Brexit: Holyrood refuses legal consent for UK trade deal with EU

The Scottish Parliament has voted to refuse consent for Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade Bill with the EU, which was passed by the Commons earlier today.

After a testy, and at times furious, debate in Holyrood on whether to pass a Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) for the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill, MSPs voted not to, by 92 to 30 with one abstention.

An LCM has to be passed to show a devolved administration is content for the UK Parliament to pass a law on a devolved matter.

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However, despite the refusal by Holyrood to grant one, it will not have any impact on whether the Bill – which will now be scrutinised by the Lords – becomes law.

Nicola Sturgeon at the debate on the trade and co-operation agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Nicola Sturgeon at the debate on the trade and co-operation agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

During the debate First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged MSPs not to grant the LCM and declared the SNP would “vote against a rotten Brexit that Scotland has rejected all along, and we will say no to a hard Brexit deal that damages our economy, our society and the opportunities of this and future generations”.

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She also challenged the Conservatives to lay out “in clear and simple terms what the benefits of it [the deal] to Scotland actually are”.

Ms Sturgeon added: “My prediction – the Tories will do none of that. Because, quite simply, they can’t. Far from respecting Scotland’s democratic wishes, this deal rides roughshod over them.

"They’ll say we have to back this deal not because it’s any good, but because the alternative is worse. That, frankly, is an insult to Scotland’s intelligence.

“It’s legally suspect for a start. But more to the point, the deal will pass, regardless of how Scotland’s MPs vote, because that’s what the Westminster establishment has decided."

Ms Sturgeon said the “disastrous” deal proved the argument for Scottish independence, as Scottish opinion on Brexit had been “disregarded”. She said: “We don’t have to accept whatever dismal future the Tories decide to foist upon us. We can choose our own future instead."

She claimed the EU was supported by Scots “by and large, and for all its imperfections" because “its fundamental principle – that independent nations should share sovereignty for the common good – is one most people support”.

The deal, she said, put up barriers for Scottish trade to export to the EU, as new red tape could cost UK businesses an estimated £7 billion a year.

“Even fishing – the one sector that did expect benefits from Brexit – has been comprehensively let down," she said: “The Tory fishing promises were never deliverable.

"This must be the worst negotiating outcome in history – a hard Brexit for Scotland and a comprehensive sell-out of the Scottish fishing industry."

However, Scottish Conservative leader at Holyrood, Ruth Davidson, accused the First Minister of adopting a hypocritical stance after months of warning against a no-deal outcome, and added: “You couldn’t mark Nicola Sturgeon’s neck with a blow torch”.

She also hit out at Scottish Labour for refusing the LCM, decrying them as a “feckless SNP tribute act”.

Speaking after the debate, Ms Davidson said: “These contortions and contradictions from Nicola Sturgeon are a masterclass in hypocrisy and inconsistency. By ordering her MPs to vote for no deal, she reveals the ugly truth – she never wanted a deal in the first place despite years of doomsday warnings.

“The SNP have weaponised the 2016 referendum result to fuel their strategy of grievance and division. The people of Scotland can see right through it.”

She added: “Once again, Scottish Labour have shown they simply cannot be trusted to stand up to the SNP. Instead, when given the opportunity to do the right thing, Richard Leonard decides to stand foursquare behind Nicola Sturgeon and the nationalists.”

In the Chamber Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said the deal was being “rushed through" the Commons and was a “democratic outrage” but that a "vote against the Bill in Westminster is to risk the chaos and damage of a no-deal outcome, and you can't say by voting against it, as SNP MPs will do today, that wasn't what we meant, because that's what will happen. which is why Labour MPs will reluctantly vote for the deal because the alternative would be chaos.”

He said the deal meant the student scheme Erasmus "is gone, ending opportunities for students to live and work across the continent” and that “the commitments on labour and environmental standards are weak and considerably weaker than even the optimists expected.”

Mr Leonard added: “For us the priority is dealing with these economic shocks, not detonating more which the SNP has in mind, it is dealing with the national emergency before us in a spirit of co-operation and renewed determination.

“This is about the future of devolution, the future of the Scottish economy and of people’s lives and jobs.”

A Labour amendment which urged “the Scottish Government to provide further mitigation to businesses and sectors impacted by this Agreement and the Covid-19 pandemic, and calls on the UK and Scottish governments to work together to ensure that the current rights of workers, and Erasmus, are protected and that the highest environmental standards are upheld” was also agreed by MSPs.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said the end of free movement as a result of leaving the EU "pained him the most” and added: “I still think it’s the greatest tragedy. It tears my heart out – it’s a fundamental failure to recognise the EU as a peace project.”

Willie Rennie, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said the deal was going through, “because Boris Johnson has an 80 majority”.

He added: “No deal has finally been taken off the table, but that does not mean we have to like it. We're realistic but we won't swallow our deep reservations about Brexit, in no way is anyone compelled to vote for something they think is bad for this country.”

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