Nicola Sturgeon’s speech at the Scottish Parliament debate on Brexit (5 March 2019)
The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Parliament are holding simultaneous sessions today (with debating and voting) calling on the uk govt to act on brexit – “We have been brought together by our dismay – bordering now on despair – at the UK Government’s approach to Brexit”.
Scottish Parliament TV: https://www.scottishparliament.tv/meeting/debate-eu-withdrawal-negotiations-march-5-2019
In Cardiff this afternoon, Jeremy Miles, the Welsh Brexit Minister, will open a debate on almost exactly the same motion as the one we are debating here today. The Welsh First Minister will close the debate.
It is worth emphasising that this is the first occasion in 20 years of devolution that the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have acted in unison in this way.
We have been brought together by our dismay – bordering now on despair – at the UK Government’s approach to Brexit.
That despair is echoed across our countries.
As recently as last summer, the Prime Minister confidently told me that by the autumn of last year, not only would we know the terms of exit, we would also know significant detail about the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
And yet here we are, just 24 days until the UK is due to leave the EU.
And still we don’t know if there will be any agreed terms of exit.
We don’t know if there will be a transition phase.
And the terms of the future relationship are not much more than a blank sheet of paper.
The potential consequences for businesses, communities, individuals and public services grow more stark by the day.
And in the face of all this chaos, the Prime Minister is showing no decisive leadership.
Instead of doing the right thing and ruling out a no deal exit at any stage, she insists on free wheeling the car ever closer to the cliff edge.
She is trying to run down the clock, making undeliverable promises to hardline Brexiteers and offering tawdry, half baked bribes to Labour MPs.
Her one note of consistency in all of this has been contempt for Scotland. Seemingly, we aren’t even worthy of her bribes – though I think we should take that as a compliment.
The domestic and international standing of the Westminster system of government has surely never been lower in any of our lifetimes.
This fiasco should not be allowed to continue for even one day more.
The Scottish and Welsh Parliaments are today making three demands.
The first is that the prospect of leaving the EU with no deal is ruled out – not just at the end of March, but at any time.
The second is that MPs must not allow themselves to be bullied into choosing between the catastrophe of no deal and the disaster of the government’s deal.
And the third is that an extension of Article 50 is essential and urgent, and must be requested now.
The demand to rule out a “no-deal” scenario is, I hope, supported across this chamber.
The Scottish Government is doing everything we can to plan for and mitigate the impact of a no-deal Brexit.
I am personally chairing our weekly Resilience meetings, looking at medicine and food supplies, economic and community impacts and transport links.
But every aspect of that planning reinforces this overwhelming reality – no rational government acting in the interests of those it serves would countenance leaving the EU without a deal.
The UK Government’s own forecasts predict that a no-deal scenario could reduce GDP by 9% over a 15 year period.
But you just need to look at the nature of the preparations to know that the impact would be much more immediate.
The UK government has been buying fridges to stockpile medicine. It has been testing motorways and airfields in Kent for use as lorry parks. It has been awarding and then cancelling ferry contracts to businesses which don’t even have ships.
It has been taking steps which should be inconceivable in a developed economy in peacetime. And all of it to plan for an avoidable outcome which, if it happens, will be by choice.
It is unforgivably reckless.
‘No deal’ should be definitively ruled out – and today, from Edinburgh and Cardiff, we demand that it is.
However – and this brings me to the second purpose of today’s motion – the UK Government must not use the threat of no deal to blackmail the UK Parliament into voting for its current deal.
The response to the rejection of Theresa May’s deal has so far been characterised by delays, denials, dishonesty and most recently desperate attempts at bribery.
Ministers have wasted months pretending that significant changes to the Northern Ireland backstop are possible – despite all evidence to the contrary.
Much better, surely, to face up to the fact that the deal is unpopular because it is a bad deal – for the UK, and certainly for Scotland.
It would take us out of the EU, out of the single market and out of the custom union.
But it provides no clarity whatsoever on what our long-term future relationship with the EU looks like. The UK Parliament is effectively being asked to approve a “blindfold Brexit”.
To the extent that any direction of travel can be discerned, it points to a long-term social and economic disaster for Scotland.
