Covid-19: Future UK-EU Relationship

I am somewhat bemused by the motion today because on the very first page of the document to which it refers the Scottish Government say:

“This transition period is due to finish on December 31, but it can be extended… as long as that is agreed by the end of June. After that date, it will not be possible to extend under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement—and no other plausible route to an extension has been put forward.”

So I would be interested to hear from SNP Members what route they know of to extend and why they have not shared that with their colleagues in the Scottish Government.

Conservative Members believe that the whole United Kingdom is stronger when we work together and that the real threat to recovery would be the SNP’s policy of separating Scotland from the rest of the UK. We value this Union, this family of nations, which, formed more than 300 years ago, has been the most successful union in history. While 17% of Scottish exports go to the 27 member states of the EU, 60%—over three times more—of Scottish trade goes to the rest of the United Kingdom, and a similar value flows back over the border.

Fifty years ago, my mum and dad moved to the UK, leaving behind their families and friends, because the UK represented the values that meant so much to them and which mean so much to me as well—indeed, they are referenced in the Scottish document: human dignity, freedom, democracy and equality of opportunity. The UK does not just talk about those values; it embodies them. Recently, when Hong Kong’s freedoms were threatened, the UK stepped up to the plate, not just by raising concerns with China but by inviting up to 3 million British national overseas passport holders and their dependants with open arms to move to the UK.

As someone from an immigrant background, I can say that these islands represent hope and opportunity. This is a Union not just of nations but of people, and it is personal for me. My mother works in the NHS in England; my cousin works in the NHS in Scotland. The whole United Kingdom has opened its arms and become a home to my family, and for that I am very grateful.​

The optimistic vision for Britain after 31 December is of more trade. It is a vision of a global Britain, engaged around the world, representing our British values of decency and progress, and boosting British exports, from the sparkling wines of Surrey to the slightly better known—for now—Scotch whisky. Scotland will benefit from these trade deals. The rest of the UK is by far Scotland’s biggest market, with trade worth £51 billion, dwarfing that with the EU—and the EU trade will likely suffer because of US sanctions to the EU, which have targeted Scottish products.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership provides the opportunity for a trade deal centred on the world’s fastest-growing region, covering a population of 495 million people—greater than that of the EU—and, crucially, opening up opportunities in the services sector, which constitutes 70% of the Scottish and, indeed, UK economies. Accession would be a key step in realising our ambition for 80% of UK trade to be covered by free trade agreements in the next three years.

Our vision means more control over our fisheries, ensuring more Scottish fish are caught by Scottish fishermen. It means an agriculture policy designed not for the needs of 27 diverse nations but by the Scottish Parliament for Scottish farmers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) mentioned, it means freeports, which I think would benefit many coastal communities in Scotland. And leaving on 31 December will mean more powers for the Scottish Parliament; I note that the Institute for Government says it will gain powers in 63 different policy areas.

I hope that we can continue to work together for our common future and to ensure the best possible recovery from the epidemic. The covid-19 recovery has highlighted the strength of our shared institutions, with the UK Government working with devolved Governments to ensure the best possible provision for our people; devolved Governments tailoring policies to local requirements; the NHS, formed across the UK, providing care on the basis of need; the British Army building hospitals and testing people across our four nations, and the Treasury using the financial firepower of our strong Union to ensure that money is distributed to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on the basis of need. Our resources are pooled and shared. The best hope for our recovery and the future of the British people is our continued co-operation—working together in a national effort to get the whole country back on its feet.

Crucially, even if it were possible to extend, I am not convinced that that would bear fruit. At the beginning of my career, I worked on a trading floor, and I had a frontline view as the Greek credit crisis unfolded. There are very few decisions that the EU has to bring its 27 countries to terms on to which the answer is more time. We saw last year that extensions do not change the fundamentals. There is no use hiding from the decisions that need to be taken. Perhaps someone should tell the Labour party that.