THERESA MAY’S plans for a hard Brexit will lead to a “hard Britain”, MSPs were warned as Holyrood staged its own debate on the triggering of Article 50.
Brexit Minister Mike Russell said the discussions in Holyrood give politicians there the “opportunity to speak loudly and clearly” on Brexit, and will also be “a key test of whether Scotland’s voice is being listened to”.
While the Supreme Court has ruled the UK Government does not need to consult the devolved administrations before it starts the formal process of leaving the European Union, Mr Russell insisted the debate in Edinburgh is “more than symbolic” – even though SNP ministers did not bring a formal legislative consent motion to Parliament as they had originally planned.
He said: “This debate, in Scotland’s own Parliament, gives MSPs the opportunity to speak loudly and clearly. To say to the UK, to Europe and the world that we oppose the catastrophic hard Brexit now being pursued by the Tories at Westminster.
“It has never been the case that the Scottish Parliament or any of the devolved legislatures had a veto over Brexit. But this vote is more than symbolic. It’s a key test of whether Scotland’s voice is being listened to, whether our wishes can be accommodated within the UK process.”
While the Scottish Government has put forward “compromise proposals” aimed at keeping the country in the European single market, Mr Russell said there has been no response to them from UK ministers.
“We’ve taken part in meeting after meeting at official, ministerial and head of government level. Yet so far the UK Government has not offered a single compromise of its own,” he told MSPs.
“In fact it has offered nothing – neither formal reaction to our proposals nor formal rejection of them.”
He described the Holyrood debate as being “about democracy itself”, adding: “It’s a debate about the sort of country the UK is becoming and the sort of country we in Scotland wish to be. And the contrast between those countries is stark.
“Theresa May’s hard Brexit will lead to a hard Britain, a Britain out of the single market with cutting immigration and enforcing borders prioritised above all else.
“Living standards, the economy and how the UK is seen across the world will all play second fiddle to that obsession.”
While the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU in 2016, almost two-thirds (62%) of voters in Scotland backed Remain.
Mr Russell said: “The Scottish Government has been clear ever since last June that recognition of the democratic outcome in Scotland must be part of the process of the UK exiting the EU.”
But he claimed there had been “no sign of serious engagement with our proposals, no recognition of the referendum outcome in Scotland” from Westminster.
“The attitude of the UK Government needs to change and we have said so directly to them,” he said.
On the key issue of staying in the single market, Mr Russell claimed the Prime Minister had “unilaterally decided that the UK must leave the largest integrated market on the planet, carefully constructed over many years”.
He argued that ensuring the free movement of people can continue is “vital” to protect Scotland’s position, along with the transfer of more powers to Edinburgh.
Mr Russell said: “We must have guaranteed to us the further devolution of those matters which lie within devolved competence but which are presently decided in Brussels.”
SNP ministers have made clear that without such a deal for Scotland, they could seek to hold a second independence referendum.
With Mrs May having already said she intends to start the Article 50 process in March, Mr Russell claimed the “clock is ticking” for an agreement to be reached.
He said: “There is still time for the UK Government to recognise democracy in these islands.
“But that time is running out. Voting today to reject the triggering of Article 50 is a good way – in fact it is now the only way – to remind the Prime Minister of that and of the disastrous consequences of the path she seems determined to tread.”
Tory MSP John Lamont accused SNP ministers of “grievance politics” and making”weekly threats” about another vote on independence.
He said: “The Scottish Government’s default point is to try to manufacture a grievance out of nothing.
“Despite the rhetoric from the Scottish Government, the reality is there is plenty of opportunity to engage in the process of the UK leaving the EU.”
He pointed to meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee – which brings together the UK Government and the devolved assemblies – and to the fact that Mrs May’s first visit after entering Downing Street was to see Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh.
Mr Lamont said: “In response, we have a First Minister and a Scottish Government which is always unhappy after every meeting and is refusing to engage constructively.
“It is clear that the Prime Minister has tried to give the Scottish Government every opportunity to engage in this process.
“I can see no compromise in the SNP’s positions, they are obsessed with stocking up the politics of grievance and their agenda for independence and nothing else.
“Instead of constantly trying to undermine the process, the Scottish Government really should get on with the job of getting the best deal for Scotland. Their current grandstanding is putting that at risk.”
He stressed the referendum was about the UK’s membership of the EU, adding: “The question on the ballot papers wasn’t about Scotland’s membership for the very simple reason that Scotland isn’t a member of the EU.
“The UK voted to leave the EU, including a not insubstantial one million Scots.”
In those circumstances, he argued the Scottish Government should be focused on “getting the right deal for Scotland, ensuring Scotland’s needs are considered as powers over farming, fisheries, trade and research support return from the EU”.
Labour’s Elaine Smith, who campaigned for a leave vote during the EU referendum, said: “I’ll not be voting for the SNP motion tonight and I’m listening to this debate with regards to the amendments.
“Who is speaking for the 40% of Scots who voted leave and undoubtedly expected that the result eight months ago should now proceed?”
Lewis Macdonald MSP, for Labour, said: “Our responsibility in the Scottish Parliament is to say whether we believe UK ministers have done enough to go to Europe and negotiate on our behalf. We believe the answer has to be that they have not.
“We in this place have no veto on Article 50 but we do have a right and a duty to speak on behalf of those we seek to represent.
“We should therefore say that we do not endorse Mrs May’s proposals and that she should not proceed until she has demonstrated that she has a clear strategy for achieving the right outcomes from the negotiations that will follow.”
Labour’s amendment calls on the SNP to abandon the prospect of a second Scottish independence referendum.
Mr Macdonald added: “Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP Government are keeping the threat of an independence referendum on the table, by doing that they may argue that it gives leverage with Theresa May, but the truth is that it merely adds to the uncertainty we already face.
“We on this side reject an independence referendum and we will not support anything which creates barriers to trade within the UK, but Theresa May has so far failed to address the uncertainly we face as a result of Brexit and therefore Article 50 should not be triggered at this time.”
Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer said: “The course currently being set at Westminster could not be further from the collective, though not unanimous, position of this Parliament that Scotland remains within the single market, either with the UK as a whole remaining or through a differentiated agreement.
“It’s evident that Theresa May’s Government does not have a clear plan, what she has laid out so far is confused, it is contradictory and it is dangerous.
“Day by day it becomes clearer that this Brexit plan is being made up on the go by hard-right Tory ideologues.
“During the independence referendum we were told that Scotland is an equal partner in the union, that is clearly not the case.
“This vote and the vote of the people of Scotland in the EU referendum will be overridden by Westminster. All members in this chamber must now ask themselves where would you rather see Scotland?
“The time for compromise has almost passed and we will likely have to choose one future or another.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie attacked Labour for “total and utter confusion” over its position.
Scottish Labour’s decision to vote against triggering Article 50 puts it at odds with UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has ordered Labour MPs to back the Brexit Bill in its final House of Commons stage on Wednesday.
Mr Rennie said: “The Labour Party has sought to bring clarity on Brexit by opposing the position of the Labour Party on Brexit.”
The Lib Dems want the Bill to be rejected unless the UK Government agrees to a referendum on the final terms of Brexit.
Mr Rennie added: “If we do not have a Brexit deal referendum we are handing a blank cheque to Theresa May to agree whatever she wants, no matter what the consequences to our economy, security and our environment.
“If the SNP are as pro-European as they claim, they would back our amendment. If they are only using the Brexit debate to generate grievance for another independence campaign, I suspect they will oppose it.”
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