So it's April 1st. And we're still in the EU. A short reprieve but a very welcome one. It's difficult to give a concise report on what's happened this month but I'll do my best. On Friday we had another vote on the Prime Minister's Deal. It wasn't a "meaningful" one but one on the Withdrawal Agreement without the Political Declaration. Even with that compromise the result was a resounding defeat for the UK government.
Before I tackle Brexit in more detail, I think it's worth noting that there are still things happening outwith the debate on Europe that should be getting attention. Of particular note is something I've worked hard to see come to fruition. The Scottish Affairs Committee launched an Inquiry on "The Use and Misuse of Drugs in Scotland" earlier this month at Crew 2000 in the constituency. Many of you will know that I have been meeting with local stakeholders over the last year or so to hear their views. So I welcome this inquiry and would urge anyone who feels they can contribute to take part. You can find out more here.
So where to start with Brexit? On the 12th March we had the second so-called meaningful vote. After Geoffrey Cox failed to do the one job Theresa May wanted him to – give a cast iron guarantee on the legal position of the backstop – the vote was only going to go one way. My SNP colleagues and I voted against the deal again and it was defeated 242 – 391.
I made a short video the morning after reflecting on the night before – you can watch it here. What was staggering was the utter arrogance shown by the Prime Minister in the face of that defeat. The government put down a motion for the next day on whether or not to leave without a deal but bizarrely the government expressed no view on it – a state of dysfunction that I’ve never seen before.
So we moved on to debate no deal. It started off as a free vote for the Tory benches (as they were taking no position on it) but it farcically turned into the government whipping their MPs to vote against its own motion. Indeed, the Prime Minister (along with nearly all the Scottish Tory MPs) voted for a no deal Brexit. Utterly shocking. The SNP voted for the motion (to reject leaving the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement) and it was agreed to 321-278.
On Thursday 14th we moved onto votes about extending Article 50. I had my name down to speak in the debate but wasn’t taken so I recorded what I would have said here. There were several amendments - of particular note was one which called for an extension to Article 50 to allow for a public vote on leaving the EU with the option to remain. The SNP have supported this policy for quite a while now and we voted for this amendment. Unfortunately Labour chose to abstain and the motion was defeated 85 - 334. The government motion, unamended, sought for the government to request an extension to Article 50 at the European Council, either a short technical extension if the House approved a Withdrawal Agreement before then, or a much longer extension if no Agreement had been approved. I voted for an extension and the motion was agreed 413 - 202.
The Prime Minister went off to the European Council - not to seek the extension agreed by the House but seeking a short one only. The European Council then took things out of her hands. At the time, I said that I believed Parliament had to take control of the process. We need to seek a long extension – for as long as it takes to allow other possibilities to be formulated. That then allows time for Parliament to discuss and debate all the options (without Theresa May’s red lines) to find a political consensus. Whatever the majority position is in Parliament it should then be put back to the public.
Parliament did just that - last Monday it took control of the process and the order paper. I spoke in that debate and you can watch my contribution here. I also asked the Prime Minister a question during her statement on Monday. Five and a half hours to get to London, bobbed up and down for two hours to ask a 30 second question. And once again I didn't get an answer - watch for yourself here.
Last Wednesday we had a series of indicative votes to look for a consensus on the way forward. This should all have happened years ago. Indeed, the UK government should never have triggered Article 50 without the faintest hint of a plan. It won’t surprise you that I voted for the options that can stop Brexit. These were amendments L (in the name of my colleague Joanna Cherry QC) to revoke Article 50 and Amendment M to have a public vote.
Last Wednesday we also had a debate and vote on the Statutory Instrument to delay the date of Brexit following the agreement with the EU that we would no longer leave on the 29th March. I spoke for the SNP during the debate and you can watch my speech here. I also wrote a column for Edinburgh Evening News which you can read here and for the Times. In all of these I'm clear that we should embrace European elections - for as long as we are part of the EU, we should be represented there. And we should take such elections as a real opportunity to show that public opinion has changed.
Time is running out for many of Edinburgh's small businesses. Today I've written to the Chancellor asking for additional emergency assistance for our hospitality sector through the COVID-19 epidemic.