 years of standard setting and regulatory convergence under the single market is no simple task. It is obvious to me that it necessitates a transition period, which is a recognition of the practicalities involved. We should have argued for a transition period much sooner, even if it perpetuates uncertainty over the final destination.
I am sure that all in the chamber hope for the best deal that can be achieved. We rightly demand clarity on the shape of Britain out of Europe. There even seems to be some cross-party consensus on that, because some sensible Tories are fighting for a sensible approach to Brexit. However, as someone who voted to remain but argued for respecting the outcome of the leave decision, I am beginning to lose my patience somewhat. Frankly, I am not prepared to say that it is all up to the leavers to decide the new relationship with Europe. There must be an acceptance that all of us, whether we voted leave or remain, must be involved in a democratic process to decide what is best for Britain—and I do not believe that that is what is happening.
Vince Cable put the matter quite succinctly this week when he said that Britain’s negotiating stance is a disaster and that the Brexiteers in the Conservative Party have horribly miscalculated Britain’s bargaining power or have not stopped to consider the reality of our bargaining power against the EU27. The tone set by Theresa May and David Davis is flawed and does not seem intended to gain the respect of the EU27, which the chancellor helpfully believes are “the enemy”.
Yesterday, we heard that Tory whip Chris Heaton-Harris had written to all universities asking what their respected academics in European affairs are teaching on Brexit. I know that number 10 has disassociated itself from that, and rightly so, but given that behaviour from someone who should know better, no wonder the respected journalist John Simpson tweeted yesterday:
“Daily hate in press. Doesn’t feel like my country now”.
That shows the stakes of the Brexit scenario that we are in.
I note that the Tory amendment does not rule out a no-deal exit from the EU, which is unfortunate. As far as I and other members on the Labour benches are concerned, that would mean a return to a hard border with the republic of Ireland and create barriers to imports. Lewis Macdonald and others have talked at length about the LSE’s economic predictions. No one should be under any illusions about what a no-deal exit would mean.
I, for one, will be watching the negotiations carefully. We were told that no deal is better than a bad deal, but those who say that do not speak for me or for millions of others who stand to lose substantially in the quality of our lives if we do not get the best deal for Britain. If we are to honour the vote in June last year to leave the European Union, we had better start recognising the serious dangers that lie ahead for all of us, and the biggest one is a no-deal exit.16:11
I want to pick up on Mairi Gougeon’s speech and look at the issues from the perspective of UK citizens who are living in the EU. They are not relying on specious promises coming from the Prime Minister or other members of the Westminster Administration. They are applying in considerable numbers for passports from other countries in the EU where they are available. Indeed, we have seen the rather unexpected sight of Ian Paisley Jr of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland handing out Irish passport application forms to his constituents and others. That tells us precisely how difficult the situation is perceived to be for many.
Members of my family and close friends fall into this category. I have a niece in Sweden. She is now a Swedish citizen and the holder of a Swedish passport because she cannot plan her life on vague promises that cannot be banked. She has to assure her future. Incidentally, it is interesting to compare and contrast her experience of becoming a Swedish citizen with the boorach that we heard Mairi Gougeon describe. It took my niece five days to get her Swedish citizenship. I accept that she has been resident there for more than a decade, but I thought that five days was a pretty impressive administrative deal.
My nephew, who lives in Denmark, has yet to submit his Danish passport application but is actively contemplating doing so, and four close friends who have the necessary Irish grandparents are looking to apply for Irish passports.
All across Europe, we have uncertainty for UK citizens, who are not reassured in any way, shape or form by what is coming from Westminster. It is an important matter for EU citizens who live here, but it is equally a significant problem for UK citizens who live elsewhere.
I came to this Parliament and was sworn in on 13 June 2001, and the following day I spoke in my first debate, which was on the European Committee’s report on the common fisheries policy. I was pitched right into debating on behalf of my constituents some of the substantial shortcomings of many of the things that come from Europe. Indeed, the European Committee, as its first headline conclusion from its deliberations, said:
“We believe that the current situation is untenable.”
It was talking about the common fisheries policy.
Given that it comes from an environment in which the EU was funding the building of new Spanish boats while simultaneously ensuring that the Scottish fleet was substantially reduced, the bitterness that people in the north-east of Scotland and other fishing communities have towards the EU is perfectly understandable. However, even there things are changing, because the expectations of fishing communities look increasingly less likely to be delivered.
Yesterday, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation was advocating in the strongest possible terms that decision making on fishing policy and practice must remain in Scotland. That takes us directly to clause 11(1) of what might be termed the great repeal bill, although Mr Tomkins has given us another title for it that we might adopt if we wish.
The bottom line is that even the most Eurosceptic people are realising the limitations in what is happening. Michael Gove appears to have promised continuing “relative stability” to the Danes and the Dutch, which is absolutely at odds with what fishing communities expected. The negotiations, thus far, are nothing short of a muddle. The EU, with 27 countries that had to agree a common line, was able to do that pretty rapidly. After a substantially longer period, the UK cabinet, with 23 members, has not been able to come to any meaningful agreement as to where we are going.
Let me give a few hints as to how negotiation might be done. One of the leading training companies in negotiation is based in Glasgow and its services are used all over the place. It is a company called Scotwork UK and it has a simple system called LIM-IT. It involves making three lists: things that we would like to get, things that we intend to get and things that we must get. The way you use it is to sit down and work out what is on your lists. You do not disclose your lists publicly, but bit by bit through the negotiation process. There is not the slightest sign that anything professional is happening in the negotiating of withdrawal.
