David Lidington: Scotland is being represented
Writing exclusively for Holyrood, Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington says Scotish interests will feature at Conservative conference in Birmingham
David Lidington - PA
As the Conservative Party gathers in Birmingham for our annual conference, it is right that – alongside our domestic priorities of housing, healthcare and the environment – the government is clear that the Chequers plan agreed by the Cabinet delivers on the result of the EU referendum, while forging a new deep and special partnership with our EU neighbours.
The Prime Minister has put protecting the precious Union of the four nations of the UK at the heart of her approach to negotiations, and the government is committed to delivering a deal that works for people in all parts of our country.
As Minister for the Cabinet Office, with overall responsibility for the constitution and devolution, I am determined to ensure that the voices of communities all across Scotland are heard as we negotiate our departure, and that we leave the EU as one United Kingdom.
Part of doing that means demonstrating to the Scottish people that their two governments – in Westminster and Holyrood – can work together in the broader interest.
That has meant intensifying the level and frequency of contact between UK and Scottish ministers through the formal intergovernmental structures and ongoing dialogue.
The Joint Committee on EU Negotiations (JMC(EN)) brings together ministers from central and devolved governments to discuss the progress of the UK’s negotiations with the EU and to ensure that we are making the necessary legal and technical preparations for our departure on 29 March 2019.
I have been keen to ramp up the degree of this engagement between Westminster and Holyrood. Earlier this month, I chaired the twelfth meeting of the JMC(EN) – the sixth this year – and agreed with the devolved governments to meet monthly from now on as our preparations for Brexit accelerate further.
In the spring, we established a further layer of cooperation – the Ministerial Forum (EU Negotiations) – to bring more ministers together from all sides. It met for the first time in May at St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh and has held three further meetings, including in Cardiff and London.
As a result, the views of the Scottish Government have been heard throughout our negotiations and I believe it is right that we continue, despite our political differences, to work together in the national interest … both through these forums and through regular ministerial conversations.
But getting the formal intergovernmental cooperation right is only one side and there is of course no single, homogenous ‘Scottish voice’. Since taking on this role in January, I have spent time across Scotland to meet different communities, industries, and businesses to understand how the UK Government can support them to thrive.
In Aberdeen last month, I talked to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation about the opportunities they see once we leave the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy and become an independent coastal state once again, able to negotiate access to UK waters on our own terms.
We have also listened to Scottish businesses, who have been clear about the importance of protecting the internal market of the UK as we leave the EU.
The government has been determined to ensure that businesses can continue to buy and sell across the whole of the UK, and that where we need to ensure consistent standards or product specifications, we maintain the certainty that business needs to avoid harmful divergence that would put at risk the ability for Scottish businesses to sell into England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
At the same time, we will build on our proven track record of delivering more powers to Holyrood, that has seen additional income tax and welfare powers devolved away from Westminster.
After we leave the EU, power will sit closer to the Scottish people than at any stage during our membership. That is because the EU (Withdrawal) Act provides for dozens of powers previously held in Brussels, with no say from the Scottish Government, to pass directly to the Scottish Parliament. It will be MSPs not MEPs taking the final say in a whole range of new areas.
It is now for the Scottish Government to fulfil the promise of the Smith Commission by devolving further powers down to local authorities across Scotland.
In the meantime, the UK Government will continue to invest in supporting growth in all parts of Scotland. Through our Growth Deals we have committed more than £1bn to Scotland’s cities, from Glasgow to Aberdeen, from Stirling & Clackmannanshire to Edinburgh. And with proposals developing for further deals in the Tay Cities, Ayrshire and in the Borderlands, we are determined to help communities unlock investment and growth.
I have also seen the strength that comes through joint working across the UK, whether at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s operations centre in Aberdeen where incidents are monitored, managed and transferred between different hubs across the UK or through our armed forces, with the UK’s world-leading new aircraft carrier, HM Queen Elizabeth, launched from Portsmouth in August, having been assembled on the Forth at Rosyth Dockyard.
Our combined soft power is formidable, too. When I was last in Scotland, I was able to spend two days around the Edinburgh Festival, where I was reminded of the international reach and cultural impact of the festivals.
While they are rightly a sense of pride for people in Edinburgh and Scotland more widely, I believe the festivals are also one of the great soft power assets for the whole of the UK, demonstrating openness, diversity and creativity on a global scale to the many thousands of visitors who travel from around the world.
As our departure from the EU approaches, the UK Government is committed to listening to and working with Scottish business, industry and civil society to deliver a deal that works for everyone throughout the UK, to maintain our investment in growth and innovation in cities and regions across Scotland, and to harness the opportunity that comes from our collective strength and innovation.
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