Covid-19: Future UK-EU Relationship

Published date : 15 July, 2020
My constituency of Gordon in the north-east of Scotland is one which very emphatically did not vote to get Brexit done. In fact, the reason I stand here today is that I stood on a pledge saying that we needed two referendums: one for the putative withdrawal agreement; and, secondly, in light of all that the people of Scotland have experienced since 2014, a chance to reconsider the issue of Scottish independence. It is the very fact that the UK refused to consider the first of those that the second of those positions is now a near certainty.

Brexit is going to happen—I absolutely accept that—but my real disappointment is not so much in the result but the treatment handed out by the UK Government afterwards, when they confused 52% of the British people as if they spoke for 100%. The Scottish Government sought to find an accommodation that would have kept us in the single market and mitigated some of the very worst impacts of Brexit right across these islands. At every stage, they were met not with courtesy or accommodation, but instead with bone-headed obduracy, witless statements about red, white and blue Brexits or Brexit meaning Brexit, and hardline exceptionalist dogma.

When it comes to our current Prime Minister, it is very tempting to conclude that his place in history will be as the worst Prime Minister since the last one, but his culpability for the shambles we are in at this point goes far, far deeper than that as the architect, the clown prince and the front man of the Brexit campaign. Frankly, it speaks volumes for the sheer and utter desperation of the Conservative party towards the end of last year that the only reason it stumbled towards the withdrawal agreement was that it was prepared to scrap the sacred red line about the relationship between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. It replaced the backstop and took that red line and laid it down the Irish sea instead.

What, I ask, have we got in return? After four years of negotiations, we certainly do not have a deal, but what we know will happen, deal or not, is that the Government have managed to create that border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We are going to sacrifice the freedom of movement and the freedom we have come to take for granted over the past few decades of being able to live, work, love and study right across the continent, freely and without hindrance. We know that there is a threat to those parts of our economy where we have been blessed with immigrant labour to help us, and I am thinking particularly of the fish processing sector in the north-east of Scotland, the agricultural sector, the care sector and our NHS. We know that importers face increased costs, and we know that exporters will face huge delays.

We know that in Scotland and the devolved institutions, we are facing a power grab that will drive a coach and horses through the principle that that which is not reserved is explicitly devolved. We also face a race to the bottom on food standards, animal welfare and workers’ rights.

Is it any wonder that people in my constituency and right across Scotland are looking at the political shambles created by this Government and their predecessors and what they now represent and deciding, “This is not who we are. This is not who we wish to be. This is not how we wish to be represented. This is not how we wish to be seen in the world.”?

We are clearly approaching a constitutional endgame when it comes to Brexit and Scottish independence. I care very much indeed about having a stable, prosperous neighbour in the nations of the rest of the United Kingdom, but I am a democrat. If the rest of the UK is determined to go down this reckless path, I have to accept that there is nothing that I or any other Scottish MP or any other Scottish voter can do to halt that process. If the UK is determined to crash out of its closest European alliances in a state of dishevelment and disarray, that absolutely has to be respected, even if it does not have to be seen as the best future we can go for.

Frankly, an extension to the negotiations seems a no-brainer. It would give time to negotiate a stable landing point, but what cannot be ignored is that the Union that Scots were invited to vote for in 2014 no longer exists. That 55% opposition to independence has turned into 54% support in the most recent opinion polls. It is no longer acceptable for the UK Government to stand in the way of that support finding its expression at the ballot box and the Scottish people being able to choose their own future.

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