FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon criticised over collapsed Chinese trade deal

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon
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Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to stop blaming “everyone else” for the collapse of a controversial trade deal with Chinese firms.

At First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon was tackled over the cancellation of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which the Scottish Government had signed with SinoFortune and China Railway No3 Engineering Group (CR3).

Picture: TSPL

Picture: TSPL

The MoU came under the spotlight when it emerged that CR3 parent company China Railway Group Limited (CRG) had been hit by corruption allegations which resulted in Norway’s oil fund blacklisting the firm.

Recently it emerged that an email had been sent to the Scottish Government by SinoFortune and CR3 back in August indicating they had withdrawn from the MoU.

At Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would continue to try and attract Chinese investment as well as investors from other counties.

She said ministers had not initially taken the email from the Chinese firms as a cancellation of the MoU, saying it “did not commit us to any particular investment but it did commit us to exploring opportunities for such investment”.

She told MSPs that the Government was made aware in August “that due to the political climate our partners in that memorandum of understanding felt that they could not proceed at this time”.

She added: “We did not take that as a cancellation of the memorandum of understanding, we remained committed then as we remain committed now to pursuing all opportunities for investment.”

Sturgeon added: “I and the Government will reflect on lessons that we need to learn from the experience. That is important, and I accept responsibility for that. However, we have an Opposition that demanded the cancellation of the memorandum of understanding and had a hysterical, over-the-top reaction to the memorandum of understanding.

“Yes, I take responsibility for learning lessons, but I really think that the Opposition also has to reflect on its behaviour, which led to a political climate in which the partners felt that they could not proceed. Perhaps if we all do that, we might be in a better position in the future.”

But Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “This entire saga is embarrassing, it is embarrassing for the government and I think it is embarrassing for our country, Because if we spell out what was at stake here - or what we’re now told was at stake here because it was hidden at the time - it was £10 billion that could have been invested in housing and transport, and that’s exactly the kind of investment you would expect the Scottish Government to pull out all the stops to secure.”

Ms Davidson added: “Rather than blaming us, or blaming Brexit, or blaming the weather, will the First Minister remove the shroud of secrecy from deals like these and be straight with the Scottish people?”

The First Minister replied saying: “To talk about a shroud of secrecy when her party is refusing to publish details of the commitments that have been given to Nissan, frankly, is double standards on stilts.”

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also attacked the First Minister, saying that “surely she is responsible for the collapse of this and nobody else”.