With little of note happening on the Brexit front in Brussels this week, I was privileged to be in the gallery at Holyrood on Tuesday to watch the EU debate. It was an historic day because it was the first-ever joint motion presented in the name of almost all the parties in our national Parliament and also the National Assembly for Wales, the Senedd. Scotland’s SNP government and the Welsh Labour government have been working hand in glove on Brexit since the stramash was visited upon us, and it is testament to our outstanding Scotland in Europe Minister – Michael Russell – that we have such a strong joint position.
The message was clear: Brexit will be damaging and should be put back to the people, while a no-deal Brexit is unthinkable and must be taken of the table. The only exception to the unity we saw was from the Tories. They know that Brexit is damaging and against the clearly expressed wishes of the Scottish electorate, but because the UK voted to Leave Scotland must apparently follow. The unity of the UK comes above all else and instead of seeking compromise they have doubled down on the base. They’re barely speaking for 20% of the Scottish population, and alienating the rest.
They tried to portray the SNP as seeking grievance and using Brexit as a pretext for an independence referendum and I’ll confess I take personal offence at this. I’ve sat through the countless meetings where we’ve had to bite on hard reality – we’re not independent and we can’t wish Brexit away – and thrash out genuine compromises about how we could salvage the maximum possible. I’ve written extensively in the Scottish and other European media about how Brexit is absolutely not about independence. All this is ignored by a group of people so desperate to deflect attention from their own disaster.Read more
Amid the week’s sound and fury Mrs May has for the first time explicitly put both a way for the House of Commons to block a no-deal Brexit, and to extend the Article 50 period, on the table. Both are news, as is Labour’s slight shift in policy in changing its language on a second EU referendum if no other way out presents itself.
But she’s put them on the table in a way that makes using them almost impossible and keeps her in charge. Nonetheless, the prospect of a delay, giving us more time to turn this around, did nudge up a notch or so yesterday, so we need to be ready for all eventualities.Read more
There’s a great phrase “everything has been said, but not yet said by everyone” and I have to say that is where I am with Brexit. Things I warned of two full years ago are now coming to pass, and every piece of economic bad news sees a squadron of useful idiots deployed to the airwaves to blame global events, the weather, the dog eating their homework, anything. Anything but accepting the simple reality that Brexit has already made the UK, and for the moment Scotland with it, a less attractive place to invest.
Given that seeking foreign investment has been a key plank of the Westminster economic consensus for the last four decades, this really matters. Japanese firms in particular were wooed by Margaret Thatcher onwards to locate in the UK for access to the EU Single Market. Consequently Brexit for them is a broken promise. As the Japanese Ambassador said the best part of two years ago “a door to nowhere is just a door” and serious people are making serious decisions. The Foreign Secretary likening the EU to the Soviet Union isn’t just a diplomatic gaffe, there are real consequences when the global community concludes that the UK is run by chancers. Unfortunately, real people in the real world lose their jobs.Read more
Sometimes when the world seems bleak and senseless, governed by a class whose arrogance is matched only by their incompetence, and operating against all common sense and decency, it does you good to laugh.
So a weary ‘thank you’ to those sections of the British press and the more sensitive Brexiteers who, having spent decades comparing the EU to Hitler’s Germany, spreading lies and disinformation, and recently maintaining the bold negotiating stance of “I’m British! I want!”, are currently throwing hysterics over Donald Tusk being rude about them.Read more
For the sake of her own Party unity and another few months in Downing Street, Theresa May has trashed her own deal. The deal it has taken two years of heartbreak to get, the deal that countless hours have been spent on by people who really would have rather been doing something else. Innumerable civil service discussions, expending credibility and good faith, to get to a text she threw under the bus at the first opportunity. Ian Dunt has produced an excellent summary of what the Commons did, so if you want the grisly details click here:
It is astounding to witness a government whip its own MPs to vote down its own deal. Remember May solemnly agreed the backstop (twice); she proposed its form; she asked for and got help from EU27 in selling the withdrawal agreement. She promised she’d be able to hawk it to Parliament. Most MPs seem to have no idea or have conveniently forgotten that the EU27 line – that this is the only withdrawal agreement available, and that it will not be re-opened – was a position taken in response to May’s need to force her own MPs to agree to it.
As we wait to find out what twists and turns await us next week – when the House of Commons resumes voting again in earnest – it is worth taking stock of where we are. In among the drama it is too easy to lose focus.
Firstly, the clock is ticking. Unless something else actively happens, the UK and Scotland with it will leave the EU at 11pm (tellingly, it takes effect at midnight Brussels time) on March 29. All this "there's no majority in the Commons for No Deal" is entirely meaningless. Brexit will happen unless they actively do something to stop it.
