Ian Blackford – 2019 Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Ian Blackford, the SNP MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, in the House of Commons on 27 March 2019.

I apologise to hon. and right hon. Members, but given the time constraints I will not extend the usual courtesy of taking interventions.

I am particularly pleased to be participating in this debate, because today we can start to bring an end to the chaos. Parliament has taken back control because this Tory Government and this Prime Minister are out of control. Scotland did not ask for this crisis; nobody asked for this chaos. Of course, Scotland voted to remain in the EU. We voted overwhelmingly to protect our economy and the freedoms and the values that the European Union gives to the people of Scotland. Scotland is a European country; historically, we have been a European country. Economically, socially and culturally, we benefit from our membership.

Today the SNP laid a motion to ensure that Scotland’s voice is heard, because Scotland’s wishes have been completely ignored during the Brexit process. This is in stark contrast to the European Union, which seeks consensus and fosters collaboration through its institutions and throughout the Community. It is a partnership of equals, in stark contrast to this place, where there is no equality of respect for the devolved institutions. That lack of appreciation of how the UK should work post-devolution will haunt this place. Increasingly, those living in Scotland will reflect on the way that we are treated in this Union—the United Kingdom. It is most certainly not the partnership of equals that the Prime Minister had promised us. It is one where we are told, quite simply, that our votes do not count, where we can be stripped of our European citizenship—and for what?—and where we will pay a price economically, socially and culturally.​

The facts are clear—Brexit will rob Scotland of jobs. It will rob our economy of talented workers that our public sector needs. It will steal opportunities to travel and learn from our EU partners from future generations. It will divide relationships—families and friendships. There is no such thing as a good Brexit, and it must be stopped. We must act to protect the interests of our citizens, of our communities, and of our nations. Today is the opportunity—perhaps the only opportunity.

Today in the European Parliament, my friend and colleague, Alyn Smith MEP, asked Europe to keep a light on for Scotland to show us the way home. I want the EU to keep a light on for Scotland. As Members of Parliament, we must decide: can we follow that light, or is the United Kingdom heading into the darkness? Scotland will not follow the UK into that darkness if the UK fails to change course. We can and will follow the light, to allow Scotland to become an independent country in the European Union.

I want to make it clear that tonight the Scottish National party will vote for our preferred options on the Order Paper. We will vote for a second EU referendum, and we will vote for motions to revoke article 50, as revocation may be our only option to get out of this mess. Those options must remain on the table. The Scottish Parliament will vote today to endorse revocation in the event of no deal. We expect that to be backed on a cross-party basis, and, I say to friends and colleagues, that includes the Labour party. Revoke must be an option. I therefore ask Members to support motion (L), tabled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry).

Let me speak to some of the other motions. We on the SNP Benches would like to seek clarity from the official Opposition about their motion. For Scotland, freedom of movement without any caveats is essential, not just in principle but for the sake of our nation’s prosperity. Can those on the Labour Front Bench confirm that their motion protects and continues the policy of freedom of movement in full?

I turn to motion (D), in the name of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles). Let me be clear: the SNP does not and will not endorse the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement. The agreement Bill requires the consent of the Scottish Parliament, and the UK Government have already broken that process. The people of Scotland voted to remain, and as I noted in my remarks on the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, freedom of movement is essential for the SNP. Our nation’s future and our public services depend on it. We must have total confidence that in any Norway-plus proposal, the freedom of movement that we currently benefit from will continue and we will have access to the single market and customs union in full.

We have further questions regarding the proposals of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford for a customs arrangement and the prospect of alternative arrangements to ensure frictionless trade. I hear his assurance on freedom of movement, and we will not oppose his motion, but it will certainly be difficult for us to support it, particularly as remain is the option that we demand.

Let me make it clear: the SNP wants to find a way forward. Our preferred option is to remain in the European Union—that is what Scotland voted for—and as long as that is an option, we will vote for it, but we have ​always said that if it proves not to be possible, we will seek compromise to protect Scotland’s interests. We have set out previously what compromise is for us—and remember, that would be compromise from a position where the country we represent did not vote for Brexit and our national Parliament is opposed to Brexit.

That compromise, endorsed by the Scottish Parliament, is “Scotland’s Place in Europe”. Published in December 2016 and ignored by the UK Government, it proposes full membership of the European single market and the customs union, but that position is not encapsulated yet in any of the proposals put forward tonight. Our compromise requires full acceptance of freedom of movement and respect for the position of the Scottish Parliament and for devolution as a whole. We have put forward that compromise time and again for more than two years, but it has continually been ignored. While we know that some Members agree with us in principle, there is more work to be done by those on the Labour and Tory Benches to get to a position that we could accept, if we cannot put this matter back to the people or choose to remain in the EU.

When I look at the Order Paper, I see that there is space to compromise; there is a better way out of this mess. On Saturday, more than 1 million people marched to ask that they get the chance to vote on their future within the European Union. I was proud to stand with them alongside our First Minister. People from all parts of the United Kingdom now know the price that will be paid for Brexit—economic disaster—and they want another say. Member across the House may feel some discomfort or unease about a second EU referendum, but what is more respectful to the electorate, when this place has repeatedly failed, than giving them back control? There is nothing to fear. The Prime Minister does not have support for her deal, and this House has not found a solution, so let us do the right thing and end this stalemate by letting the people decide. I urge Members to join the SNP, compromise at this critical hour and vote for a motion to hold a second EU referendum.

In conclusion, the UK Government are flogging a dead horse, running down the clock and hoping that the squeeze of time will bring support for the Prime Minister’s devastating deal. We can end this today: we can take back control and stop the Prime Minister. We can show leadership and maturity. The people want it. Let us do the right thing, and find consensus to protect the interests of all our citizens.