I will end by welcoming the fact that, of the seven clauses of their amendment, the Tories have included four that I can agree with. That is a welcome move forward. It is in everybody’s interest that the negotiations succeed; we all want “progress ... to be accelerated”; we all welcome
“the reconvening of the Joint Ministerial Committee”;
and, fundamentally, we are all looking to see the great repeal bill amended, because until it is, no meaningful progress will be possible.16:17
The UK is now six months into its Brexit negotiations and progress has been slow. The prospect of a no-deal Brexit has increased in likelihood and profile throughout that period, particularly in the past few weeks, and we should be clear on what that means.
No deal would mean leaving the largest free trade area in the world—one that has more than 50 operational trade deals—and reverting to World Trade Organization default rules. It is the worst possible outcome and, despite the bluster of the Brexiteers, it would be far worse for the UK than for the EU. Tariffs would be imposed on goods, and licensing restrictions on services, causing economic havoc almost immediately. Customs checks would return, leading to chaos at our ports and borders. That is the territory of overnight crisis.
The Fraser of Allander institute estimated last year that a no-deal scenario would lead to a long-term drop of £2,000 in average wages and a loss of 80,000 jobs in Scotland, as well as wiping £8 billion off the economy, and the minister mentioned the numbers in this week’s LSE report. We have already suffered a decade of wage erosion as inflation has undermined the value of pay packets across the UK. Now inflation is almost 3 per cent; it is at a five-year high and is expected to rise further as the impact of Brexit takes hold. How much more can workers take?
Of course, the situation is far worse for residents here who are citizens of other European nations. In addition to the broader economic threats, they are being used as bargaining chips and can see their rights under threat. It is disgraceful that the UK Government has continued to refuse to genuinely guarantee the rights of European citizens.
Theresa May claims that that is necessary to protect UK nationals living in the EU, but that is just nonsense. UK nationals living in the EU have written directly to the Prime Minister, begging her to stop treating citizens’ rights as an immigration issue and to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK. Spain, the EU state with the largest number of UK nationals, has already taken steps unilaterally to guarantee the rights of UK nationals.
The Conservative Government has created fear and anxiety, which it continues to stoke. The offer that it has put forward on EU citizens’ rights falls far short of acceptable. It tears up current laws on family rights and instead imposes a minimum income threshold for family unification, basing the right to a family life on a person’s ability to secure a high income. Do people with the least wealth not deserve the right to a family life? The offer also restricts leave to remain for people who leave the UK for more than two years. Such rules saw a woman from Singapore, who had been married to a British man for 27 years and was the mother of two British sons, deported because she had been in Singapore, caring for her elderly mother, for too long.
Why does the offer to EU citizens have to be so bad? It is a product of Theresa May’s deliberate efforts, as Home Secretary, to create a “hostile environment” in an attempt to restrict immigration. Her cack-handed policies, which have targeted everyone, ranged from turning doctors and nurses into immigration enforcers to sending racist “Go home” vans to areas with high ethnic minority populations.
Theresa May’s former colleague, George Osborne, revealed that she single-handedly blocked a guarantee for EU citizens in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote. I have seen at first hand the impact that that has had on real people. Last month, at the Language Hub in Glasgow, I met EU citizens who live in Scotland. They told me of the new discrimination that they are encountering. They have been singled out and asked to prove that they are entitled to NHS healthcare when attending maternity appointments, because their names sound a bit foreign. They have seen flats advertised for rent to UK nationals only. They have struggled to find jobs, because employers have become reluctant to interview or even consider EU citizens.
That is the hostile environment that Theresa May has created. It is an environment that many non-European nationals have suffered for years.
All that, of course, is made even worse by the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. The bill gives ministers far-reaching powers to change the law, including acts of Parliament that cover basic rights, through secondary legislation. That means changes to the law at ministerial discretion, without there even being a vote in Parliament, as the explanatory notes that accompany the bill say.
Healthy democracies do not permit a Government that kind of power, especially if it can be exercised without appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. However, such an approach is par for the course for a Government that only this morning took the position, through David Davis, the Brexit secretary, in committee, that the UK Parliament might not even get a vote on the final Brexit deal until after we leave. That is not a position that a healthy democracy should be in, particularly in a country that has a constitutional tradition of parliamentary sovereignty.
It is paramount that the UK Government rules out a no-deal scenario and immediately provides assurances to EU citizens in the UK. There are 180,000 people living in Scotland and 3 million across the UK who need and deserve those assurances.
In the not much longer term, we need to move towards the full devolution of migration and asylum policy, to ensure that, at least in Scotland, basic rights can be respected and, as the welcoming country that we want to be, we can build a system of which we are proud and which supports our economic needs. Scotland has suffered decades of depopulation, and we know that immigration has been a fantastic way to reverse that trend and revive communities.
We still aspire to be a welcoming, outward-looking nation. While the Brexiteers tell us to look inward, throw accusations at people whom they perceive as lacking patriotism and try to keep the public and sometimes Parliament in the dark, this Parliament, at least, can send a message that we still live in the real world and will stand up for the interests of all those whom we represent, and that we will not consent to the process going further until the UK Government does the same.16:23
“From day one this was bad news also because most of my funding has come from EU. When the government announced that the status of EU citizens would be part of the negotiations my decision to leave became final: if I would talk about our dogs that way my spouse would kick me out of the house.”
Those are the words of a professor—an EU national who lived in Scotland for more than 10 years but who has already moved elsewhere in the EU because of Brexit. I am ashamed that someone of such standing and education believes that he has been treated like a dog by our Government. We should treat people as we ourselves would like to be treated.
The professor’s words are in a report from the Royal Society of Edinburgh young academy of Scotland. He is one of many people who have spoken about the personal and professional impact of Brexit. The report is a heartbreaking read. The report shows that much damage has already been done. Many people are leaving or want to leave. For months, we have had assurances from the Conservatives that we are on the verge of an agreement, so members will not be surprised to hear that people are sceptical about the Conservatives’ words on such matters when nothing turns up that gives them any kind of reassurance. There is no practical agreement.