Secondly, May's "deal" is just to exit. It deals with the future only in an aspirational Political Declaration which is not entirely worthless, but is not binding either. So all the bumping of gums by MPs about Norway plus, Canada minus or upside-down Lichtenstein is all so much puff: these negotiations would only start after the exit. If we exit with a deal then a transition period kicks in where EU law will continue to apply as we try to negotiate a future relationship. Basically we'd have as little idea of the future as now, except we would be outside the EU.
A "soft" Brexit where the UK remains in the single market and the customs union is undoubtedly the least damaging aspiration, and a theoretical outcome under May's deal.Read more
This week has been a hard one. I know from my own inbox and being out and about that for a lot of people Brexit is not just a news crisis far away, it is real life, with real personal impact and folk are anxious. Watching the inevitable fall of Theresa May's deal gave me no satisfaction. The deal is terrible and needed to be defeated, but now we are going to need leadership.
The United Kingdom is not united, and it’s being led by a Tory administration that is less united still. Scotland’s position is clear: we voted to stay. Brexit is bad news for Scotland, bad news for the UK, and bad news for the EU. My job is not to 'mitigate' Brexit, it is to stop it. I’m pleased to see so many of my colleagues – in each level of government all around the UK – working across party lines to try to bring sense to this process.
The first job must be to secure more time. The UK Government should immediately request an extension to Article 50 so that we can plan for the future. While a referendum may well be the way out of this mess, and the UK Government is – at last – starting to listen to voices outside of its echo chamber, we need more time to put the case together.Read more
Happy New Year! I hope you had a couple of weeks away from the travails of Brexit. I was lucky enough to be able to take a little time off, and spend some time with family and friends. After a bit of a break, I would love to say that I’m feeling upbeat, but I’ll confess my main feeling when I contemplate 2019 is one of a deep foreboding.
As you may have noticed, so far as Brexit is concerned, Christmas changed nothing. Brexit is still going disastrously. There is still no sign of either Westminster front bench adopting a realistic policy. Theresa May’s shoddy deal has no support amongst MPs or the public, and yet the Tories cling to it as tightly as Labour demand to be allowed to renegotiate it. To be clear, there is no time to renegotiate the legal text of the agreement and frankly in Brussels there is no desire to.
Brexit is Theresa May’s deal. The Brexiters’ Unicorns simply do not exist, and ‘no deal’ is unthinkable.
Whatever happens now, Brexit is going to disappoint because the promises made to Leave voters cannot be fulfilled, and Remain voters never wanted it. If we stop Brexit we can deal with that disappointment within a secure and stable legal and economic framework, or we can deal with the same disappointment while free-falling towards the rocks trying to knit a parachute.Read more
Finally, some good news! As you’ll know, six politicians: Andy Wightman MSP, Ross Greer MSP, Catherine Stihler MEP, David Martin MEP, Joanna Cherry MP, and I have – with Jolyon Maugham QC – been on a long legal journey to find out if the UK can stop Brexit. Yesterday, the Scottish Court of Session issued a declaration confirming this month’s earlier decision from the European Court of Justice.
“in terms of the opinion of the Court of Justice of the European Union dated 10 December 2018 and the petitioners and reclaimers’ second plea-in-law, find and declare that Article 50 TEU must be interpreted as meaning that, where a Member State has notified the European Council, in accordance with that article, of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, that article allows that Member State — for as long as a withdrawal agreement concluded between that Member State and the European Union has not entered into force or, if no such agreement has been concluded, for as long as the two-year period laid down in Article 50(3) TEU, possibly extended in accordance with that paragraph, has not expired — to revoke that notification unilaterally, in an unequivocal and unconditional manner, by a notice addressed to the European Council in writing, after the Member State concerned has taken the revocation decision in accordance with its constitutional requirements. The purpose of that revocation is to confirm the EU membership of the Member State concerned under terms that are unchanged as regards its status as a Member State, and that revocation brings the withdrawal procedure to an end;”
This is a total vindication of our bringing the case in the first place, a vindication of Scotland’s vote to remain, and a vindication of Scotland’s position as an independent judiciary within the United Kingdom. UK ministers have been given a comprehensive skelp from the highest court in Scotland and should now ask themselves why they went to such lengths to reduce the options that we all face.Read more
What a week! It is almost impossible to know where to start. The good news is that there is a clear path to stopping Brexit. On Monday morning (which feels a very long time ago) the European Court of Justice ruled in "the Scottish Case" confirming categorically that the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50.
This Judgment is definitive and cannot be appealed. It follows the Opinion of the Advocate General published last week that Article 50 allows for the unilateral revocation of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU. The case brought a cross party group of Scottish Parliamentarians (including me) has confirmed, once and for all from the highest court in the business, that the UK can indeed change its mind on Brexit. A bright light has switched on above an 'EXIT' sign. You can read the press release from the court here: