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.
This week the Prime Minister and his fellow Brexiters have been busy. Not busy preparing the ground to stop Brexit, or busy preparing for the no deal they claim they want, but very busy blaming everybody else for the what they are about to inflict on us.
Ian Duncan Smith was blaming the establishment and Michael Gove the EU. Obviously, blaming the Irish is the not so subtle background undertone to all of this. The backstop was created to protect the Good Friday Agreement which continues to be a highly successful international treaty that the UK should be supporting.Read more
“I want, and I’m determined that, Scotland will also be the country that helps change the focus of countries and governments across the world to put well-being at the heart of everything that we do. I think we owe that to this generation. I certainly believe we owe that to the next generation and all those that come after us. And if we do that, led here from the country of the Enlightenment, then I think we create a better, healthier, fairer and happier society here at home. And we play our part in Scotland in building a fairer, happier world as well.”
These words were part of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s TED Talk this week (you can see the full talk here: ted.com/...) and we all agree that our focus must remain on this goal. The renewed spectre of a no deal Brexit – and the Johnson government's stance in general – make it increasingly difficult to see how we can achieve this without independence in Europe.Read more
So here we are. Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister of the UK. “Bouffon de la reine” (court jester) was how France’s Liberation described him and that pretty much sums up the reaction in EU capitals.
The congratulation letter from EU President Donald Tusk – the man who implored the UK “please do not waste this time” when the last extension was agreed – was blunt. His two sentence letter ended with “I look forward to meeting you to discuss – in detail – our co-operation.” It reads more like a ‘see me after class’ note from a particularly exasperated teacher, something Mr Johnson was apparently no stranger to while at Eton. You can read it here:
Mr Johnson is remembered with clarity in Brussels from his days as a journalist here. Political Brussels is a bit of a village: people tend to know of, if not know, each other. His reputation precedes him. More recently, as Foreign Secretary, he was back and forth to Brussels for Foreign Affairs Council meetings and was notorious for his erratic participation and not reading his brief.
Be in no doubt, he is universally dismissed as a lightweight even if some are too professional to say so publicly.Read more
This week in Strasbourg, your SNP MEPs backed Dr Ursula von der Leyen for the role of new President of the European Commission. Dr von der Leyen was elected by 383 votes to 327. In her hearing before the SNP's political Group Greens-EFA, the new Commission President proved she has a good understanding of Scottish and UK politics, is a fierce critic of Brexit, and will be an articulate and personable ally in turning Brexit around.
We can do business with Dr von der Leyen and were pleased to support her. She is a bright, credible and articulate woman, and her commitment to a gender balanced College of Commissioners is brilliant news. You can see Alyn’s speech announcing our support here: https://youtu.be/qyW5IHlNQ_4Read more
This week, with our group colleagues, we had the opportunity to question the nominee to be President of the European Commission. In answers to our questions Ursula von der Leyen has shown herself to be exactly in line with Scotland in our efforts to stop Brexit. Crucially she confirmed that not only legally (which we already knew) but also politically we can change our mind right up to the last minute and remain in the EU without consequence:
Yes, the door is open because we want you in. And the political consequences are way harder when it comes the other why round. So as we have said we want you in. We are prepared for whatever happens but if we are to choose we want you in.
There are of course a lot of issues facing the EU and the world, but we were sent here to stop Brexit. Mrs von der Leyen has confirmed herself as an ally in this, she did her candidacy a lot of good with her clear comments. Indeed, she went further explaining that she was not only a fan of Nicola Sturgeon but also that she knew “first-hand how the debates [in the UK] are. So, respect and good luck.”
There’s a long way to go but we can stop Brexit, and we have friends across the continent who are only too happy to help.Read more
So, the results are in and the European Parliament has a new President in the form of David Sassoli, a MEP from Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party. Sassoli, of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the Parliament will serve for two and a half years, then a MEP from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) will pick up the baton. The S&D is the second-largest group, the EPP the largest, and so the mill-wheel of parliament keeps democracy flowing along.Read more
This week is a turning point for us here in Brussels. After 21 years of service, Ian Hudghton has left the building. He has put in a brilliant shift for Scotland and we know that we will see him in Brussels and out on the campaign trail in Scotland soon.
Meanwhile, the three of us were back to work (twitter.com/...).
Next week, for the first time, an SNP European Group of three MEPs will travel to Strasbourg, and we will be taking part in the opening session of the new parliament. Christian and Aileen will formally become MEPs and the real work begins.
While Brexit takes up all the political bandwidth in the UK, the conversations in Brussels have been focussed on who will be next Presidents of the European Parliament, Council and Commission. These decisions must be made before the legislative process can get up and running and the EU can start to get on with enacting the wishes of the people of Europe.Read more
So we have our answer. After the various rounds of voting we now know that Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt will fight it out for the votes of the Tory party members who will then decide who runs the UK. Both have made crass and inaccurate comparisons of the EU in the past (see telegraph.co.uk... and theguardian.com...). Barring something truly bizarre, it means Boris Johnson will lead the UK and make the next key Brexit decisions.
He will be elected by a Tory party membership that is hell-bent on delivering Brexit no matter what. YouGov polling this week showed that a majority were happy to destroy the UK economy and their own party so long as Brexit was delivered. Indeed, in better news 63% were also happy for Scotland to become independent if it means they get to deliver Brexit. You can read the details here: yougov.co.uk/...Read more
The Tories really look like they might actually do it. Maybe they will actually put Boris Johnson in charge of the UK. Certainly, he came out on top in the first round of voting amongst Tory MPs. It is worth remembering that this is the same Boris Johnson who is reportedly refusing to rule out suspending Parliament to force through a no deal and has reinvented himself more times than any of us can remember. Who knows what he will actually do if put in charge, but Scotland did not choose him.
The contest is not done yet but it is worth highlighting something of interest about the tone of the campaign. Nobody is now defending Brexit.
Indeed, in the recent European elections even the Brexit Party weren’t actually defending Brexit. The narrative has shifted as the false promises of the Leave campaign have been exposed and the Brexiters have tacitly accepted that leaving the European Union is a bad idea but because it is the ‘will of the people’ it must be delivered anyway. From here in Scotland this is particularly galling.
How many times must we vote Remain for the UK Government to pay attention?Read more