I also fear the damage that could yet be inflicted. The negotiations have been a car crash in slow motion. Members will remember that Liam Fox told us that the EU negotiations would be some of the easiest in human history. Now we know why he has been given a department with no responsibility. Given the way we have treated people from other European countries, it is little wonder that Brexit discussions with those same countries have not gone well.
What do the Conservatives have to show for 15 months of negotiations? The EU has shredded our £350 million a week invoice for the national health service and sent one back to the tune of billions. The Conservatives once claimed that the EU would be desperate to trade with us; now they openly praise a no-deal option. Adam Tomkins complains that other people are raising that option. It was not us who raised it but members of his party, including ministers. If the option is not on the table, why on earth did they raise it in the first place?
To claim that a no-deal option would be a good idea is to abandon the European health insurance card, the Erasmus scheme, the European research area, the European Atomic Energy Community—Euratom—the European arrest warrant and many other benefits. No deal would mean that Canada would have a better trading relationship with the EU than the UK would. In fact, 44 different countries have some form of agreement with the EU, including South Korea, South Africa, Mexico, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. If there is no deal, all those countries thousands of miles away will have better relations with the EU than the UK, a former member that is only 20 miles away from the EU, will have. [Interruption.]
Adam Tomkins mumbles from a sedentary position that it should be no problem to reach an agreement. If so, why on earth are his ministers raising the possibility of a no-deal Brexit? It is because they are trying to use it as a threat. However, we should never use a threat that has no credibility. A threat must have credibility before we use it, or that lack of credibility reflects on the negotiator. That is exactly what has happened with the UK Government.
The impact of a no-deal Brexit would be significant. Barnsmuir farm is near Crail. At peak, it needs 270 workers to harvest the fruit and vegetables that it grows, but it is already struggling to get the workforce that it needs. Its workers have faced a pay cut because of the fall in the value of the pound. The distance from home and the Scottish weather become more important to people when they do not get paid as much. Workers also wonder whether Britain really wants them when they hear that immigrants are a problem.
The growth at Barnsmuir has come with the advance of technology and the availability of good workers. Longer picking seasons mean a greater demand for pickers. Even if every available east Fife worker were to step forward, there would still not be enough of them to meet the demands of the seasonal work. In 10 years, the food and drink sector has grown 44 per cent to £14 billion. That will rise to £30 billion by 2030 but, if we do not have the workforce to feed the industry, that simply will not happen.
We have heard about the LSE report and the dramatic £30 billion impact of no deal. We know that universities such as the University of St Andrews rely greatly on staff from EU countries. One fifth of the research grants come from the EU.
If we have no agreement on all those areas, there will be a devastating impact. That is why it is irresponsible to raise the prospect of no deal. If the Conservatives want an alternative option to a bad deal, they should let the British people decide whether the deal is good enough. For such a monumental decision, it should not be left to the shambolic Conservative Cabinet to determine whether the deal is acceptable. Once the detail is known, there should be a referendum to endorse or otherwise. The option of remaining in the EU should be on the ballot paper. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, has said this week that that is possible. He made that clear to members of the European Parliament. I urge the Government to give the British people the right to turn back if they choose to. Let us start treating people with respect and give them the final say.16:30
It is quite remarkable that, as we debate this issue in late 2017, we remain as much in the dark today about what a Brexit deal will look like as we did the day after the EU referendum back in June 2016. Theresa May’s set-piece speeches come and go, but we do not seem to move much forward. Despite some comforting words that we have heard from UK ministers, EU nationals in this country do not feel any more secure or that they have any more clarity or certainty since last year, as eloquently highlighted by Mairi Gougeon and other speakers, and there is no certainty for companies that want to decide their investment plans or contingency plans for 2018 and beyond, as highlighted by Michael Russell.
I commend Douglas Fraser’s article on the BBC website, which just appeared in the past hour or two, giving an insight into the debates that are taking place in the business community at the moment. He quotes Karen Briggs, head of Brexit at KPMG, who says:
“we’re seeing businesses quietly stockpiling inventory and exploring alternative sources of talent, whilst nervously pushing bigger financial decisions into the new year.”
She goes on to say that things are probably a lot worse in the financial sector, and is quoted as saying:
“Here the conversation has moved on from high level analysis and impact plans, to much more detailed work on setting up an EU presence and the very human issues associated with moving people overseas.”
The theme of the article is about concerns in the business community over the lack of progress, and it refers to three Ts—transition, trade and talent.
As we approach the end of 2018, and as the exit date of March 2019 gets closer, there is as much confusion today as ever about the UK Government’s strategy. Last week, we heard David Davis say that no deal must be an option, while Amber Rudd says that no deal is unthinkable but Liam Fox says that we have no need to fear a no-deal scenario. Chaos and confusion reign in the UK Cabinet. I honestly think that we have the worst political leadership in the House of Commons in history, since the House of Commons was built in 1341 by King Edward III of England.
The worrying thing is that the prospect of no deal is now being talked up by UK ministers. May famously said that
“no deal ... is better than a bad deal”,
but for Scotland no deal is the worst deal. Leaving the single market and the customs union, leaving our EU nationals in limbo, and reverting to World Trade Organization rules with tariffs crippling some of our key sectors in Scotland, particularly the food and drink sector, as highlighted by Willie Rennie, will damage our economy.
If barriers to trade are erected in March 2019 and the free movement of labour is stopped, that will be a hammer blow to firms across Scotland, particularly in my constituency and in the food processing sector. Jim Walker of Walker’s Shortbread in Aberlour said just a few weeks ago:
“The impact of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union in 2019, with all that means for our ability to trade freely with Europe and to draw on a wider pool of labour is a source of considerable uncertainty.”
