Willie Rennie: Our children will be astonished that this Government pursued big bang Brexit in the middle of a pandemic

The Scottish Parliament debated whether to give legislative consent to the Bill putting the new trade deal with the EU into operation.

Liberal Democrats voted against, and Willie Rennie explained why:

This debate needs a bit of realism. The deal is going through. It’s going to go through because Boris Johnson has an eighty-seat majority, he has his Euro Sceptics on board and even the bulk of the Labour Party is backing it.

So no deal has, finally, been taken off the table.

But just because we accept Brexit is happening, that there is a deal and it is going through does not mean we have to like it.

We are realistic but we won’t swallow all our deep reservations about Brexit and especially this deal.

In no way is anyone compelled to vote for something they think will be bad for the country.
And after all the Brexit chaos this Conservative Government have inflicted on millions of people for years and after the Scottish Conservatives promised they would never back a deal that gave separate treatment to Northern Ireland, that party is in no position to lecture anyone else today.

There should be no surprise that we can’t support the Conservatives on Brexit today because our support for Europe has been resolute for decades.

From the liberals support for yes in the ‘75 referendum, the Gang of Four in the 80s and Paddy Ashdown bailing out John Major to support the Maastricht Treaty in the 90s to our enthusiastic support for remain in 2016 and our advocacy of a people’s vote for the last four years.

People who believe in a strong relationship with Europe can count on us.

We do not use Europe as a weapon in another battle, to be discarded when no longer useful.

We believe in international partnership and cooperation especially with our closest neighbours.

It is why we support keeping the UK together and believe the lessons from Brexit should be the lessons for those who advocate independence.

This is a bad deal. The Prime Minister ran down the clock in the most cynical fashion to give parliamentarians just three working days to read, analyse, scrutinise and vote on 1246 pages of complex legal text. That is not good government.

Giving companies just a week to get ready is not good business. Where is the sensible easement arrangement?
We will be the first country in the world to put trade barriers up as a result of a trade deal.

The Prime Minister claims no quotas or tariffs on goods. But if the UK diverges, and that was the point of Brexit was it not, there will be heavy punitive tariffs and quotas. Those quotas and tariffs will hang around like a bad smell for years.

There will be more paperwork, regulation and red tape.

There is double regulation on health, safety and standards like REACH, the chemical directive; on the recognition of qualifications; and on the rules of origin.

Why are there an estimated 400 million new forms for business if there is no additional paperwork?

Why is the government recruiting 50,000 custom agents if there is no additional red tape?

And why are there twenty-three separate new committees if the bureaucracy has been slashed?

There is no agreement on services. Not on financial, broadcasting, creative or legal industries. All world leading for the UK.

Without ‘equivalence’ these businesses face a web of different rules across the EU.

Most financial services already have new homes in Paris and Frankfurt, while creatives look to Amsterdam and lawyers to Dublin.

This means we will see a slow erosion of service business activity to the EU, rather than being exported from the UK.
Where is the sea of opportunity on fish? The industry rightly feels duped. The deal takes back control of our waters before promptly handing it back to Europe again for five and a half years at least.

There is no Erasmus for students, no European Arrest Warrant to catch escaping criminals, no EHIC health insurance card to protect us on holiday.

The UK economy will suffer a slow puncture as companies make future investment decisions, opting to work out of Europe rather than the UK.

So what is going to replace it.

All the UKs new trade deals with non-EU countries are simply copies of existing EU trade deals, so where is the advantage for the UK? Where is the opportunity?

If the EU trade arrangements were holding us back how does a copy of EU trade arrangements help us?

Yet we must look forward. Against this backdrop the UK Government must step up and explain how it will create new jobs and opportunities, how it will engage with our neighbours in Europe, how it will work and trade with new countries.

This country must be open, optimistic and engaging with the world.

And the Liberal Democrats will work to make that a reality.

But when our children look back at this time, they will be astonished that the UK Government voluntarily pursued this big bang change in the middle of a global pandemic with the biggest economic and health crisis this country had ever faced. It is truly astonishing.

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2 Comments

  • Peter Hirst 31st Dec '20 - 5:08pm

    To understand this unfolding disaster we need to look at the history. The Conservative government decided to hold a referendum that decided to leave the eu. From then on its actions were based on that result. They were politically tied to it and elected our present PM to achieve it that he has. All the inadequacies of that process are ignored. We are told that last year’s GE is sufficient justification and that is also flawed. Only a further referendum will allow the people to give their verdict on the last five years.

  • Peter Martin 1st Jan '21 - 12:33pm

    “Our children will be astonished that this Government pursued big bang Brexit in the middle of a pandemic”

    They probably won’t.

    Few young people are aware of the circumstances under which we went into the EU some 48 years ago. They probably won’t know the PM of the time, they’ll just be guessing at which party he was from. They won’t know that a different PM, from a different Party, later held a referendum. In 48 years, or an even shorter time, it will be a similar story with respect to our exit.

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