The red lines mean that we are heading towards a Canada style deal at best.
And let’s focus on what that means – the Scottish Government estimates this could lead to a fall in national income of £1,600 per person by 2030 compared with EU membership.
Our services sector, three-quarters of our economy, will be particularly badly hit.
Being out of the customs union, pursuing an independent trade policy, will also make the UK vulnerable to the trade priorities of Donald Trump.
When the US Government’s negotiating priorities were published last week, it was no surprise to hear fears that Scottish and UK markets could be opened to chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef.
And, of course, part and parcel of the approach taken in the PM’s deal is the end of freedom of movement. Combined with the despicable hostile migration policy, that could lead to a fall in the number of people working in Scotland and paying tax here.
The NHS and social care will pay a particularly heavy price if EU nationals are deterred from working here.
In short, the deal on the table guarantees more years of uncertainty during which Scotland’s interests will be at the mercy of a vicious, and seemingly never-ending, Tory civil war – one where the extreme Brexiteers are currently in the ascendancy.
It could open up our markets to US products which, for very good reasons, are currently banned.
And it will damage our economy, our living standards and our NHS.
For all of these reasons, and many more, it must be rejected.
And what should happen instead?
The Scottish Government has made clear that we see continued EU membership as the best outcome for Scotland and the UK.
And if it can’t be secured for the UK as a whole, we believe that option should be open to Scotland as an independent country.
Of course, we have also, for more than two years, put forward compromise proposals which would see the UK as a whole stay in the customs union and single market.
The Welsh Government has also put forward plans for a close relationship with the EU.
The UK Government has ignored us at all stages.
What the Welsh and Scottish Governments are proposing now – and this is the third point raised by today’s motion – is that there must be an extension of Article 50.
Nobody now believes that Brexit can be delivered on 29 March.
Quite apart from anything else, there is no time to scrutinise and pass the legislation required.
But we should not simply seek a short extension, as the Prime Minister envisages.
We need an extension long enough to enable a better path to be taken. This could open the way again to the possibility of a single market and customs union compromise.
However the preferable alternative option, in my view, is now a second EU referendum.
There is a strong democratic case for it.
After all, nobody voting to leave the EU knew precisely what they were voting for – the leave campaign was deliberately vague, some may say deceitful, about the form Brexit would take.
And where the leave side was specific, it was less than honest – for example about the prospect of Turkey joining the EU and the NHS getting more money.
We also know now that the leave campaign broke the law.
Presiding officer, I understand that prospect of a second vote does not appeal to everyone.
And we cannot take for granted that there would be a majority for Remain across the UK – that would have to be worked for.
But simply pressing ahead with Brexit – knowing that we are heading for disaster – makes no sense. After all, whatever most people voted for, it clearly wasn’t where we are now.
A second referendum provides everyone with a second chance. While Scotland, of course, has the option of independence, for the UK as a whole, another referendum is now the best of the options available.
Presiding Officer, last month I opened the new Scottish government hub based in Paris.
And in a city like that – where evidence of Scotland’s ties with Europe extends back more than seven centuries – it’s absolutely impossible not to feel a deep sense of loss about what Brexit means for Scotland.
Our country has benefited immeasurably from the hundreds of thousands of EU citizens who have made Scotland their home. Many Scots have had their horizons widened and their lives enriched by the ability to study, travel and work in Europe.
The EU – while far from perfect – has also encouraged stronger trading ties, a cleaner environment, and better conditions for workers.
And perhaps most of all it has exemplified the benefits we all gain when independent nations fully cooperate for the greater good. That is not something which we should give up lightly.
For more than two years now, since the result of the EU referendum, the Scottish Government has proposed ways of mitigating the damage that Brexit will cause.
We have been joined in our efforts by the Welsh government. However we have been ignored at almost every turn by the UK Government.
This motion is a further attempt to propose a way forward. It provides the basis – even at this late hour – for a more sensible and less damaging approach.
And by doing so it allows us to act in the interests – not just of our own constituents – but of the UK as a whole; indeed of Europe as a whole.
I commend this motion to the Parliament and hope that members of this Scottish Parliament and our friends in the Welsh Parliament will vote for it this evening.