With now less than 1,000 hours until the date that Brexit is supposed to happen, the UK is dangerously close to the national economic crisis that crashing out of the EU without a deal would undoubtedly cause.
Last week the Prime Minister suffered yet another humiliating defeat in the House of Commons on her plans for Brexit – her 11th defeat on Brexit in just 14 months.
It is worth remembering that this looming national crisis has its roots in a Tory party divide that has never been deeper. But what began as a party dispute now threatens the whole U.K. The Prime Minister and her Cabinet seem willing to pull us all over the Brexit cliff edge just to satisfy Jacob Rees-Mogg and the rest of the hardline, zealot Brexiteers on the Tory backbenches. It is hard to exaggerate how disastrous this would be for all of us.
Last week we saw the latest report on the damage the Tories’ chaotic approach to Brexit has already had on the economy – the Bank of England reported a cost of at least £80 billion, which is equivalent to £800 million a week since the vote in June 2016. To put that in some context, it amounts to nearly double the Scottish Government’s total annual budget.
Let’s also not forget that all of this severe economic damage is happening before Brexit has even come into effect – the so-called ‘Brexit bonus’ we were all promised by the Tories is well and truly bust.
These figures present a stark and deeply worrying illustration of the scale of the damage to come if we leave the EU without a deal.
Let me be absolutely clear about my view – there is no good Brexit. The UK will be worse off by leaving the European Union in every way imaginable – culturally, economically and socially. However the worst outcomes would be leaving without a deal or leaving with the ‘blind’ Brexit that the Prime Minister’s proposed deal represents.
The inability of the U.K government to steer this process in a remotely responsible direction means that the Scottish government has been forced to step up our planning for a ‘no deal’ scenario. Just last week I chaired a meeting of our resilience committee and a special meeting of the Scottish Government Cabinet to focus on how we can best prepare Scotland for the severe consequences that a ‘no deal’ outcome would have for our economy and daily lives.
Normally, the resilience committee meets to discuss planning for bad weather or the impact of terrorist attacks but, on this occasion, we were discussing the possibility of food and medicine shortages – an incredible thing for any prosperous country in peacetime to have to contemplate.
We do not want to be using our resources to plan for such a scenario, especially when it goes against the democratic wishes of Scotland which did not vote to leave the EU. Yet it is the sheer negligent approach to Brexit by the Tory UK government which has led us to this and we must do all we can to mitigate as many impacts as possible.
The impacts of a no-deal would be so wide-ranging that it would be impossible, particularly within the limitations of the Scottish government’s powers, to fully shield Scotland from its negative effects. However we will do absolutely everything we can to ensure we are as prepared as possible and that is our focus – it is the action of a responsible government.
And it is in sharp contrast to the irresponsibility of the U.K government. In the period since the EU referendum the Prime Minister has presided over historic parliamentary defeats and countless Cabinet and ministerial resignations, and she now leads a party that seems to have barely any confidence in her. Despite this, she ploughs on as if nothing has happened – unfortunately, it is the people of the UK who will pay the price of her recklessness.
It does not have to be this way. Theresa May and her government could rule out a no-deal Brexit. The SNP has been arguing for the UK Government to request an extension to Article 50 for some time now, a position that has backing from many others across the House of Commons. It would be the most responsible thing for the UK government to do to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
However as we hurtle towards the 29 March, it is clear that Theresa May’s tactic is to run down the clock in the desperate hope that she can blackmail MPs into backing her disastrous deal. This tactic in itself raises the risk of the UK leaving the EU without a deal by default, or indeed by design.
It is astonishing to think that the person charged with leading the UK is choosing to engage in such irresponsible, reckless game-playing.
It is therefore the responsibility of opposition parties, and indeed pro-EU members of the Conservatives, to stop this calamitous approach and force Theresa May to rule out a no-deal Brexit by extending the Article 50 process.