Holyrood and Stormont reject 'disastrous' Brexit trade deal

Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal has been resoundingly rejected by the Scottish and Northern Irish parliaments, as the UK’s devolved nations branded it disastrous and damaging.

Holyrood and Stormont passed motions condemning the deal by large majorities after all three devolved parliaments were hastily recalled from their Christmas recesses to debate the UK government’s last-minute agreement with the EU.

Only the Labour-dominated Welsh Senedd backed the deal after Mark Drakeford, the first minister, said the “thin and disappointing” agreement was at least “a platform on which better arrangements can be negotiated in the future”.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, told Holyrood the trade deal rode roughshod over the wishes of Scotland, which had repeatedly voted against leaving the EU and then called for the UK to remain inside the single market.

The deal betrayed Scotland’s fishing industry and was a “democratic, economic and social calamity” and “disastrous”, she told MSPs. Signalling the Brexit agreement would fuel her party’s push for a second independence referendum in May’s Holyrood elections, she said that it established again that only independence would protect Scotland’s interests.

“The Westminster system is beyond repair,” she said. “We deserve the best deal of all, as an independent European country.”

Scottish Labour endured widespread criticism after it backed Sturgeon’s motion, despite Keir Starmer’s demand that the party back the deal in Westminster and Welsh Labour’s endorsement of it in Cardiff.

Richard Leonard, the Scottish Labour leader, rejected accusations that his party was in disarray, voting different ways in different parliaments.

He said Sturgeon’s carefully worded motion, which was also backed by the Scottish Greens and Scottish Liberal Democrats, focused on Johnson’s failure to properly consult the devolved nations and accepted that a no-deal outcome had to be avoided.

In a small victory for Labour, a large majority of MSPs backed Leonard’s amendment calling for cross-government efforts to improve workers’ rights and fully replace the Erasmus student exchange programme scheme, and for Sturgeon’s government to spend the £300m it has in reserve to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit.

The Holyrood vote was symbolic, rather than legislative. In the Commons vote on Wednesday, which did have legal effect, the SNP joined the Liberal Democrats, all Northern Irish parties that sit in Westminster, the Greens’ one MP and a Labour rebel in voting against.

The bill passed by 521 votes to 73 – a majority of 448.

In Stormont, assembly members lamented the deal as a blow to Northern Ireland but disagreed over the damage and who was responsible.

While the main motion merely “noted” the deal, the chamber voted 49 to 38 in favour of an amendment sponsored by the Social Democratic and Labour party (SDLP) that stated Stormont “rejects” Brexit in line with Northern Ireland’s vote to remain inside the EU in 2016.

There was widespread relief that a no-deal crash out – and the spectre of tariffs – had been avoided but speakers voiced concern at the disappearance of EU funds and the costs to businesses of customs barriers between the region and the rest of the UK. Unionists also expressed anxiety at the constitutional implications of a de facto border down the Irish Sea.

The nationalists of Sinn Féin and the SDLP found common cause with the Ulster Unionists and the non-aligned Alliance in pointing the finger at the Democratic Unionist party (DUP), the only group that had backed the UK’s departure from the EU.

“Those who told businesses their products would be sold in free trade deals around the world are responsible for those businesses now being less well off. So you own it all,” said Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd.

Christopher Stalford of the DUP said other parties had created the sea border by opposing checks on the land border with the Republic of Ireland. “You campaigned for this, you delivered it, you own it – not us,” he said.


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