Read the August edition of my monthly eNewsletter which is dedicated to the EU.
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My usual eMagazine will be back next month. For this month I thought it would be useful to have a special European Union edition following the EU Referendum.
The Leave campaign had no substantive plans for Brexit and the current government have yet to outline its negotiating position for what will be a long and protracted withdrawal process.
This is not an exhaustive list, nor does it offer any specific proposals. It examines some of the issues that have been raised with me by constituents and some of the wider issues.
I will be updating constituents regularly on the EU and the Brexit process. If you would like to be kept up to date just send a blank email with ‘EU Subscribe’ and I’ll add you to the mailing list.
I will also be delivering an EU leaflet to the constituency over the coming weeks with further information.
You can download a copy of the leaflet here.
Where we are
The post referendum analysis has concluded that David Cameron was a lucky politician. He squeaked into power in 2010 on the back of a massive global financial crisis, he was the PM that “won” referenda on the Alternative Vote system and Scottish Independence, and just last year won a completely unforeseen majority. 23 June 2016 was the day David Cameron’s luck finally ran out. He took a gamble on the country’s future to settle an age old score in the Conservative Party. He lost.
So where are we now? Well, there is now huge uncertainty in the economy; the pound has lost about 15% of its value and investment in the UK has sharply declined. Some economists have also stated that the UK is now heading for another recession.
Here, in Edinburgh, I have received many emails from students and academics who are worried about the loss of EU Research and Development funds and the impact on academic collaboration across EU nations. There may also be serious implications for the UK’s financial services sector which I go into in more detail below.
I recently asked the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, what actions the Government would be taking to quell the uncertainty caused by the vote to leave.
What happens now?
As you can imagine I have received hundreds of emails from concerned constituents on Brexit and the process for leaving. The term ‘Article 50’ has gone from an obscure piece of EU law to a mainstream term used in political discourse.
Article 50 is essentially the mechanism by which a country notifies the EU of its intention to withdraw from the European Union. There is no set time by which a government must trigger Article 50, but the new Prime Minister has already ruled out doing it this year and there is speculation it may be delayed further. There is little to zero chance of there being a vote on Article 50 in the House of Commons.
Triggering Article 50 would open withdrawal negotiations between the UK and the European Commission, based on a negotiating mandate drawn up the European Council, without the UK’s participation. The UK would negotiate the terms of its withdrawal with the body appointed to negotiate with the UK, probably the Commission. Crucially the UK would continue to participate in EU activities and decision making during the negotiation period, but would not take part or vote in any European Council discussion concerning its withdrawal. The negotiation period is two years but can be extended subject to agreement from all member states.
So until these negotiations have been completed the UK is still a full member of the European Union and must abide by all laws and treaties. This means that EU nationals will still be able to travel, work and live here, farmers will still be in receipt of EU Common Agricultural Policy subsidies, and workers will be still be covered by EU workplace legislation.
The House of Commons Library recently published an interesting in depth briefing into the Article 50 process which you can read here:http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7632#fullreport
Once Article 50 has been triggered the hard work really begins. The Government must come up with a coherent set of demands and enter into long negotiations with the EU. In the weeks after the referendum Government Ministers were all over the airwaves suggesting different, and contradictory outcomes. Some favoured what has been labelled a ‘hard Brexit’ whilst others advocate the ‘Norway Model’. It is clear that neither the Leave campaign nor the Government made any plans for Brexit. The Government must now come up with a concrete vision of what it aims to achieve through the negotiations whilst protecting the economy.
Some of the options mooted so far:
‘Norway’ option- the UK joins the European Free Trade Association and remains in the European Economic Area. This would safeguard single market access but the UK would have to abide by the EU rules and have no say in decision making process.
This option would mean the UK would have to comply with freedom of movement legislation.
‘Swiss’ option- the UK negotiates a series of separate bilateral trade and other agreements with the EU. This option would mean the UK would not be subject to EU regulation (except on exports) or contribute to most parts of the budget. However, we would still be subject to freedom of movement.
Negotiating bilateral trade deals would also be time consuming and there is doubt as to whether our financial services industry would thrive under these conditions.
‘Anglo-sphere’ option- the UK prioritises building on historic ties with other English speaking nations such as Commonwealth nations like Canada. This has long been the preferred option for many right wing politicians in the UK and further afield.
‘World Trade Organisation’ option- the UK would come under WTO rules. This would mean applying the same level of tariffs on goods and services from wherever they come from, anywhere in the world. WTO rules would be automatically activated if, after 2 years of negotiations, we had not reached a deal with the EU.
You can read more about these different options and what they would involve here: http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7214#fullreport
UK universities currently receive an additional 15% funding from the EU. Our universities are some of the best in the world and for this reason do particularly well out of our relationship with the EU. Most of this spending is in the form of Research and Development grants and is a real concern to many constituents here in Edinburgh who work and study at Edinburgh University, Heriot Watt, and Napier University. I have had the pleasure of seeing how some of this funding is spent on cutting edge projects at both King’s Buildings and at Heriot Watt.
