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Brexit: Scotland

Volume 774: debated on Thursday 15 September 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with Ministers and officials of the Scottish Government regarding the implications of the referendum vote to leave the European Union, since the Prime Minister’s visit to Edinburgh on 15 July.

The Prime Minister is clear that the Government will work closely with the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations to ensure that the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom are properly taken into account. Discussions have already taken place between UK and Scottish Government Ministers and officials. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union first spoke to the First Minister on 20 July and underlined the importance that the Government attach to engagement in Scotland.

My Lords, the Government have rightly expressed their support for a continuing soft border with the Republic of Ireland, yet they also appear to want to control freedom of movement from the European Union. In trying to square that circle, what assessments have the UK and Scottish Governments made of the increasing number of immigration offenders travelling to Scottish ferry ports from Northern Ireland, and how do the respective Governments intend to address any consequent financial and operational pressures on Police Scotland?

The First Minister of Scotland was before the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee yesterday. I think she said that there have been extensive ongoing discussions between the Scottish and UK Governments and that she was very optimistic that the discussions could make progress. I am sure that the issue raised by the noble and learned Lord will feature in those discussions.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if the First Minister of Scotland accepts the Brexit referendum as binding, she should also accept the Scottish referendum as binding? Will the United Kingdom Government make it clear that we would not agree to another Scottish referendum in the foreseeable future?

The noble Lord will know that the SNP has announced a listening exercise in Scotland—and if it were listening, I think the first thing that it would do would be to take “indyref 2”, as it is known in Scotland, off the table. It is absolutely clear from all the recent opinion polls that the majority of Scots do not want it. Just as important is that business does not want it either, because businesses can see that it is damaging to investment and the economy. So I totally agree that it should be taken off the table.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, even if an independent Scotland eventually gained access to the European Union by meeting the deficit requirements—which at present it cannot conceivably meet—and being able to afford the premium, it would be giving up an open export market in England that takes 50% of its exports in favour of a market in Europe that takes only 15%?

My noble friend is absolutely right. Scottish exports to the EU are 15% and Scottish exports to the rest of the UK are 64%. Over the summer, the Secretary of State and I held a huge number of engagements with stakeholders across Scotland—I think that there were 53 in total—and the clear message from business is of the importance of the UK’s single market.

My Lords, would the Government consider including Scottish civil servants in the UK negotiating team? Will the Government also consult widely across all sectors in Scotland to try to secure a deal in the best interests of Scotland, bearing in mind that for the majority of us, independence is not the best option?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. We want to get the best possible deal for all of the UK. When he appeared before the House of Lords committee the other day, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said that he would look at some joint working. Each Government need a safe space in which to work out their position. That may provide some constraints to the degree of joint working, but there certainly needs to be full engagement.

My Lords, it is of course right and proper and correct that the UK Government should consult all the devolved Governments within the United Kingdom on developments after Brexit. Does the Minister agree with the Labour Party and with me, as a Labour Party spokesperson in this Chamber, that no matter what the ramifications of Brexit are—and there will be complicated discussions—there is absolutely no justification for a divisive “indyref 2”, as it is called in Scotland?

In a couple of days’ time we will be celebrating the second anniversary of a clear and decisive referendum in Scotland. I do not believe that the EU referendum provided a mandate for a second independence referendum. This is not about whether there could be an independence referendum but whether there should be one. The UK Government are very clear that there should not be another independence referendum—and I think that an increasing number of voices in the SNP are coming to that conclusion.

Does not this issue underline the importance of improved arrangements for inter- governmental co-operation within the United Kingdom, which was the subject of a report by the Constitution Committee published in March last year?

As my noble friend will know, there are a number of bits of intergovernmental working architecture, including the Joint Ministerial Committee and the British-Irish Council. In addition to the bilateral discussions that need to take place between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, we need to use those multilateral forums to discuss the implications of exiting the EU and how we go forward.

My Lords, the Government have pledged to consult the devolved Administrations and London about the implications of Brexit. However, there are some very distinctive interests in the disadvantaged regions of England. The population of Yorkshire is slightly larger than the population of Scotland. Do the Government have any intention of finding a way to consult the north and the west of England about their very real interests, which are distinct from those of London and which the Government need to take into account?

I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union wants to consult and engage widely. I note what the noble Lord said and I will certainly pass it on to my right honourable friend.