Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has called on the government to rethink its opposition to an extension of trade talks with the EU in light of the coronavirus crisis. Speaking via video in the House of Commons, Mr Carmichael highlighted the economic fragility caused by coronavirus and the risk of further damage if the UK leaves the EU without a trade deal at the end of this year.
Speaking remotely in the House, Mr Carmichael said:
“This morning’s figures on claimant counts show an alarming rise of people in receipt of out of work benefits and we expect that future figures will be still worse. What estimates have the government made on the likely further rise in these figures if at the end of the year we are tackling not just COVID-19 but also a no-deal Brexit?”
Responding for the Government, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove MP, said:
“It is the case that it’s a source of sadness for all of us to see people who want to be at work not at work and of course the fragile nature of the economy of the island communities that he represents is one we seek to protect and we protect it strongly through the power of the Exchequer across this United Kingdom.
“It is the case we believe that outside the EU we will have more freedom to protect people in employment and also we will save some of the money that we would have spent on EU membership.”
Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said:
“We have left the EU but we do not need to compound the harm from coronavirus by crashing out without a trade deal. Even if we do secure a deal against all odds there will be significant disruption that our communities will struggle to respond to. We know this because our communities are already struggling to respond to the coronavirus crisis.
“Over 800,000 people across the UK applied for unemployment support in April, despite the government’s efforts to support the economy. Within the Northern Isles the number seeking support has more than doubled compared to last year. Mr Gove knows that we risk being left with a double whammy of economic harm to our communities when we can least afford it.”
“We face two national crises. One of these, at least, can be negotiated and postponed. To attempt to deal with both crises at once would be to compromise our ability to handle either. The short-term need to protect our communities from further harm must come first.”