As we are still in the midst of a devastating public health crisis, it will probably have escaped the notice of most folk that 1st July marked a critical deadline in the process of the UK leaving the EU. Moving from June to July means that the deadline to request an extension to the Brexit transition period has passed.
The time available for the future relationship negotiations is already relatively short, but these pressures have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 global pandemic.
A one-off extension of up to two years was available to allow more time for the UK and the EU. No such request for extension was made by Boris Johnson though, and we are now beyond the point of no return.
We are in the midst of a pandemic, people are losing their jobs and their livelihoods, and the Tory government at Westminster is pressing ahead with a move that will further damage the Scottish economy already hit hard by the impact of Covid-19.
This opportunity missed came at the same time as Boris Johnson was announcing and underwhelming ‘new deal’ of £5 billion for economic recovery – a shadow of the £80 billion UK spending proposed by the Scottish Government – which will result in no new money for Scotland or the other devolved administrations through Barnett consequentials. It is as if he is the Prime Minister of England only.
And to heap misery onto a week of bungling and obfuscation from the Tories at Westminster, the request from Finance Secretary Kate Forbes for more financial powers for Scotland appears to have been kicked into the long grass by the Treasury. The temporary changes requested include the ability to switch money from the capital budget to day-to-day spending and the flexibility to borrow up to £500 million this year to support the COVID-19 response. However, the Treasury does not seem to want to respond seriously to evidence that the fiscal framework under which the Scottish Government operates is not fit for purpose when it comes to dealing with this scale of economic crisis.
None of these examples of the UK government refusing to engage constructively with the Scottish Government will give any comfort to businesses in Orkney as they start to emerge into a new normal. The impact of lockdown will become clear as businesses make decisions on how or whether to operate as we move through Phase 2 of the route map through and out of the crisis.
Ahead of the Finance Bill returning to Parliament for its remaining stages on Wednesday, the SNP called for the UK government to commit to continuing coronavirus support schemes for as long as the economies and public health of all four UK nations require it.
The SNP has tabled an amendment to the Bill that, if passed, would require the UK government to carry out assessments of the economic impact of withdrawing the coronavirus support schemes. Premature withdrawal of support would put Scotland’s economic recovery at risk.
Stay safe folks.
This is a regular column by SNP MSP Maree Todd. All regional MSPs for the Highlands and Islands have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their personal views.