Brexit: MSPs to reject UK government's proposal to leave EU

MSPs will today reject the UK government's proposal to leave the EU in a vote which Nicola Sturgeon is calling 'one of the most significant in the history of the Scottish Parliament'.

Nicola Sturgeon at FMQs today. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Nicola Sturgeon at FMQs today. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The First Minister warned that a second independence referendum will move closer if the UK government “ignores” Holyrood and presses ahead with plans to trigger Article 50 without effective consultation with the devolved administrations.

The SNP, Greens and Liberal Democrats will all vote against plans to trigger Article 50 at Holyrood today. Labour, in a split with the party south of the Border, will also vote against but has lodged an amendment also calling for a second referendum to be ruled out. Only the Tories will back Article 50.

Although the vote of MSPs has no practical effect, Ms Sturgeon insists it will be a “key test” of Scotland’s place in the UK political process.

“This is one of the most significant votes in the history of the Scottish Parliament since devolution,” the SNP leader said.

“The people of Scotland voted decisively to remain in the EU – and only one of Scotland’s 59 MPs at Westminster has now backed the triggering of Article 50.

“This Holyrood debate is a chance for our national parliament to reaffirm the voice of the people of Scotland and make clear that, as a nation, we oppose the catastrophic hard Brexit now being pursued by the Tories at Westminster.

“It has never been the case that the Scottish Parliament or any of the devolved legislatures had a veto over Brexit – but this vote is far more than symbolic.

“It is a key test of whether Scotland’s voice is being listened to and whether our wishes can be accommodated within the UK process.”

A majority of Scots (62 per cent) voted to remain in the EU in last year’s referendum, but the weight of votes south of the Border swung the result in favour of leave.

Ms Sturgeon has warned that a second vote on independence is now “all but inevitable” after Theresa May set out plans for a so-called “hard Brexit” which would see the UK leave the lucrative EU single market. It would be held within the two-year period it takes for the UK to leave the EU, with the SNP claiming a Yes vote would allow an independent Scotland to remain inside the Brussels bloc. Demands for a stand-alone Scottish deal which would protect single market access look unlikely.

Ms Sturgeon added: “We have been told repeatedly that Scotland is an equal partner in the UK – now is the time for the UK government to match that rhetoric with action.

“If the Scottish Parliament votes against triggering Article 50 and the UK government ignores Holyrood, then people across Scotland will be right to start thinking about how our national interests are best served.”

But the First Minister came under fire from Tory chief whip John Lamont who branded her claims about the significance of the debate as “bizarre”.

He added: “If this debate was so significant, why did she back down from her original plan to seek the parliament’s formal approval for Article 50?

“It also exposes just how detached the SNP has become from the genuine priorities in Scotland. Most people want a government that is focussed on improving education, supporting the NHS, and backing a growing economy. Yet for the First Minister the most significant issue in her in-box is to use Brexit to manufacture a case for independence.”

Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has said that although Scottish Labour accepts the UK is leaving the EU, it does not accept the terms currently being proposed by Theresa May.

Labour has tabled an amendment to the government’s motion on article 50, calling on the Nationalists not to use Brexit as an excuse for a second independence referendum.

“The UK is leaving the EU – that is not in doubt. What is in doubt is the terms on which we are leaving,” Ms Dugdale said.

“Scottish Labour respects the result of the UK-wide referendum on the EU, but we also know the people of Scotland did not vote for Theresa May’s hard Brexit and that no-one voted to become poorer.”

But the Labour leader also pointed to export figures last month which showed that UK trade is four times as lucrative as the EU single market to Scotland.

She added: “While I will continue to argue that Brexit is bad for Scotland’s economy, the SNP government’s own figures show that independence would be considerably worse.”

A spokesman for the UK government said Scotland’s 59 MPs at Westminster will scrutinise and vote on the Article 50 legislation which relates to reserved matters under the devolution settlement.

“The Scottish Parliament is free to debate any issue it chooses, and indeed has discussed Brexit on many occasions,” he added.

“The UK government will continue our engagement with the Scottish Government and with people and groups across Scotland as we prepare to leave the EU to secure the best deal for Scotland and the UK.”

The Liberal Democrats will vote against the triggering of Article 50 unless a second referendum is held on the final deal on the UK’s departure.

Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “As we have done in parliament we will vote against the triggering of Article 50 unless a Brexit deal referendum is promised. It’s a shame that Labour has given up on Europe leaving Liberal Democrats the only party that is for keeping Scotland in the UK and the UK in the EU.

“However the First Minister must not use the reckless nationalism of the Tories to benefit her own brand of nationalism which will only compound the chaos of Brexit further. Instead of giving up on the UK the SNP should join our efforts of keeping the UK in the EU.”