Scotland’s Brexit escape chute is not independence – Willie Rennie

There is a way to escape the Brexit chaos that does not involve Scottish independence, writes Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie.

Former Labour MP Luciana Berger  seen with Jo Swinson, in yellow  is one of a number of MPs who have joined the Lib Dems because of Brexit (Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA)
Former Labour MP Luciana Berger  seen with Jo Swinson, in yellow  is one of a number of MPs who have joined the Lib Dems because of Brexit (Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA)

With royal assent now secured on the bill to extend Article 50 and rule out a no-deal Brexit, we need to move quickly onto stopping Brexit altogether.

The Liberal Democrat escape chute from Brexit is gaining momentum. Politics in the UK is reorganising itself on new lines – Leave/Remain, open/closed, nationalist/internationalist – so it’s no surprise that support for the Liberal Democrats as an open, internationalist and remain party is growing, with defectors like Luciana Berger, Angela Smith and Sarah Wollaston joining us, election wins and a growing membership.

It is a movement of hope that can win in every part of the UK. My message to those Remainers thinking of backing independence is simple. Believe. Have hope. There is another way.

We can keep Scotland in the UK and the UK in Europe. We have a simple message: we can make the chaos stop.

Yet the threat of a no-deal Brexit is not entirely gone yet. We have a Prime Minister who believes the only way to prove he has delivered Brexit is to sever all ties with our neighbours with one sweep of the sword.

He and his advisors will use every trick in the book to try to thwart the will of parliament.

Boris Johnson has only himself to blame. He sought to portray Theresa May’s deal or any sort of compromise as a sell-out of the referendum result and a surrender to Europe. Now he has nowhere to go but to pursue a no-deal Brexit.

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With Boris Johnson so determined to discard our democracy, the Liberal Democrats will keep fighting to prevent a dangerous no-deal, to protect our democracy, and to get us out of this Brexit mess.

It is Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage now who holds the future of the Prime Minister in his hands.

As the guardian of the flame of truth for Brexiteers, he now states that only the expulsion of Conservative moderates and no-deal is good enough for Nigel. And if Boris Johnson does not comply, Nigel will let the dogs off the leash.

So our first challenge is to stop Boris. But the next is to stop Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn is very enthusiastic about stopping no-deal but still wants Brexit. He uses a no-deal Brexit like a crutch, desperately gripping on for dear life in case his confused position falls over.

This is a tussle for the soul of the United Kingdom and he is on the wrong side. Making the case for cutting the ties with our closest neighbours betrays Labour’s internationalist and pro-European tradition.

And in Scotland the Labour position is different but just as farcical. Richard Leonard will campaign to remain in the EU but a Jeremy Corbyn premiership would negotiate to leave. This shows the continuing inability of Scottish Labour to have any influence over the UK leadership – just like it failed to persuade John McDonnell that supporting another independence referendum was a bad idea.

Jeremy Corbyn is more interested in courting Ian Blackford and Nicola Sturgeon than standing up for our partnership across the UK. So Labour cannot be relied upon when it comes to Brexit or independence.

These are not the answers that Scotland needs. Some think independence would allow us to escape Brexit but that’s just not the case.

We need to learn the lessons of Brexit, not repeat them. Independence will simply add to our woes with all the chaos of Brexit multiplied numerous times.

Our ties with Europe are deep and valuable. Our ties in the UK are so much deeper and even more valuable.

Cutting those ties with Europe after 40 years is torture. One can only imagine how tortuous breaking 300-year-old ties would be. And it would be the vulnerable who would suffer most, just like Brexit.

But there is hope. The momentum to stop Brexit is growing with a million people on the streets of London and six million signing up to revoke Brexit.

And those people and more can rely on the Liberal Democrats to speak for them. Jo Swinson is leading the charge for Remain in parliament.

Under her energetic leadership, we can reject the old, chaotic and irresponsible leadership of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.

Scotland should come with us and help us to win this tussle for the soul of these islands.

As this Government continues to decay, the need and urgency to stop Brexit cannot be clearer.

Willie Rennie is the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and MSP for North East Fife