Already projects are being cancelled as academics in other countries are nervous about collaborating with UK institutions. Leaving the EU doesn’t necessarily mean we end up outside the European research network. Norway and Switzerland are part of it, and we may be in the future but the Government have yet to outline its long term plans. In the meantime, the research community across the EU will determine the outcome until it is resolved.
The Chancellor has recently guaranteed Horizon research funding until 2020. This move is of course welcome and I hope it will bring some short term stability, however the Government need to go much further to stave off uncertainty.
I asked the Treasury Minister in the House of Commons if he could guarantee not a penny of Research and Development money would be lost to our crucial University sector. You can watch the full question below:
At the moment, in Scotland, EU students pay £1820 for an undergraduate degree- a cost covered by the Scottish Government. Outside the EU the Scottish Government could potentially change the price meaning they could charge EU students the same as overseas students. This could have several effects including: raising additional revenue and discouraging EU students from coming to Scotland. In the same manner students from Scotland and the UK who choose to study abroad would also lose any benefits from being EU citizens.
The EU underwrites many of the protections we enjoy at work: annual leave, agency worker rights, part-time worker rights, fixed-term worker rights, collective redundancy, paternity, maternity and parental leave, protection of employment upon the transfer of a business and anti-discrimination legislation.
After Brexit negotiations it is essential these rights are protected and enhanced by the UK Government. There is a real risk that a Conservative Government may try to water down these rights and dilute the power of trade unions. However, in order to participate in the EU single market, the UK would have to abide by the EU single market rules.
Financial services make up 7% of Scotland’s economy and an even bigger proportion here in Edinburgh. It supports over 10,000 jobs in Edinburgh South alone. It is therefore vitally important they are safeguarded and that we retain access to the single market. Financial services need to be reassured as quickly as possible as any prolonged uncertainty will harm our economy and risking peoples jobs.
These passages were included in a recent House of Commons Library briefing on the subject:
‘Banks and asset management firms cannot afford to wait. They have to assume the worst case scenario of complete separation with no access to the single market and start the process of relocating legal entities, operations and staff immediately.
In order to future proof their business, banks, asset managers and other market participants will need to have a separately authorised subsidiary with a sufficient management presence inside the EU. Dublin, Frankfurt, Paris and other cities will be vying for that business.’
On the economy more generally it is clear that the vote has caused real uncertainty with business investment grinding to a halt. This take time to manifest in the real economy but many have predicted we could face another recession. No doubt the Conservatives will use this as an opportunity to further slash public spending. Instead we should be investing money in much need infrastructure projects: schools, roads, railways, and sustainable energy.
I raised the issue of uncertainty in the financial services industry in Parliament.
EU nationals who live, work, and study here make a fantastic contribution to our country. I was appalled when, during the Tory leadership election, the Prime Minister refused to guarantee that all EU nationals who were here before the vote would have the right to remain. She has instead disgracefully decided to use them as ‘bargaining chips’ in future negotiations with the EU.
The most significant aspect of the debate on EU nationals is whether or not the UK would seek continued access to the EU’s Single Market, since that is likely to require the continued application of free movement of people law.
I have written to all EU nationals in Edinburgh South to thank them for everything they do and to pledge my commitment to making sure they have a right to remain here.
It is equally true that UK nationals living, working or studying in other EU nations need to have their futures secured.
Fisheries and Agriculture
Possible implications for UK fisheries, based on the views of different stakeholders and evidence from existing non-EU European countries, may include:
- The UK obtaining exclusive national fishing rights up to 200 miles from the coast. However, the UK may trade-off some of these rights in order to obtain access to the EU’s sea area or access to the EU market for fisheries products;
- Impacts on the UK’s ability to negotiate favourable fish quotas for UK fishers with the EU. It is not possible to say whether the UK will be more or less able to obtain satisfactory quotas for fishers;
- The need for a new mechanism to enable the UK to negotiate and agree annual fishing quotas with the EU and other countries;
- The introduction of a UK fisheries management and enforcement system. This in many respects may mirror the existing arrangements for managing fisheries, albeit with additional resources required;
- Restrictions on EU market access for fishery products (depending on the outcome of negotiations) and less influence in discussions on determining EU market rules for fish;
- Less certainty around public funding of support for fishing communities or environmental sustainability; and
- Issues related to possible changes to the protection of the marine environment.
Almost 40% of the EU’s budget is related to agriculture and rural development through the Common Agricultural Policy.
The recent announcement that the Government will cover all Common Agricultural Policy payments up until 2020 is welcome but does not go far enough. There are issues around regulation and rural development that will now become the responsibility of the UK and again, the Government need to flesh out their plans beyond 2020.
Fisheries and agriculture actually present an opportunity for the Scottish Government as well. After all these policy areas will revert to the Scottish Parliament after the Brexit negotiations conclude bolstering the powers of the Scottish Parliament further still.
What does this mean for Scotland?
