THE SNP’s Westminster leader is calling for a cross-party alliance to push for an extension to the Brexit transition and prevent the “chilling prospect” of crashing out without a deal.
Ian Blackford said he would be talking to opposition parties in the coming days, with the aim of getting them to join in putting pressure on the UK Government.
He accused the Conservative Government of behaving with the “height of irresponsibility” by not extending talks with the EU in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
One Scottish Tory MP tried to defend the continuation of the Brexit process by comparing it to the “hard deadline” used by the UK Government to reach 100,000 Covid-19 tests – even though it has been accused of artificially inflating the testing figures.
The SNP has called for a two-year extension to Brexit. The deadline for agreeing any extension is June, but the UK Government has said it will not seek one.
Speaking on BBC Good Morning Scotland, Blackford said: “On the back of the health crisis, quite rightly we’ve had to take measures to protect people and that’s meant that we’ve crashed the economy.
“Many people were talking about the UK economy shrinking by 35% as a consequence of that.
“I have to say to the Government it’s the height of irresponsibility to then threaten this second blow to the economy if we’re daft enough to go down the road of a No-Deal Brexit.”
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Blackford gave an example of the impact of the coronavirus lockdown on prawn creel fishermen in Scotland, who are having to rely on Scottish Government support as access to markets in Europe has disappeared.
He added: “That is a foretaste of what could come if we didn’t have the continuance of a favourable trade deal with Europe at the end of this year.
“That is why I am saying to the Government – this is a national emergency, this is a crisis, let’s all of us pull together to get through this and that means accepting the offer that is already there of an extension to the Brexit process, so we don’t have that second hit on the economy.”
Blackford also suggested the Government was pushing ahead with the original Brexit deadlines so they can “blame any economic impact” on the coronavirus crisis, rather than as a result of leaving the EU.
He said he was “specifically asking” all the other opposition parties to join with him to put pressure on the UK Government.
He said: “There was a good level of co-operation across the House in the last parliament and it is important we establish that again.
“It isn’t about trying to rework the arguments we have had over the last few years, is it simply saying let’s make sure we take the time to do this in the right manner.”
David Duguid, Tory MP for Banff and Buchan, said it was “absolutely true” the Covid-19 pandemic would have a “huge effect” on the economy.
But he claimed extending the transition period would “add to the uncertainty”.
He added: “What we need is to keep that hard deadline which will focus efforts.
“We have seen enormous efforts to get these 100,000 tests as a result of having a very ambitious deadline –if we start moving the deadline we are just going to kick the can down the road and we are not going to get anything done.”
On Friday UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the target for coronavirus testing had been reached with a total of 122,347.
It then emerged a third of these were tests sent out and not completed.