Scottish Secretary warns no deal Brexit could still happen
"One of our European partners could very well use their veto and we could find ourselves leaving on 31 October” Alister Jack told the Scottish Affairs Committee
Alister Jack has said the UK could still leave the EU on 31 October without a deal if another member state vetoes the Prime Minister’s request for an Article 50 extension, with the Secretary of State for Scotland telling the Scottish Affairs Committee it would be “utterly irresponsible” not to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.
After MPs passed legislation requiring Boris Johnson to request an extension to Article 50 if the Commons does not accept his deal with the EU, Jack used his first appearance in front of the committee as Scottish Secretary to say “We should prepare for no deal because Article 50 usurpes the Benn act, to ask for an extension...one of our European partners could very well use their veto and we could find ourselves leaving on 31 October”.
Jack was joined by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Scotland, Robin Walker, to discuss the relations between the Scottish and UK governments, Brexit negotiations and the development of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
Asked if a no-deal scenario would be a gift to the SNP, Jack said that it would be a “shock” to the UK but that Scottish independence would still be “a difficult argument to sell”.
He said: “If the SNP want to leave the UK, which is worth more than three times more in trade and jobs to Scotland than being a member of the EU, then that’ll be a difficult argument to sell.”
He added: “We’ve already heard the First Minister say there’s a risk of a hard border (between Scotland and England).
“Well, I think that’ll be a very difficult thing to get round - it’s an entirely different situation to Northern Ireland.
“I think the strength of our fisheries and the idea that we go back into the EU and give them back our fishing waters, I think that’s a tough sell as well.
“I think that once we get over the initial shock of leaving then we would then start to sell the benefits of remaining in the United Kingdom.”
The representatives from the Scotland Office were also asked about inter-governmental relations, after a report from the committee found that Westminster-Holyrood relationship is “characterised by mutual distrust” brought on by years of policy divergence, the 2014 independence referendum and now the Brexit process.
Jack said that his department was developing a “package of reforms” aimed at resolving any disputes between the governments, including the possibility of a third-party mediator.
He said that more details of these reforms should be expected by the end of the year.
Asked for details on the UK Government’s proposals for a ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’ to replace EU structural funding after Brexit, Jack said that “it’s still a work in progress.”
Pressed by the chair of the committee, SNP MP Pete Wishart, for examples of how the fund would interact with devolved governments, Jack said: “I think we should discuss that at a future meeting.”
He added: “The devil’s in the details and the details are still being debated.”
But Jack did promise that the UK Government would “respect the devolved administrations” and work “in collaboration” rather than making decisions on spending in areas of Scottish Government responsibility.
Scottish Conservative MP Paul Masterton urged Jack to ensure that the fund would not only be spent in England, saying “that would seem to be a big wasted opportunity to tackle some really big UK wide strategic projects.”
Under Secretary Robin Walker said he agreed. He said: “it couldn’t possibly be an England-only fund; it would be absolutely wrong for it to be.
“But if you look at the impact of EU structural funds across the different parts of the union today it’s clear that whatever replaces them will need to invest across those different parts of the union to a significant degree.
“I don't think there’s any question of it being an England-only fund and that’s something we would be putting very strongly against - if that were, but it’s not something I've ever heard suggested.”