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Leaving the EU: Discussions with Scottish Government

Volume 657: debated on Wednesday 27 March 2019

I recently chaired the joint Scottish Business Growth Group and regularly meet the Scottish Government in a number of other forums, including the Joint Ministerial Committee, to discuss a range of matters related to EU exit.

I am sure that the Scottish people will be comforted by that fact. I am pretty certain that the Secretary of State has been able to have a look at the petition to revoke article 50. If he has not, I can tell him that nearly 10% of his constituents have now signed it. The Scottish people just want this chaotic Tory Brexit gone, but with the UK options quickly diminishing for Scotland to remain, surely he agrees that at some point, the Scottish people will have to decide whether they want to go down with this disastrous, isolating, ugly Brexit Britain or whether they should determine their own way in Europe as an independent nation.

I became aware that the hon. Gentleman did not support the First Minister’s policy of a people’s vote when I did not see any pictures of him cuddling Alastair Campbell at the weekend. At least the hon. Gentleman is honest—he wants to revoke article 50. I do not agree with him. That would not implement the outcome of the referendum. The best way for Scotland and the UK to proceed is to leave the EU with the Prime Minister’s deal.

We know that the Prime Minister, yet again, has had private discussions with the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, who is not a Member of this House and does not represent any Government. She represents only a minority view within one nation of these islands. When did the Prime Minister last speak to the First Ministers of Scotland or Wales? What has the Secretary of State done to ensure that such important discussions take place between now and 12 April?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not aware that the First Minister of Scotland was invited to join a Cabinet committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, to discuss Brexit preparedness, as was the First Minister of Wales. Surprisingly, the First Minister of Wales has attended and the First Minister of Scotland never has.

I am surprised to hear the Secretary of State suggest that the best future for the people of Scotland is to leave the EU, because the UK Government’s modelling shows that any Brexit will mean that the people of Scotland are worse off as a result. Will he now do his job, stand up for the people of Scotland and vote against any Brexit?

I am presuming that the hon. Lady is part of the “Remain elite” that Alex Neil MSP and Jim Sillars referred to in their letter to the Scottish Daily Mail, when they encouraged all Scottish National party MPs in this House to back the Prime Minister’s deal as the best way forward for Scotland. They should listen to them.

Almost all future population growth in Scotland is predicted to come from inward migration, so a welcoming immigration policy and freedom of movement are critical for our public services and our rural communities. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary about meeting Scotland’s needs or devolving the power so that we can do it ourselves?

I was going to answer that I had regularly raised the issue at Cabinet, until the hon. Lady raised the last bit about devolving powers. I have been very clear at this Dispatch Box that the Government, in line with the Smith commission, does not support the devolving of immigration.

Sixty-two per cent. of people in Scotland voted to remain, so that is an elite that I am pretty happy to be part of. Some 7,500 of his constituents and 14,500 of mine have signed the petition to revoke article 50. The right hon. Gentleman is supposed to be the Secretary of State for Scotland and Scotland is against Brexit, so when is he going to do his job, stand up for Scotland and stand up to the Prime Minister, and stop Scotland being taken out of the European Union against its will?

Clearly the hon. Gentleman’s view is not shared by Alex Neil MSP and former deputy leader of the SNP, Jim Sillars, who I know commands great respect in Glasgow. The issue at the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s question is an unwillingness to accept the outcome of the 2014 referendum. We had a United Kingdom referendum, and the United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave the EU.

Will the Secretary of State join me in commending the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) not only for threatening to resign over this Government’s ruinous Brexit policy, but for actually having the courage, honour and conviction to follow through, or is that an alien concept to this Secretary of State?

As we see repeatedly from SNP Members, they want a chaotic Brexit—and the chaos and disruption that no deal or no agreement would bring—because they believe that chaos and disruption are the best ways to advance their independence referendum agenda.

I am aware that the UK Government have provided the Scottish Government with millions of pounds for Brexit preparations. In the rest of the UK, that money has gone to local authorities. Can the Secretary of State tell me how much of that funding the SNP Scottish Government have given to Moray Council or any other council in Scotland?

I am sure the whole House will join me in congratulating my hon. Friend and his wife Krystle on the birth of their son, Alistair, and on using the proxy voting system to reflect his views throughout his paternity leave.

The House might not be aware but the UK Government have provided nearly £100 million to the Scottish Government for Brexit preparations, but, at the weekend, the First Minister of Scotland was unable to identify a single penny that had been paid directly to Scottish local authorities.

From my right hon. Friend’s discussions with the Scottish Government, can he tell us what preparations they have made for a smooth exit from the EU and to take advantage of the benefits that will apply to Scotland?

I would commend the Scottish Government for their actions in relation to preparing for a no-deal outcome in the imminent future—that these preparations were being made was acknowledged by Mike Russell, their own Minister, in a TV interview at the weekend. The Governments are capable of working on that basis. That said, in response to the point of my hon. Friend’s question, no, the Scottish Government have not embraced Brexit or the opportunities it could bring to Scotland.

Twice the elected representatives of the British people have rejected the Government’s withdrawal agreement, and today we move on to consider alternatives. I know that the Secretary of State is conflicted on this matter, but I would like to give him an opportunity to be clear with the people of Scotland. Will he still rule out a no-deal Brexit, and if the only way to achieve that is by revoking article 50, will he support that?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. I do not support a no-deal Brexit, but I do not support revoking article 50 either.

We can only interpret that to mean that there are circumstances in which the Secretary of State for Scotland would consent to a no-deal Brexit. In doing so, he stands against the views of the national Parliament of Scotland, of Scottish civil society and of the overwhelming majority of the Scottish people. Is it not time now to rename his post “Secretary of State against Scotland”?

I am sure that that line sounded better when the hon. Gentleman practised it in front of the mirror. He clearly misconstrued my response. The House has made very clear that it will not accept a no-deal Brexit, but we are committed to ensuring that we deliver on the referendum result. That means leaving with a deal, and that is why I continue to support the Prime Minister’s deal.