UK Government unhelpful over Brexit papers, Holyrood presiding officer says
Ken Macintosh spoke out in the Scottish Parliament about the ‘limited’ manner in which the analysis has been made available to MSPs.
Holyrood’s presiding officer has hit out at the UK Government after it made key Brexit papers available to MSPs in a “limited” and “unhelpful” manner.
Ken Macintosh called on Conservative ministers to reflect on the arrangements in place for Scottish parliamentarians to view the UK Government research.
Leaks from the Department for Exiting the EU (Dexeu) papers indicate Scottish economic growth would be cut under each of the three scenarios examined – a no deal Brexit, if the UK agreed a trade deal, or if it continued to remain in the European single market.
Junior Brexit Minister Robin Walker wrote to Mr Macintosh confirming a confidential reading room at the Scotland Office in Edinburgh had been set up for viewings.
The letter states MSPs can make an appointment to see the documents between 10am and 5pm on Thursday and Friday, with no slots available from 1pm to 2pm.
A UK Government official will be in the room at all times when MSPs are viewing the papers.
Mr Macintosh said he was “not surprised to hear your dismay” when Green MSP Patrick Harvie raised his concerns in the Scottish Parliament’s chamber.
.@patrickharvie raises point of order at Holyrood after UK Gov gave short notice of opportunity for MSPs to view Brexit analysis papers. An insult has become a farce. What is Presiding Officer's response on behalf of Scot Parl? PO agrees arrangements unhelpful.— Scottish Greens (@scotgp) February 8, 2018
Mr Harvie said the material – which comes in the wake of Scottish Government research looking at the impact of Brexit – was being made available on an “extraordinarily limited basis to MSPs to look at in a condition of secrecy”.
He said a “limited” number of MSPs had been able to attend the Scotland Office buildings in Edinburgh’s Melville Crescent on Thursday afternoon, but added: “Many were only given the opportunity to look at even numbered pages, turning what is an insult into a farce.”
Mr Harvie called on the presiding officer to “communicate to the UK government our rejection of this sign of complete contempt”.
Mr Macintosh said he had circulated the letter from Mr Walker to MSPs “as soon as I was aware of it, which was this afternoon at lunchtime following First Minister’s Questions”.
He told Mr Harvie: “I fully understand the concerns that you raise and agree that the arrangements put in place for MSPs to view the documents offer limited opportunity for scrutiny, and further that it is unhelpful to receive such late notice of those proposals.
“I trust that the UK Government will reflect on the arrangements that they have put in place.”
Joan McAlpine, convener of Holyrood’s Europe Committee, tweeted that she was “incredulous and angry” at the arrangements – pointing out the viewings were taking place at a time when MSPs would usually either be at the Parliament or in their constituency.
This shows “total contempt for the Scottish Parliament by Dexeu and Brexit Secretary David Davis”, the SNP MSP said.
Labour’s Brexit spokesman Neil Findlay said: “This is an absolute nonsense, and takes no consideration of MSPs who have constituencies far from Edinburgh – or indeed the fact that Holyrood is sitting at those times on a Thursday.
“This is the shambolic Tory approach to Brexit summed up.”
Leaks from the documents indicate leaving the EU without a trade deal would cut Scottish economic growth by 9%.
Under a UK free trade deal it would be 6% lower and it would drop by 2.5% if the UK remains in the single market, which Prime Minister Theresa May has ruled out.
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “We wanted to give MSPs the opportunity to view the document before recess.
“That’s why, in the letters to the Presiding Officer, we made clear that the reading rooms would be open from Thursday 8 February.
“If MSPs would like to return to review the document at any point (including after recess) they would be very welcome to do so.”