Swinney blasts Labour and Tories for refusing to consider rejoining EU

The SNP leader spoke out in a speech eight years after the result of the UK’s referendum on membership of the European Union was announced.

Scottish First Minister John Swinney appealed to voters to back his party if they believed Brexit was a ‘mistake’
Scottish First Minister John Swinney appealed to voters to back his party if they believed Brexit was a ‘mistake’ (Jane Barlow/PA)

The Tories and Labour have both “turned their back on Scotland’s interest” by refusing to consider rejoining the European Union, Scotland’s First Minister John Swinney has insisted.

The SNP leader used a campaign speech in Aberdeen to hit out at the “truly disastrous outcome” the Brexit referendum has had on Scotland.

He highlighted the impact that the ending of the freedom of movement had had on businesses and the economy, with Mr Swinney saying: “You can’t be a party of Brexit and a party of growth.”

Speaking at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Mr Swinney insisted: “As First Minister, I cannot sit back and accept the damage of Brexit that Labour will continue to impose.

“That will hurt too many people, it will hurt public services and it will hurt businesses.”

Leaving the EU has cost Scotland £2.3 billion in public revenue, Mr Swinney said – arguing that a “conservative estimate” suggested there was now about £1.6 billion less to spend on the NHS and other public services as a result.

He added: “To put that into context, £1.6 billion is the equivalent of more than one in six of our NHS staff.”

Mr Swinney said that “given the damage that Brexit has caused, it is absolutely astonishing that none of the Westminster parties are interested in repairing that damage” –  warning Scots that backing either  Labour or the Conservatives next week would be “a vote for continued Brexit damage”.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves confirmed Labour would not seek to take the UK back into the European Union,
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves confirmed Labour would not seek to take the UK back into the European Union, (Lucy North/PA)

Arguing that “the Westminster parties have turned their back on Scotland’s interests”, Mr Swinney was clear that “Scotland’s interests lie firmly in being part of the European Union”.

His comments came eight years on from the result of the UK’s referendum on EU membership being declared – with the UK voting narrowly to leave, while Scotland overwhelmingly backed remain.

He urged Scots to back his party if they believe “Brexit was a mistake”.

Adding that independence was now the only way Scotland would “ever regain the benefits of EU membership”, Mr Swinney insisted the referendum had showed that Scotland “simply does not matter to the Westminster establishment”.

The referendum result “demonstrated that the UK is not a partnership of equal nations”, the SNP leader stated.

He added: “The fact that Scotland voted to remain ultimately mattered not one jot to Westminster.

“That’s not equality – it’s a know your place attitude.”

The First Minister continued: “While yesterday was the anniversary of the Brexit vote, today is the anniversary of people in Scotland waking up to the new reality.

“The reality not just that we were about to be dragged out of the EU against our will.

“But the reality that Scotland’s voice simply does not matter to the Westminster establishment.”

Mr Swinney went on: “The myth of the union of equals was extinguished for so many people across Scotland on this day eight years ago.

“And, while some time may have passed, nothing has changed.

“Scotland’s voice is still ignored and our democratic choices are still disrespected.”

Labour’s shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, who was campaigning in Scotland, said while the party would not be “revisiting” the Brexit decision, the party wanted a closer relationship with the EU.

She stated: “This question of our membership is a settled one, and Labour will not be taking the UK back into the single market, the customs union or bringing back free movement of Labour.”

Ms Reeves insisted: “It is almost a decade since people voted to leave the European Union, and an incoming Labour government would not be revisiting those decisions.

“But we do want to forge a closer relationship to make it easier for Great British businesses, great Scottish businesses to export.

“We want a reset of our relationship with our friends and partners in the European Union, we think that is in the UK’s national interest to do so.”

Responding to Mr Swinney’s speech, Willie Rennie MSP said: “The SNP’s support for the EU has always been skin deep. They spent more money trying to win the Shetland by-election than they did on the EU referendum. If they thought ditching their support for EU membership would hasten independence they would change their position in an instant.

“If they ever succeeded in breaking up the UK, Scotland would be trapped outside both the UK and the EU at vast cost.

“Liberal Democrats have always been the most passionate advocates of close ties with our European neighbours.

“There is no realistic prospect of rejoining the EU as a result of this election but we can start the process of rebuilding our broken relationship with Europe by following the steps that the Lib Dems are setting out such as cooperation on defence, security and crime, deepening our trading relationship and seeking to join the Single Market.”