Brexit: Tempers rise over trade deal at Holyrood's Europe committee

A Scottish Government minister has accused a Conservative MSP of being an “apologist for an appalling deal” during heated exchanges in the Scottish Parliament.

Cabinet Secretary Michael Russell said Tory Dean Lockhart was “misrepresenting” both the Brexit trade deal and the SNP position on voting against it in Westminster.

However Mr Lockhart, the Tory’s shadow constitution spokesman, said he would take the word of the CBI and British Retail Consortium over that of Mr Russell’s on whether the deal struck with the EU was a good one or not.

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At Holyrood's Europe committee, Mr Russell was taking questions on the Scottish Government’s decision not to grant a Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) for the Brexit deal, ahead of a debate in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon.

Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Constitutional Relations.
Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Constitutional Relations.

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Scottish Parliament set to refuse consent on Brexit trade deal

The LCM lodged at the Scottish Parliament states the government should not consent to the "inadequate and damaging" Brexit deal with the EU.

Mr Lockhart raised the SNP’s change of position in how it will vote on the deal in the Commons today and said: “In recent weeks you have said that any deal would be better than a “no deal” and the First Minister has said a “no deal” would be catastrophic but we’ve heard from you that the SNP will vote against the LCM and will be voting for a “no deal Brexit”.

“The context is our European friends, including the European Commission President have said this is a good, fair and balanced deal and leading commentators have said it’s a sensational deal for the UK with full economic access to the EU without tariffs and without quotas, so can you explain why the SNP has performed this extraordinary u-turn and has become the party of a “no deal Brexit”?”

But Mr Russell said the question was not “worth responding to given the misrepresentation within it”.

He added: “Which leading economists have lauded this as a wonderful deal? I’d be interested to have list of them. If I was Michael Barnier I would think it's a great deal as everything within his mandate has been achieved, but if it’s a great deal for them it is not a great deal for us.

"The deliberate misrepresentation you’ve been guilty of is a lack of knowledge in how treaties are done, and as you’re a lawyer I find it astonihsing you don’t know that, or are pretending not to know that.

“Treaties are done by prerogative and Boris Johnson could sign this, this afternoon, without bothering to put it to the House of Commons because it’s an international agreement and in international law it will be signed by the President of the Commission and by Johnson and that's it. So no matter how people will vote it's going to happen regrettably – that’s a society the Conservatives have created, an anti-democratic society they’ve created, and I think it’s shameful any politician would back that up.

"Your question is based on a number of false premise and I think you really could do better.”

Mr Lockhart hit back by pointing to the welcoming of the deal with organisations such as the CBI and BRC and said it was a “win-win outcome for Scotland, for the UK and for the EU” and added: “I would rather take their word than yours Cabinet Secretary.”

He pointed to potential future global free trade agreements and said “a number of trade agreements have been entered into such as Japan, the fourth largest market for Scotch, Singapore, the third largest market, and with Canada and others, but the SNP has voted against and failed to support all of those free trade agreements can you explain why?”

Mr Russell accused Mr Lockhart of using “strange definitions” and accused him of either failing to understand the trade deals or being “deliberately misleading”.

"These are not new free trade agreements, they’re continuation arrangements,” he said. “We’ve not voted against trade deals, we’ve made it clear that there is a far better set of deals that we're leaving behind.

"The French ambassador to the US said it was hardly a service to free trade to walk away from the biggest free trade block in the world. And it's an utter perversion of the truth to argue that because we're against giving up the benefits we have that we're against trade itself. I think that's the third time you’ve put that ludicrous point to me and it's the third time I am glad to call it ludicrous.”

Pushed by Mr Lockhart on whether the SNP had supported the agreements “yes or no”, Mr Russell said: "I’m not giving you a yes or no, if it's such a great deal why are you so angry at people voting against it? Surely you want to take ownership? You know this is an utterly rotten deal, an appalling deal, and you're an apologist for an appalling deal that will damage Scottish business and Scotland, you should hang your head in shame.”

The SNP, Scottish Labour, Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens have already outlined their decision not to back the agreement, meaning it is unable to gain a majority unless MSPs break the party line.

However Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has described the deal as “great news for Scotland.”

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