We have seen the price of imports in the food and drink sector rocket because of the plunge in the pound that has taken place since the EU vote.
We also need to know the scale of the damage. Does the UK Government have those impact assessments? It is not disclosing them or putting them in the public domain. Perhaps David Mundell, the Secretary of State for Scotland, could help Scotland in this regard by using his 70-strong propaganda unit, the Scotland Office, to stand up for Scotland and argue for those assessments to be put in the public domain.
We know that a hard Brexit, or no deal, will cost Scotland very, very dear. In fact, billions of pounds of Scottish taxpayers’ cash could be used to buy our way out of the EU, when 62 per cent of the people of Scotland voted to remain in the EU. We are also set to pay that for the privilege of then losing hundreds of millions of pounds of EU funds. Then there is the economic damage that will arise from leaving the single market. It is a triple financial whammy that will hit Scotland, because we will be taken out of the EU against our will, and Scotland did not vote for that.
This Parliament’s energies should be spent on rebuilding our economy after the 2007 economic crash—as we have all been doing over the past few years—but we face years of dealing with the fallout of a hard Brexit or no deal and all the damage that either of those outcomes would leave in its wake. We should be spending our time addressing the challenges of the 21st century that our society and our country face. The lack of progress between the UK and the EU will make that a lot more difficult, as will the lack of progress between the Scottish and UK Governments.
Scottish ministers are—quite rightly—seeking amendments to the withdrawal bill to protect devolution and our powers. As Stewart Stevenson said, even the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is expressing concern about a UK Government power grab—and no wonder, because we know that the UK Government will dress up international fisheries negotiations as foreign affairs and grab that power and keep it reserved. Likewise, our farmers are being told that there should be a UK agriculture framework because, as was confirmed by Damian Green, the UK Government does not want Scottish farmers to have an advantage over English farmers. That will be its motivation in fisheries, too.
To address the challenges, we must make more progress in gaining new powers for the Scottish Parliament, particularly over immigration, as Ross Greer said. Over the next 25 years, the number of people of pensionable age in my constituency, Moray, is projected to increase by 33 per cent. At the same time, the working age of the population is expected to decrease by 3 per cent and the number of children to decrease by 8 per cent. Although those figures are worse than those for Scotland as a whole, we still face a huge challenge in Scotland as a whole. We need to have powers over immigration. Immigration is a much bigger feature of the Brexit debate in Scotland than it is in the rest of the UK, where the demographic trends are not nearly as challenging as those that face Scotland.
I wish the minister the best of luck. I hope that Parliament will rally around the motion today. I hope that we show more unity in addressing the threat to Scotland from Brexit than is currently being shown by the UK Cabinet.16:36
Once again, I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests as far as farming is concerned.
I will bring a bit of positive thinking into today’s debate, which seems to have been brought to the Parliament by the SNP as another opportunity to continue criticism of the UK Government. I acknowledge that the Brexit vote brings uncertainty, but I also welcome the opportunities that it has to bring. I wish that the Scottish Government could do the same and, for once, focus positively on the future of Scotland and the UK post-Brexit.
What a boost it would be if Mike Russell, Willie Rennie and Richard Lochhead could cheer up a bit about Brexit. The three of them remind me of Ricky Fulton’s character the Rev I M Jolly—all doom, gloom and despondency.
What are the good points about Brexit?
I will move on. Our fishing sector is one of the most important sectors of Scotland’s food industry. The industry has the potential to flourish post-Brexit and the Scottish Government should be grasping that opportunity with both hands. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has been extremely vocal about the sea of opportunity that exists post-Brexit. The SFF has stated:
“The catching sector of the Scottish fishing industry is united in its conviction that exit from the EU presents a unique set of opportunities for Scotland to reinvigorate its coastal and island communities”.
This Government needs to listen to the fishermen of Scotland.
Scotland’s seas are some of the most productive, valuable and diverse fisheries anywhere in the world. Our ability to claim our 200 nautical miles of exclusive economic zone will allow Scotland to monitor and control our fisheries, free from the dead hand of Brussels, ensuring that our own fishermen can increase their catch. Surely not even the SNP considers it fair that 60 per cent of the fish in our waters are caught by foreign boats.
The increased fish landings that we can expect to see also mean the growth of our fish-processing sector, reversing the current decline and creating more jobs around the country. The sea of opportunity is real and it is time that the Scottish Government showed its support.
Will the member take an intervention?
Peter—I am sorry, Presiding Officer. Mr Chapman, you come from an area where there are a lot of fish-processing plants. Have you visited them and found out what percentage of employees come from other EU countries?
I remind members that they should always speak through the chair.
I absolutely have. I recognise that many of the employees come from the EU, which is why we are working hard to allow them to continue to come in.
As far as farming is concerned, I understand the uncertainty that the industry faced upon the news that we would be leaving the EU, especially here in Scotland. With less favoured area land making up 85 per cent of our farmland, maybe we have more to worry about. However, Michael Gove has been clear that funding for our farmers will remain at current levels until at least 2022. That is fine, but the big prize is that, with a blank sheet of paper, we can design a system of support that is far better targeted to our farmers’ needs. It must be easier to apply for and administer and it must deliver support to those who supply and grow our fine food. At the same time, it needs to protect our environment. Fergus Ewing has a duty to bring forward plans as to what the new mechanism will look like. To date, there has been nothing but a deafening silence. Clearly, he must do better. It seems that he wants the powers but not the responsibility.