62% of people in Scotland voted to remain in the EU, and a massive 78% here in South Edinburgh. It is clear that the Scottish people want to retain the benefits of the European Union, the question now is how we achieve that.
I support the attempts by the First Minister to ensure Scotland retains many of the benefits of EU membership- including tariff free access to EU markets. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, but we also voted overwhelmingly to stay in the UK and the First Minister should not be using the EU Referendum vote to run headlong towards another independence referendum.
The people of Scotland voted for both unions and that should be our starting point in any negotiations to preserve Scotland’s status.
The Scottish Government should:
1) Urge the UK Government to accept some variance of the ‘Norway’ option (see negotiations section above). Scotland’s current exports to EU member states are worth 12 billion annually and the ‘Norway’ option would protect this vital trade.
2) Protect public services in Scotland by maintaining the United Kingdom. Scottish Government figures show that an independent Scotland would have such a large budget deficit it would have to a) raise taxes, or b) cut public spending, or a combination of both. The polling and sharing of resources across the UK is therefore vital to ensuring economic prosperity.
3) Think seriously about the new and exciting opportunities that will fall within the remit of the Scottish Parliament. Policy areas such as fisheries, agriculture, and some aspects of environmental policy will become responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament once the Brexit negotiations have been concluded. These policy areas will demand a close and positive working relationships between governments.
I wrote an article for the Edinburgh Evening News in which I go into more detail about the role of the Scottish Government and Scottish Labour’s Brexit Action Plan ideas. You can read the full article here:
I also hosted a Westminster Hall debate on the priorities for Scotland with regards to the Brexit negotiations.
You can read the full text of my speech here.
I was also on BBC Radio Scotland with Stephen Gethins MP ahead of the debate in Westminster Hall.
It is clear that the basis for the narrative around leaving the EU was an extra £350m a week into the NHS and the halting of EU immigration. We now know, and indeed knew at the time, that these are farcical arguments that have now been dismissed by the Leave camp themselves. I also think the Leave campaign portraying the warnings of experts as “scaremongering” now need to look at the reality of what has happened.
However, one of the aspects missing from the post referendum debate is listening to and learning from those that voted Leave. People who voted to leave will not take kindly to their vote been dismissed by politicians. A lot of people are contacting me to say that only 37% of the electorate voted leave whilst 63% either voted to remain or did not vote. Whilst I have some sympathy for this argument the time to decide the rules of the referendum was before it was called, and can’t be changed retrospectively.
However, I think there is merit in looking at a 2nd referendum on the exit deal that is negotiated and that could explicitly allow for the question to be put that we stay in the EU or back the negotiated settlement. That way we would know both the actual consequences of withdrawal and what the future would hold.
New Prime Minister
Of course, one of the most important outcomes of the vote to leave is that former Home Secretary, Theresa May has become Prime Minister. On resuming office she made it clear that Brexit means Brexit and, the next day, proceeded to appoint one of the most Eurosceptic cabinets since the 1980s.
Boris Johnson is Foreign Secretary- representing us on the world stage; the former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, sacked in 2011 for allowing his defence lobbyist friend access to meetings with top generals and diplomats, is now head of a new department focused on international trade; climate change sceptic, Andrea Leadsom is now Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; and prominent Brexitier Priti Patel is now Secretary of State from International Development- a department she has previously supportedabolishing.
Indeed, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, created by the last Labour Government, has now been abolished and the environmental portfolio has been rolled into a new department- the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The word ‘climate’ is not even in the new departmental title which highlights the priorities of this new Tory Government. Not only are we withdrawing from the European Union which legislates for pan-European environmental policy but we are also downgrading our own climate change department. This is very disappointing and sends out a dreadful message to the international community that the UK is downgrading the important issue of climate change and the environment. This after decades of the UK taking the lead in international negotiations.
St John’s Church Choir
Glow Gold September- Child Cancer Awareness
Glow Gold September- childhood cancer awareness campaign aims to get iconic buildings throughout the UK & worldwide to Illuminate in gold during the month of September. With the goal of improving the profile of childhood cancer in line with that of the more well known adult cancers.
You can visit the campaign Facebook page here.
Polwarth Parish Church- Afternoon Tea
You can view the rest of the briefing here.
Americana Sundays @ the Fringe
Eastern Imprint Exhibition
Citizens Advice- Edinburgh South Stats
British Gas Briefing
Letter from HM Passport Office
I was contacted by a constituent concerned about 3rd party websites offering premium services. This is the response I received:
Glass Life Exhibition
I recently visited the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology and saw first-hand some of these fantastic exhibits. Definitely worth a day out to the Botanic Gardens.
The Glass Life Exhibition is running every day until 31 August. The glass exhibition is in the Temperate Glass House which can be accessed for free at the lower level. Access to the upper level is included in the glass house entrance fee. Glass exhibits are on both levels.
Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology will be available between 12.00 noon and 4.00pm, Thursday 25 – Sunday 28 August to talk to people about the glass, what it represents and the research that takes place in the Centre.