After this week, my dismay for Westminster is verging on disgust. I am sickened by the vain, shallow, self-regarding antics we’ve seen coming out of that place. I know there’s a lot of decent sorts in there trying to fix this – as appalled as I am by where they are – but they’re pushing against a boulder of intransigence. They're also trying to do the impossible: make a success of Brexit.
This week began with MPs having non-binding votes on various future options, floundered in the middle – with MPs narrowly passing a mechanism to stop no-deal which won’t stop no-deal – and ended with Corbyn and May locked in a room trying to decide the fate of Scotland’s EU membership.Read more
This week has been tough. I confess I have been dreading it for months, wondering how I would feel when on the 29 March at 12pm (Brussels time, not UK time) we were dragged out of the EU against Scotland’s will.
Throughout the process there have been so many folk pretending it’s inevitable, or just resigned to it, despondent. Yet here we are, the time has passed and yet the SNP’s MEPs are still here at our posts. Well, this is far from over folks. Theresa May’s deal was defeated again this afternoon and now the only sensible choice is to revoke Article 50 and take the irresponsible threat of no deal off the table.
This week was also potentially my last Plenary session in Strasbourg. As I said to my fellow MEPs, there are a lot of us in Scotland and across the UK, working hard to turn this round, to serve our citizens, to remain within this family of nations.Read more
Well, after a late night in Brussels the EU has made a decision for the UK. We will not leave the EU on 29 March since a short extension to Article 50 has been agreed to. The terms of this are clear:
- If the House of Commons agrees to pass Theresa May’s deal next week the extension will last until the 22 May.
- If the House of Commons does not pass the deal, then Article 50 will be extended until 12 April by which point the UK is expected to tell the EU what it wishes to do next.
You can read the full conclusions here:
What does this all mean? Well the good news is that unless the UK unilaterally does something inexplicable then we will not be facing a no deal scenario in one week’s time.
The bad news is that otherwise nothing has changed. The options remain the same: either accept May's deal, no deal or revoke Article 50. The road is a little longer now but we’re still running out of it. The cliff edge, iceberg, your-other-metaphor-of-choice is looming.Read more
What is remarkable about where we stand is not what has changed but how much has remained the same. Ever since Mrs May triggered Article 50 with no long term plan (supported, remember, by the Labour and Conservative Parties) it has been obvious to anybody who understood the process that we would by this point have three choices: to accept a deal from the UK Government, crash out with no-deal, or simply revoke it.
The underlying choice is rigid and will not shift until one option has been picked.
So what has changed? For much of the last two years the terms of the deal were not clear. Now they are and no amount of last minute Strasbourg bells and whistles can disguise it. MPs once again voted it down on Tuesday and next week will get the opportunity to do so again.Read more
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