We need an overarching UK structure within which Scotland’s farmers can continue to do their own thing. We want to get the best possible deal for our farmers, to retain the same powers over agriculture here in Holyrood and to protect our single UK market, which—despite Joan McAlpine’s recent daft assertions—is worth four times more than our trade with the EU.
Scotland has many fine farmers who are hard working, technically efficient, with high standards and open to change. Change is imperative as the farming industry moves beyond Brexit and into the future. We have the opportunity to help this key industry to evolve, investing in new ways to help to improve productivity, efficiency and resilience. A continuing focus on good environmental practice in the move away from the CAP system is important—every farmer I have ever spoken to wants to retain high environmental standards. First and foremost, though, his aim in life is to produce high-quality food and to be paid fairly for it. He needs to be profitable to be environmentally aware. He cannot be green if he is in the red.
The Conservative Government is striving hard for a good deal with our EU neighbours that delivers the best-possible access to our markets and tariff-free trading—that is exactly what we want to achieve. However, the option of no deal must remain a possibility. [Interruption.] Members should listen to somebody who knows about doing deals. Running my own business for the last 40 years means that I have done lots of deals and I know that a person can get the best deal only if the other side thinks that they might walk away. It is only since we have talked up that possibility that we have seen real movement from the EU.
I am glad that I have had the opportunity to speak positively in the debate, highlighting the opportunities—
There is no time.
—that Brexit can bring to those key industries in Scotland, but I make it clear that I strongly disagree with the Scottish Government’s current position.
You must close, Mr Chapman.
Keep talking. You have half a minute.
At a time when the UK should be united and strong in our desire for the best possible deal for everyone, the SNP is continuing to berate and undermine the UK negotiations at every opportunity.
You must close, Mr Chapman.
I would just like to say—
No, Mr Chapman; you must close, please. [Interruption.]
I will close.
I say to your colleagues that it is up to the Presiding Officer to decide on the length of speeches—thank you very much, Mr Tomkins.
We move to the last contribution in the open debate, from Clare Haughey.16:43
I hope that the chamber will forgive me for approaching the debate from a health perspective. I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests as a registered mental health nurse and to my honorary contract with Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS.
Apart from the most hardened of Brexiteers, surely no one can doubt or deny the potential for Brexit to have anything but a profoundly adverse effect on our health sector. Indeed, in an article published in The Lancet last month, the authors concluded that, no matter whether Brexit is soft, hard or failed, it will still pose a substantial threat to our NHS. Our health sector and, of course, all other sectors must be protected during the Brexit process, and that is why it is vital that the Scottish Government’s voice is heard and has meaningful influence alongside the voices of the other devolved nations in the negotiations.
Although matters pertaining to health are largely devolved to the Scottish Parliament, there are still many important areas that are reserved to Westminster. Be it in embryology, surrogacy and genetics, xenotransplantation or the working hours of healthcare staff through the provisions of the working time directive, there is no escaping the fact that our health service can be directly affected by any of the negotiations.
It is incredibly worrying that the Government that is leading the process appears utterly clueless, is rife with infighting and is in complete denial about the possible effects of Brexit, particularly on our NHS. In answer to a written question from Justin Madders MP, the Tory UK Government said that it was not able to disclose the number of officials in the Department for Exiting the European Union who are health experts. If the Government does not know basic information such as who in its workforce are experts in health, how can we trust it to prioritise the sector during the negotiations?
The Tory Government’s biggest mistake during the process so far is clearly not to have guaranteed the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa. It is not only the Scottish Government that is demanding that the Tories safeguard the rights of EU nationals, their partners and dependants living in the UK; leading charities such as Cancer Research UK are also demanding it. It is absolutely appalling that, rather than doing so, the Westminster Government is pushing ahead with plans to force EU nationals to apply and to pay for settled status.
Up to 20,000 EU nationals work in Scotland’s hospitals, social care sector, schools and other public agencies, and the contribution that they make to Scotland is overwhelmingly positive. Those EU nationals have made Scotland and the UK their home, so the Prime Minister should do the honourable thing and abandon what is proposed. On Monday, in her statement on the European Council, the Prime Minister said that the fee will be no more than that for a UK passport. Currently, an adult passport costs £72.50 and a child’s passport costs £46. Therefore, a family of four on the UK Government’s living wage would need to work 32 hours to pay to apply for settled status—it will be a full week’s wages. In stark contrast, the Scottish Government will ensure that EU citizens who work in the Scottish public sector have their fees paid for them. The SNP Scottish Government treats EU nationals with compassion and care; the Westminster Tories treat them as bargaining chips.
As widely reported this week, research by the London School of Economics has shown that almost £30 billion will be wiped off the Scottish economy in five years if the UK Government fails to reach a deal with the European Union. The figures show that my Rutherglen constituency’s local authority area, South Lanarkshire, will be worse off by a staggering £1.3 billion. As such, no deal is not an option.
Further research carried out by the Brexit health alliance, an organisation comprising patient groups, charities, NHS bodies and medical research and industry groups, found that a no-deal Brexit that ends healthcare arrangements between the UK and the EU could end up costing national health services across the UK £500 million a year. It also found that travel insurance for trips to Europe might become unaffordable for people with existing health problems and that the NHS could face additional pressure if British citizens living abroad are no longer able to access reciprocal healthcare. The Nuffield Trust estimates that an extra 190,000 people could require hospital beds in the UK if such healthcare arrangements are scrapped, creating incredible demand for doctors, nurses, other healthcare professionals and support staff.
Another major issue that requires attention is our future relationship with the European Medicines Agency post-Brexit. As well as the fact that it is the largest EU organisation based in the UK, employing 900 staff, thanks to its existence UK residents have access to new treatments and drugs up to six months earlier than residents in countries such as Canada and Australia. Through the EMA, pharmaceutical companies need to submit only a single application, which, if granted, allows a treatment to be licensed throughout the EU and European Economic Area. Having no deal and ending our relationship with institutions such as the EMA is not an option that we can consider if our population is to have timely and safe access to new drugs and treatments.
We need a deal to ensure that EU nationals can continue to live in Scotland and to work in our NHS, that reciprocal healthcare arrangements are in place and that our economy is not irreparably damaged.
We move to closing speeches. I call—[Interruption.] No, that is not acceptable. There will be no interventions from the gallery, thank you very much.
I call Daniel Johnson.16:49
The fact that there is a need for this debate is telling, in itself. The fact that we need a motion setting out that we cannot contemplate a no-deal scenario, with its economic and human consequences, is quite unbelievable. The fact that we have to say that we do not want to trade on citizens’ rights is—I would have said before now—impossible to contemplate. The fact that we have a bill that tramples on the devolution settlement and creates hitherto unseen powers for UK ministers to amend legislation as they see fit is quite unbelievable. Above all else, the fact that we need to assert that there must be democratic accountability with regard to the final deal is something that I did not think we would have to do.
I campaigned for a remain vote. Although I could contemplate then that the outcome might be otherwise, what I have found much more difficult to deal with is the path that the Conservative Government has taken since the vote, 18 months ago.
Some of the new words and terminology that we have had to get to grips with are telling. My favourite term in recent days has been “wing sprouters”, which summarises the position of the people who believe in a hard Brexit: they believe that we should launch ourselves off the cliff, expecting wings to sprout that will save us from the rocks below. That reveals a telling truth: those people believe in faith over fact. Indeed, the whole Conservative Government has adopted that position. There is a split between true believers and the doomsayers who are resigned to an inevitably poor outcome.
I acknowledge the conciliatory words that have been coming from the Conservatives here today, but the reality is that their colleagues form a discredited Government that is devoid of leadership and is without a plan for Brexit. It has been 18 months since the vote: there is a year and a half left, so we have a moment in which there is time to change, take a different course of action and pursue a different plan.
We can talk about the reality of Brexit in terms of numbers and economics, but it is the human cost and impact that are most telling. I could not have put it better than Mairi Gougeon. Her story about the challenges that she is facing in her new married life was telling. That anyone who is coming to grips with new married life, with all its excitements and new things, must deal with uncertainty about citizenship, is quite unbelievable.
However, that is something that I have seen in my constituency. I recently held a meeting on Brexit, at which a lady from Spain who has lived in Scotland for the past 20 years put the situation very well indeed, when she said that citizenship rights are not the Government’s rights to be trading. She said that they are our rights and the Government cannot take them away. I am sorry if Adam Tomkins thinks that that is carping from the sidelines. I call it standing up for a principle. It is something that his Government should listen to.
Willie Rennie put it very well. Pursuing such an approach to citizenship is not just wrong; it also undermines the Brexit negotiations that the Government seeks to pursue. It shows a lack of faith and trust, and that lack erodes the negotiations.
We should not be surprised because we are a quarter of the way through the process. Where are we? We have begging phone calls from the Prime Minister. We have a Government that flies the Cabinet out to Florence to listen to speeches. We see the pound being devalued by a quarter, making us all poorer, and we see businesses writing to the Prime Minister urgently seeking clarification by Christmas on transition deals, otherwise they will have to put in place their contingency plans. It is a shambolic approach.
Negotiation needs three elements. It needs trust, a clear and realistic plan, and a coherent team—but the Government has none of those things. It has lost trust through its approach to citizens’ rights, and it has no clear and realistic plan because it is playing a game of chicken based on a no-deal Brexit that has no credibility. The Government is playing a game of chicken, but the reality is that we are on a pushbike and the EU is on a heavy goods vehicle. The consequences of a no-deal Brexit for the UK are simply not commensurate with the consequences for the EU. The fact that the impact on our economy would be so much greater and do so much more harm means that that is simply not a credible position to adopt.
Most important is that the trust that is needed is not just with the EU countries, but with our family of nations in the United Kingdom. The fact that the UK Government is contemplating a deal that undermines the devolution settlement is the most worrying thing of all. The structure of reserved and devolved powers was carefully and cleverly put together in the Scotland Act 1998. We in Scotland should be very proud of our devolution settlement; the fact that the Brexit bill contemplates undermining it is deeply worrying.
Many members have described at length the cost of a no-Brexit deal. The £30 billion that was set out by the LSE is one cost, but another is the time that it will take to set up new trade deals. The fact that half our trade is in services will mean that setting up those trade deals will take not just a year, two years or even three years. It will take five years or more to set them up, which is well beyond the trajectory of any proposed transition deals.
Despite the conciliatory tone of the Tories in the debate and in their amendment, Peter Chapman let the cat out of the bag, somewhat: no deal is an option that the Tories are contemplating. They are looking at coming out of this with no deal whatsoever, despite its cost to our economy and our people. We must reject a no-deal Brexit, protect our current trade arrangements and the devolution settlement and—as an absolute red-line issue—have the democratic accountability of bringing the final deal before the UK Parliament for it to be voted on.16:56
I will begin on the contribution from the minister, Mike Russell, which was where the debate started. I thank him for his speech, which was—after a few belligerent exchanges between us over time—measured and constructive. I believe that that is largely because both he and the Scottish Conservatives either represent or work with Governments that are charged with achieving an outcome in the process. No matter how we voted in the referendum last year, we have to achieve a deal that is in the best interests of Scotland and the United Kingdom.
Mr Russell said that Scotland did not vote for Brexit and that it would probably not vote for it in another referendum. I did not vote for us to leave the European Union and—let me be quite clear, because I hear this question being put to people from time to time—I would not vote to leave the European Union if the referendum that lies behind us still lay ahead.
I have listened with interest to the speeches of many members, because I cannot think of any treaty negotiation in my lifetime in which, one quarter of the way into the negotiating period, all parties have said that it is going absolutely splendidly, that they are convinced that they are all in agreement, that they can predict at this stage that the outcome will be a fabulous success, and that everybody will be satisfied. I cannot remember a negotiation of such character taking place—and I am old enough to remember the discussions that we had in what were probably the largest negotiations that we were involved in before this one, which were the negotiations before entry into the European Union in the 1970s.
Will the member give way?
I will give way in due course.
I can remember the language that was used. People said, “there was a considerable challenge”, that “small progress has been made”, and that “there is a shocking lack of clarity”. “How can Mr Heath possibly think that he’s ever going to negotiate an entry agreement to the European Union?” asked Mr Wilson. “I’ll achieve a far better outcome if I”—[Interruption.]
Will the member give way?
No. I have gone down memory lane too many times with Mr Stevenson to go there just now.
That was the language that was employed then, but an agreement was reached. I accept that it is an extremely fraught and difficult negotiation. Furthermore, I do not believe that the deal that will finally be negotiated can possibly enjoy the support of everybody, because there are many people who do not want to leave the European Union. There are the Liberals who voted for the referendum to take place and who, as part of a smug political elite, did not believe that people would ever reject the advice that the Liberals gave them. They have subsequently sought to walk away from the fact that Liberal MPs at Westminster voted for that referendum to take place, which has put us in the position that we are in today.
As part of the “smug political elite”, can I ask whether Jackson Carlaw believes that the negotiations are going well?
It matters little what I believe, but the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee was in Brussels. There is an interesting difference between political theatre and reality. I understand that the Labour Party wants to pretend that the negotiations would be conducted much better if Jeremy Corbyn were in charge, which is not a proposition that many people can readily support, and I understand that the SNP has a different position. In fairness, I say that the SNP voted against the referendum because it never wanted us to be in this position. It stood against that referendum of the people—which is curious, because it wants a referendum to be put to the people on many other matters.
We were in Brussels, where we had the opportunity to meet diplomats who are actually involved in the negotiations. Mr Barnier believes that we will reach a deal, however difficult the process will be. We also met privately with other people who are intimately involved in the negotiations: it is impressive to see the actual progress that is being made. I understand the political theatre, but I also believe that there is an underlying drive to reach an agreement, which will in the end—as I have said—not please everybody, unfortunately.
I want to come back to two or three points. On European citizens, many members have said repeatedly that there should be a unilateral declaration. That is not going to happen: we are now at an advanced stage. The Prime Minister said that that would be our first priority, and it was the first issue that we raised. Both sides agree that we are close to agreement. A unilateral declaration would not secure the future of British and Scottish nationals who live elsewhere in the European Union. It is important that we secure the security of all people, whether they are here or in the European Union.
Mr Tomkins made two important points to which it is worth returning. The first is that, during this afternoon’s debate and while I or anyone else has been in Europe, there has been talk of progress on EU citizens’ rights and there has been talk of progress on Northern Ireland. The stumbling block is money. No SNP member, no Labour member, no Green member and no Liberal member had anything to say about the divorce bill, or about their opinion on what would be an acceptable sum for the negotiations to arrive at. It is telling that the Scottish Government has been silent on that. We have been advised by informed sources in the European Union that Nicola Sturgeon has been supportive of the view that there is not a great difference of opinion between the Scottish Government and the UK Government about the money. If that is true, it would be helpful if that silent support was made more public.
I will refer, too, to Mr Tomkins’s point about the discussion about clause 11 of the withdrawal bill. It is a couple of months since Mr Russell made an appeal to all parties in Parliament—to which, I believe, the Scottish Conservatives responded—to work to understand the Scottish Government’s concerns about the bill, and to seek to arrive at a point at which all parties feel that they could lend it their support. We accept that, at the heart of all that, the Scottish Government’s principle concern is about clause 11. It is important to draw attention to the remarks that Mr Tomkins made in respect of the comments of the Secretary of State for Scotland, to the effect that the 111 powers that the Scottish Government has identified will end up either with the Scottish Parliament or will be subject to a UK framework to which the Scottish Government will be a party. There is acceptance of the key point that Scottish Government ministers have made to us and to others, which is that the new frameworks must be agreed and not imposed.
Progress has been made between those who are trying to arrive at an agreement, even though there is a lot of work still to be done here, as there is within the European Union. Merely indulging in political theatre highlights the irrelevance of the people who chose to make their contribution in that way this afternoon. It is important that we understand better the actual position of many people in the Scottish Parliament on the key budgetary negotiations about which so little was said, as we reach the agreement that none of us sought but which we all need to ensure we can achieve.17:03
With two exceptions, which I shall come to later, there has been an interesting solidarity in the debate, even among some elements of the Tory party. Members realise how damaging no deal would be. I cannot honestly believe that even those Tories who tried to justify no deal can expect anything other than severe damage, as the figures show.
Members also recognise how destructive the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill would be if it is not changed, and I welcome the different tone of two of the three members who are sitting on the Tory front bench. That approach reflects a seriousness of purpose, as Jackson Carlaw indicated, and a focus on the outcomes on which we must focus if we are to take the issue forward.
Everybody in the chamber realises how inhuman the current approach to EU citizens is. The fact is that that could be rectified with the stroke of a pen. It is a pity that Jackson Carlaw says that that will not be done, but it could be done.
It is interesting that we all realise how wasteful and purposeless this activity is. Brexit is taking a huge amount of time and effort that could be well applied to other subjects.
