Brexit: Why Boris Johnson's trade deal with the EU is a boost to the Union and a blow to the SNP – Murdo Fraser MSP

Boris Johnson managed to persuade European leaders like Germany's Angela Merkel to agree to a Brexit trade deal that will benefit Scotland, says Murdo Fraser (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA)Boris Johnson managed to persuade European leaders like Germany's Angela Merkel to agree to a Brexit trade deal that will benefit Scotland, says Murdo Fraser (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Boris Johnson managed to persuade European leaders like Germany's Angela Merkel to agree to a Brexit trade deal that will benefit Scotland, says Murdo Fraser (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA)
It is fair to say I have never been Boris Johnson’s greatest fan, far from convinced that his seemingly unserious approach to the job of leading the country was what is required in these challenging times.

Nor was I a supporter of Brexit, as someone who believes we should be taking down barriers between us and our nearest neighbours, not putting them up.

However, as a democrat, I accepted the outcome of the 2016 referendum, and believed the UK government had an obligation to deliver on the will of the people to leave the EU.

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To me, that was best achieved with a deal which preserved frictionless, tariff-free trade with the European Single Market. Whilst others were relaxed about a no-deal Brexit, I was clear that that was an outcome I could never support, so damaging it would be for Scottish exporters.

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Shrewd negotiating strategy

Against that backdrop, I have to say that Boris Johnson exceeded my expectations of him with the deal struck with EU. The mandate of the 2016 referendum has now been delivered on, with the UK leaving the EU and “taking back control” of key decisions previously made in Brussels.

It will be massively to the benefit of our economy – and particularly key sectors such as food and drink exports – that we will be able to buy and sell goods to and from the EU without tariffs. And all this was delivered thanks to a shrewd negotiating strategy from the UK team, under the direction of the Prime Minister but ably led by David Frost.

There will still be a lot of work to be done for businesses to adapt to new trading arrangements, but the warm reaction across industry sectors to last Thursday’s news tells its own story. We have a bright future as close trading partners with the EU, but now a greater freedom to build economic links with other parts of the world which have perhaps been hitherto neglected.

Even on the fraught issue of fishing, there is good news for a sector which has always believed that it has had a raw deal from Europe. The agreement with the EU states explicitly that the UK becomes an independent coastal state, with an increase in quota of 25 per cent over a period of five-and-a-half years – giving the industry time to build up capacity (aided by £100m in government support). At the end of that period, future allocations of quota will be a matter of negotiation, but from the vital starting point that these are now UK sovereign waters.

SNP to vote for a no-deal

From a Scottish perspective, there is a huge amount to be pleased with in what has now been agreed. Given that the Scottish government were adamant that a deal was vital and that no-deal would be disaster, it might be expected therefore that the First Minister and her colleagues would have welcomed Thursday’s announcement, even grudgingly. But, sadly and predictably, political and constitutional considerations have once again outweighed what is in Scotland’s best interests, and the SNP, at both Westminster and Holyrood, will today try to vote this deal down.

We should be clear what exactly this means. The choice today is not between this deal and another deal, far less this deal and remaining in the EU – these bridges were crossed in the distant past. The choice now is between this deal and no-deal. The consequence of voting this deal down is that the UK leaves the EU tomorrow at midnight without a deal, with catastrophic consequences for our economy. And yet that is exactly what SNP MPs and MSPs will be voting for, simply to make a political point.

There can be little doubt that Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues were banking on a no-deal outcome, hoping that this would drive support for Scottish separation higher. That they were wrong-footed by Thursday’s announcement from the Prime Minister was evident by the confused and incoherent messages coming out from senior SNP politicians.

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They latched on to the issue of seed potato sales into Europe, without having done the research that showed that just five per cent of Scottish seed potato exports go to the EU. They tried to make an issue of the UK withdrawal from the Erasmus student exchange scheme, not realising that the replacement Turing scheme will be better funded and have a wider reach.

Christmas cheer

Worst of all, and with extraordinary hypocrisy, they criticised the deal on fishing, when their own policy is to rejoin EU and the hated Common Fisheries Policy as quickly as possible, thus reversing the gains made by the UK government.

What the impact of all this will be on Scotland’s constitutional and political debate will become evident in coming weeks. Given the SNP’s reliance on a no-deal outcome, they can only be disappointed that what they saw as an opportunity to exploit a bad situation for political gain has been lost. Conversely, from a unionist perspective, the avoidance of such an outcome can only be good news.

Scotland and its economy now stand to benefit from a new trading partnership with the EU, and one which does not put at risk our trade with rest of the UK (a market worth three times more to Scottish producers than Europe). Contrast that with the SNP vision of taking us back in to the EU as soon as that could be achieved, with the prospect of trade friction with our closest marketplace, and it is easy to see why unionists were cheered by the Christmas Eve news.

While Boris Johnson has gone up in my estimation, as he will have done in that of others, for delivering a deal that benefits Scotland, the SNP will today, out of spite, vote for a no-deal Brexit notwithstanding the damage that would do. As we welcome in 2021, we may just have reached a turning point in the constitutional debate.

Murdo Fraser is a Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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