This week has been a blizzard of events in Brussels and London. On Monday Theresa May went to the Commission expecting to sign a deal and move on to the next phase of the negotiations for the UK to leave the EU. Whilst enjoying a lunch with Jean Claude Juncker the DUP held a press conference and then, following a subsequent phone call to May, it was all over for the day.
As I wrote in the New Statesmen, the “have your cake and eat it” sloganeering is now crashing into hard reality and this was a great illustration. Nowhere has this been more apparent than Ireland. At the stroke of 23:00 on Brexit Day (note that Brexit happens at midnight, Brussels time) the border crashes into existence, unless a fix is found now. The Good Friday Agreement cannot be respected and there cannot be an open border in Ireland unless Northern Ireland is in the single market and customs union. (You can read the rest of my piece here: newstatesman.com/... )
The problem is real, and will not go away but after days of chasing, a suitably ambiguous form of words has been found:
In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom committed to maintaining full alignment with those rules of the internal market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North - South cooperation, the all - island economy, and the protection of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement. In this context, implementation and oversight mechanisms for the specific arrangements to be found will be established to safeguard the integrity of the internal market.
This means that unless the UK finds a miraculous solution to leaving the single market and the customs union then Northern Ireland will remain part of both in some way, either alongside the whole of the UK or not. Although my article was written before this was decided I stand by my comments: rhetoric is not enough and the realities of international trade law mean we need solutions now. The UK must start by showing real flexibility within itself and with the EU to allow the various democratic mandates and legal realities that exist within these isles to be respected. Though the obvious solution is for the entirety of the UK to stay in the single market and the customs union, differentiated solutions can work and may prove essential before we get to the end of this process.
Well, it has been another busy week in Brussels and Edinburgh but things do seem to be moving in a more positive direction. The UK has finally decided to honour its international obligations:
This means that there is a much better chance of moving forwards with the talks after Christmas. There is still work to be done and frankly it is remarkable that it has taken this long but at least we are seeing some progress. So far, the European Parliament response has been cautious as this release from the Brexit Steering Group shows:
Let’s wait and see what the details are.Read more
The clock keeps ticking. The inevitability of the consequences of Brexit become ever more apparent as time goes on. The latest casualty is the European Capital of Culture programme.Read more
This week there has been some brilliant news amongst the ongoing chaos of the Brexit Saga.
Minimum Unit Pricing has passed its final legal hurdle and can now become law in Scotland. This will have a real impact: in the first year alone, minimum pricing could prevent 1,600 hospital admissions. You can read more from here:
I would also like to thank all those who have been involved in this case. It has been a long road to get here. I have always disagreed with the Scottish Whisky Association’s case and I am pleased that European law is on our side.Read more
This week we have started to see indications of the trade choices we will face in the future. Wilbur Russ, Donald Trump’s commerce secretary, has warned that the UK must follow US regulations if it wants a US trade deal.
In response Michel Barnier has made clear that a trade deal with the EU will involve following their standards.
This means that we now face a choice of whether we follow the European model or the American model. This decision will set for generations to come what we will eat and how we will live. If we choose to head down the American route our food quality will be lowered. We need to stand up for the high standards we currently enjoy, and support the Scottish farmers who grow that food.Read more
One of the most challenging aspects of the debate surrounding the UK’s vote to leave the EU is attempting to ascertain the facts. It is why I released the book Scotland in Europe (copies of which are available here: scotlandineurope.eu/book ). Events this week show the scale of the challenge we face.
Not only is there misinformation being deliberately promoted by the Brexiteers but the UK Government is also trying to hide the facts from the people.
As the UK government continues to contradict itself over Brexit I think the most important story is closer to home.
The National Records of Scotland have produced a series of projections for Scotland’s future population growth and the bottom line is simple and unsettling: if EU migration is stopped then the growth of Scotland’s population will slow significantly to the extent that our overall population will start to decline again within the next 25 years.
Crucially, all of Scotland’s projected population growth in the next 10 years is because of migration. Without EU migration the population of Scotland is projected to decline from 2032 onwards.
This would be disastrous for our economy and society. Scotland’s tragic history of exporting our own people has only recently started to be reversed, and it is vital we maintain an open attitude to migration, in and out, and our place in the world. You can read more here:
I realise this is very long term but these figures serve to illustrate that the damage from Brexit will not only be felt today, but for decades to come.
No deal, no tariffs, here we go again… this bulletin feels a little like Groundhog Day (as does the whole UK Government Brexit ‘strategy’ at times) but once more I must re-iterate that the line ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ is madness.
An absolute ‘no deal’ means no planes in the sky, queues from London to Dover, and the stock-market in free fall. I still don’t think this is what the UK Government has in mind, although plenty of the Tory Brexiteers clearly do as David Davis’s statement to the Commons illustrated.Read more
I have had a busy week at SNP conference and I am proud to say that we will do all we can to reassure EU nationals in Scotland that you’re welcome here and you’re one of us. The First Minister has vowed that Scotland will pay any admin fees required by the UK Government for EU citizens to stay in the country after Brexit.
On the Monday, Joan McAlpine MSP and Michael Russell MSP joined me in squeezing into a packed room to launch Scotland IN Europe, a one-stop suite of meticulously researched and referenced resources available in print and online. Looking out at the hundreds of people listening intently to the discussion and asking pertinent, well-reasoned questions highlighted how seriously we’re taking Brexit and the EU.
If you want a copy you can download a pdf, or order a physical version from here:
The Tories are fighting amongst themselves like ferrets in a sack, while the UK’s national interest, however we define it, is ignored by them utterly. Shame on them. It is not good enough for Scotland, it is not good enough for the EU either.
I said this before the Prime Minister’s disastrous speech but it is even more true now. She faces the prospect of rebellion from her MPs. I don’t want to emphasise again how maddening this is. In the face of the most complicated and time-sensitive negotiations the UK has conducted since the end of WWII, the Tories have wasted time on an election and now, even if May survives, they look set to waste even more time arguing about the leadership.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament debated the progress of the Brexit negotiations and passed a motion confirming that insufficient progress has been made to move on to the next stage in the discussions.Read more