Jackson Carlaw and Adam Tomkins raised the issue of money—they said that it was the key issue at this stage. I think that we all realise that. The Scottish Government has taken a useful stance in saying that we do not think that interfering in that matter would be helpful to anyone. We have said that there is a legal and a moral obligation that the UK Government must meet; the UK Government did not say that there was a legal obligation until recently. We have been trying to be useful and helpful by not intervening in areas in which doing so would be a purposeless activity that would make things more difficult. That has also been our position on the Northern Irish settlement. We have said clearly that we agree with the intention to resolve the Northern Irish situation by having no border, especially not a hard border, but it would not be helpful for us to get involved in that in a detailed way and we will not do so at this stage. Therefore, I think that we have shown responsibility on such matters, and I hope that that will be welcomed by the Conservatives.
Regrettably, we cannot support the Tory amendment. As Stewart Stevenson said, there are things in it that are very welcome and with which one can agree, but we cannot agree on the no-deal element. We want concrete progress to be made on amendments to the withdrawal bill, and I am glad that the other parties can agree on that resolution. I think that that takes us a big step along a difficult road.
Some tremendous speeches have been made in the debate. Mairi Gougeon gave us the human face of the situation that EU nationals face. It is an extremely difficult situation, as the quote that Willie Rennie read out from a professor in Scotland illustrated. People find themselves in very difficult personal situations and it has been difficult to find a way in which we can support such people in Scotland. The Scottish Government continues to develop its support mechanisms. People usually go to UK websites to get support; we want to make sure that they get more support in Scotland.
We also want to talk positively about the nature of migration, and that is what we will do. We have been trying to do it across the country, and we will do more of that in the next few months, to show how important migration is to Scotland. As Ross Greer correctly pointed out, migration builds communities in Scotland, particularly in places where the population is falling. Migration is an unalloyed good thing for Scotland, and we will say that regularly and often.
I was also struck by the point that Mairi Gougeon made about the exploitation of EU citizens, which is a shocking development. The UK Government could deal with that issue with the stroke of a pen. Even now, I urge it to use that pen.
A range of other useful and important points have been made. Lewis Macdonald mentioned Michel Barnier’s important point that there is no status quo. Not reaching a deal would plunge the UK into a completely unknown set of circumstances. Pauline McNeill made that point with particular reference to Ireland, where failure to reach a deal would create the hardest of borders.
Richard Lochhead made some extremely important points about the financial sector. I have met people in the financial sector who are preparing to leave—they have already decided to leave—and that is exceptionally worrying.
Good speeches have been made that I disagree with. Adam Tomkins made a number of important points; I simply do not find myself in agreement with them. However, the point that he made about the sequencing of the talks is inaccurate—it was agreed by the UK and the EU that the talks would follow the sequence that has been laid out. Of course, the EU believed that it was laid out in article 50. That is the process that has been taking place. The sequence is: the divorce bill; the legal and moral obligations; the issue of Northern Ireland; the situation of EU citizens; and issues to do with the European Court of Justice and some other issues, such as the current base in Cyprus. That is the sequence that was agreed. Nobody imposed that on the UK Government, and the UK Government said that it would work through it.
There were two outliers in the debate—two Tory MSPs who clearly did not get the front-bench memo, even though one of them is sitting on the front bench, which is a bit surprising. Their speeches were depressing. Rachael Hamilton does not understand the difference between a unified market and a uniform market. More important for someone with a business background, she does not understand the extraordinary difficulty that Brexit is already causing people in her area of expertise. I have had many representations from the hospitality sector. Yesterday, I met the soft fruit sector, in which there is a developing crisis in the labour force. To say that that existed before Brexit and was somehow of no consequence at all is an absolute misrepresentation of the facts that are being given by businesses themselves.
Then we had the contribution from Mr Chapman, who is becoming the Doric Donald Trump. “I know”, he says, “how to do deals.” I have to say that it was an arrogant and unpleasant speech on behalf—[Interruption.] Well, I heard it; some members did not, and I would advise them to look at it again. I would be surprised if they came to any other conclusion. It was a speech on behalf of the haves, and it showed contempt for the people whom we have talked about often this afternoon and who have been suffering the effects of Brexit.
We are told by Mr Chapman that we simply have to “cheer up”. That is the deal that we are to have. Well, on this occasion, there will be no deal. We cannot cheer people up if, in fact, they are suffering the labour shortages that the hospitality and other sectors—
Will the minister give way?
No, thank you.
People cannot cheer up in such circumstances. They cannot cheer up if they are EU nationals who, like Marie Gougeon’s husband, are being told that they do not have the right to stay here, and they cannot cheer up if they are losing their job as a result of Brexit. Those are not reasons to be cheerful.
If Mr Chapman wants to come to the chamber and tell us to cheer up, he should also tell us the truth about what will happen, even in the sector that he purports to represent. There are fishing communities in my constituency that are looking at having lorries full of fish and shellfish that will rot on the docks, and they are looking at the decline in the market and recognising that they have been sold a dogfish, one might say, because they have not been told the truth about Brexit—and certainly not by politicians such as Michael Gove, who was mentioned warmly by Mr Chapman. I have to say that if Mr Gove were to tell me that the sky was blue, I would go outside to check.
Fortunately, not all of the debate was like that. It was constructive, and we have a great deal of work to do together to take the issue forward. I am glad that we have agreement on the key issues of no deal and the inadequacies of the withdrawal bill, and I am grateful for the sensible voices on the Tory front bench that have brought that forward this afternoon. I think that we have the potential to make progress here—I just hope that people such as Mr Chapman will listen to the wiser voices on their benches and that he will not get carried away again as the Doric Donald Trump.
That concludes our debate on Scotland and the EU-UK negotiations on EU exit.