As I write this the Chancellor of the Exchequer down at Westminster is presenting his budget to the parliament there. So, not much I can say about that, though I am not convinced at all by the statements about” austerity being over”. I do believe though, his statement that if there is a ‘no deal Brexit’ then he’s back to the drawing board.
What is quite clear is that with just weeks to go before an agreement needs to be signed, the UK Government does not have a coherent or unified position that it can put before the European Union at the other side of the negotiating table. What is clear is that UK Government ministers are incapable of reaching agreement even within their own party. There is no plan, and there is no plan to get a plan!
My mailbag reflects the uncertainties of East Kilbride residents; from those terrified about the reports of shortages of much-needed medical supplies, to parents wondering about missing weddings and other family events on mainland Europe which are happening beyond the Brexit date of 29th March 2019.
Last week, I was down at Westminster myself – for talks with the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly – representatives from Scotland, Wales, the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Ireland, Northern Ireland and the UK. This Group was set up following the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ which brought peace to Northern Ireland, to promote dialogue and joint working. Since the 2016 referendum most of the discussions have centred upon Brexit, and latterly on concerns about the Irish border. Ireland is a European Union nation, the UK is leaving the European Union. Therefore, a potential border with all the troubles that may bring back to the Island of Ireland.
It was obvious at the meeting that tensions and emotions are rising relative to this, and not helped by the UK Government Minister’s lack of understanding of the history and current situation, her platitudes and her undiplomatic remarks. I’m not giving away any secrets here – her session was open to the press and media and reported upon. The view of many is that the entire Peace Agreement is at risk and this is of course extremely serious. In relation to Scotland, I found the Minister’s lack of knowledge quite breathtaking.
Although the UK Government clearly has no plan, the Scottish Government does. The Scottish Government has repeatedly set out a plan to provide a basis for negotiation with European partners, to break the impasse and give a basis for compromise. The UK Government should start thinking about the good of the country instead of their own party members; they should revise their position to discuss the scenario that the whole of the UK remains within the European Single Market and the Customs Union. It’s only then that we can start talking seriously about protecting jobs, living standards, rights and an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Time can be gained to discuss all of this further – the UK Government could seek an extension to the withdrawal date at end March next year. This would allow further discussion and a concensus to be reached across the UK and with European Union partners. This would avoid a hurried and damaging exit, and all of the concerns that are now being aired – food shortages, NHS staff losses, medicine supplies amongst others.
I voted to remain in the European Union. I know that many voted to leave. Scotland as a whole voted to remain – every local authority area. The Scottish Government’s priority is to protect Scotland at every turn and has come up with a credible plan to do so, a plan that would also benefit the people of the whole of the UK and assist with the Irish border situation. During the Independence Referendum of 2014 we were repeatedly told that Scotland was a respected partner within the UK; “Lead, don’t leave!” they said. Well, we’re trying to – on this most important of matters Scotland should be heard.