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Strengthening the Union

Volume 663: debated on Wednesday 10 July 2019

Our commitment to continued work to strengthen the Union can be seen in practice through such initiatives as scrapping the Severn tolls, delivering city deals across Scotland and the entire United Kingdom, and investing in digital connectivity in Northern Ireland.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the long-standing and hugely successful Union, which has seen the Welsh, Scottish, Irish and English standing shoulder to shoulder and taking on the world for generations, should not be trashed by those in other regions of this great country who seek to pursue their own populist and secessionist ends? We are stronger together, are we not?

Every part of the United Kingdom gains from the membership of each other member nation of the United Kingdom. It is important that those in Government now and those who will be in Government in the future work for an outcome that respects the devolution settlement and is confident about the United Kingdom and the great strength that that collective endeavour brings.

A number of my constituents have expressed concern that Scottish National party colleagues will use our departure from the European Union to justify their agenda of breaking the country apart. Can my right hon. Friend assure this House that everything is being done to anticipate potential devolution consequences of Brexit, in order that the SNP cannot exploit it to shore up its own narrow agenda of breaking up the United Kingdom?

There is no doubt that the success of the SNP agenda of separation would do enormous damage to businesses and living standards in Scotland. I can reassure my hon. Friend that there has been good co-operation on frameworks to ensure that the United Kingdom single market continues to function after we leave the European Union, but also that it is in the interest of every part of the United Kingdom that we leave the EU in an orderly fashion, in a way that protects jobs, living standards and investment in our country.

Regional Ministers right across England—not only in areas such as that covered by the northern powerhouse—were a successful initiative before 2010 and could be introduced virtually immediately. Will the Minister look at that idea, perhaps supplemented by regional Select Committees in the House of Commons?

I am always happy to look at evidence that is brought forward on how we can improve our arrangements further. As I have said before, both the devolved nations and individual areas within each of the four nations of the United Kingdom have a lot to contribute.

I have a lot of time for the right hon. Gentleman, but these answers are a disgrace. While he is giving us these platitudes, both Tory leadership contenders are willing to sell the rest of the country down by prioritising a no-deal Brexit over the rest of the Union. Will the Minister now give us the assurance that he has previously given, that no deal will cause potentially fatal damage to the Union and that he will fight against it?

I have been very clear in a number of public statements that I believe that a disorderly no-deal exit from the European Union would not only cause significant economic harm in all parts of this country, but place further strain on the Union. I believe it is in the interest of everybody in every party in this House and in every part of the UK that we deliver on the referendum result of 2016, but do so in an orderly fashion that protects jobs, investment and living standards.

My right hon. Friend told The Times last week that he feared that what he called “English indifference”, if I recall correctly, was something of a threat to the Union. The reports that my Committee has produced about devolution and Brexit have called, with the support of the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, for much more concrete machinery to exist between the Government of the United Kingdom and the devolved Governments, and for there to be inter-parliamentary machinery. I must say that I have found the response of the Government to be slow and somewhat indifferent. I appreciate that he is battling on many fronts at the moment, but can he speed up his enthusiasm for dealing with these issues?

And in the process, we will try to ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s Committee’s reports become bestsellers. That is the ambition.

Much of the work of the UK and devolved Governments in the last year and a half has involved making practical arrangements for Brexit through the completion of work on the UK frameworks on the various matters that will come back from Brussels and intersect with devolved competence. I would have hoped that my hon. Friend, given his views on Brexit, would welcome that. It is important that we and the next Government press forward with work on the intergovernmental review. I would welcome efforts by this Parliament to work more closely with devolved Parliaments in the future.