Scotland in Europe Update: 16th August 2019

So amidst the noise, silly season rumours, and gossip of the summer it is worth stepping back this week and looking at the bigger picture for a moment. Whatever the debates about what the EU should and shouldn’t be doing there has always been one thing at its core: trade.

The EU is one of the world’s largest trading blocs (by some counts the world’s largest, it all depends on how you measure trade). This matters as it means that – in the dog eat dog domain of the World Trade Organization – we stand together, ensuring our voice is heard. The brutal reality is that once you are in Geneva, size and negotiating power are all that matter. The EU delivers for Scotland because it is such a big trading bloc.

You can see this in the deals it is currently negotiating. Now as many of you know, we in the SNP have had our issues with some of the EU’s trade deals, but the reality is they are infinitely better than anything the UK could negotiate alone. Just one example is that earlier this week Australia released the list of geographic protections that the EU is seeking to secure. Guess what? Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb, Scottish farmed Salmon and Scotch Whisky are all on it.

The UK as a comparatively small trading power post Brexit would simply not be able to make such demands without giving away far more. This is why we need to be very careful of warm words that cost other countries nothing. John Bolton, an advisor to President Trump, said the US would “enthusiastically” support a no deal scenario. Indeed, he went further saying that under those circumstances the US would offer a sector by sector trade deal to get the easy parts done swiftly.

The reality would be very different, and what Bolton said is misleading for two reasons. Firstly, the US would enthusiastically welcome a no deal scenario because it would give the US all the power in the negotiations. No country ever condemns something which strengthens its own position.

Secondly, the US would almost certainly not offer any sector by sector deals. The US has never done this before (indeed no country has) and for very good reason. You never agree to the easy parts of a deal without the difficult because it is rare that what is easy for one side is also easy to the other. Why for instance would the US improve the access of UK financial firms to their markets without gaining something somewhere else?

Crucially, approval of any US trade deal would not be just down to Donald Trump’s White House. It would also need to be signed by Congress. There is no way Congress will sign a deal that does not give US farmers access to UK markets. Indeed, right now Trump’s new US, Mexico, Canada deal is facing fierce opposition in Congress and has been frozen for months. One of the main issues it faces relates to dairy farming.

Some lawyers have questioned whether this course of action would be legal at the WTO, even if the UK and US were to agree to pursue it.

Let us be clear: the US will not take this course of action, whatever Bolton says. Nancy Pelosi has reiterated that Congress would not approve any UK trade deal if the Good Friday Agreement is endangered. This is reality: without Congress there is no US trade deal.

A no deal exit from the EU would not result in a sudden and amazing deal with America. Even if the issues relating to the land border on the island of Ireland did not exist, the only way such a deal could be signed is if the UK gave in on everything. This would undermine working standards, the environment, food quality, farming and public sector procurement (including the NHS).

In our darker moments, we wonder if that is not the UK Government’s plan.



The House of Commons Exiting the European Union Committee has released a report on the consequences of no deal for UK businesses. It’s all bad news. For instance for sheep farmers: “meat would face a tariff approaching 50%, bringing the viability of that sector into question.”

“There is a terrible kind of collaboration as it were going on between those who think they can block Brexit in parliament.” These are the words of the UK Prime Minister and they are totally unacceptable.

Alyn’s latest column in the National highlighted the UK’s outrageous immigration policies and mused whether Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and Seema Kennedy would do better than Theresa May and her ministers.

Well, the answer only took a week! Home Secretary Priti Patel is proposing that people should have jobs with a salary of at least £36k a year to move here. As Angus Robertson rightly said in response: “the UK Tory government does not represent Scotland’s values or needs.”

The Institute for Government has written a report explaining the role of the UK Parliament before we leave the EU.

Analysis has shown that the EU has by far the most trade agreements of any trading power around the world.

The Scottish and Welsh Governments have raised concerns about the impact of a no deal Brexit on Erasmus+.

Scottish Government External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop has responded to the news that the UK Government intends to withdraw its diplomats from EU working groups: “The UK Government should not take any decision that would affect our ability to have Scotland’s legitimate interests fully represented while the UK is still a member state and I am seeking your assurance that no such decision has been made.”

Details of UK Government plans for a no deal brexit continue to horrify any casual observer. The latest is that civil servants have been looking at the use of emergency powers by ministers to allow them to bring in curfews, redirect food supplies and even change the law without consulting parliament.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has raised a number of thought-provoking questions about the appointment of the next Governor of the Bank of England. We agree that it is very important that “he or she should not be appointed as a deliverer of EU Exit.”

Around half of UK farms could fail in the event of a no deal brexit according to the People’s Vote Campaign. To be clear, whether farms fail will be entirely the choice of the UK Government. Firstly, they could choose not to deliver a no deal brexit. If they did choose the unthinkable they would then have to choose whether or not to support farmers facing the sudden and crippling costs that would ensue.

The House of Commons has launched an inquiry into the relationship between international trade and the environment.

Finally, Kate Hoey MP has been busy claiming EU founding father Jean Monnet said things that he didn’t.