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Tory MSP Jamie Greene: Why I backed Brexit and still support it now

Jamie Greene backed Brexit in 2016.

When David Cameron announced the Brexit vote that would eventually end his six-year stint as prime minister, most Scottish Tories fell in line and backed a Remain vote.

Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson was seen by many as one of the stars of the campaign and memorably squared off against Boris Johnson in a heated TV debate.

But not all Tory MSPs backed staying in the EU, with some quietly supporting an exit from the bloc.

While he didn’t join the campaign, Scottish Tory justice spokesman Jamie Greene was one of those who voted for Brexit.

Just over two years since Britain’s EU membership was terminated for good, he still reckons he made the right call.

‘Why I backed Brexit’

Reflecting on the decision, Mr Greene insisted there were “financial and political” benefits to Brexit despite the chaos that engulfed withdrawal negotiations from 2016 onwards.

I didn’t overtly campaign for Brexit.

– Jamie Greene

The Tory MSP believes Scots will benefit from the UK leaving both the Common Fisheries Policy and Common Agricultural Policy.

He said: “It was clear that both were not right for Scotland and never were.

“Even SNP ministers would admit that. There was no way to disaggregate ourselves from those schemes. We’re now able to do what’s right for Scottish farmers.

Jamie Greene said the UK was right to leave the Common Fisheries Policy.

“The Common Fisheries Policy was one of the areas where physically taking access of your waters is beneficial to Scottish fisherman.”

He brushed off heated fishing disputes with France as “argy-bargy” and said: “There’s nothing new about that.”

But SNP minister Mairi Gougeon claimed last week Brexit had not delivered any benefits for rural Scots.

Immigration was a central topic during the 2016 EU vote with senior Tories insisting a vote to Leave would allow them to reduce net migration.

Mr Greene said: “Our needs as a country will change over the years. But I think it’s entirely normal and sensible to control who comes in.”

Bumps in the road

He insisted he has never counted himself among Britain’s most ardent Brexiteers who were certain leaving the EU could be pulled off without any hitches.

“I didn’t overtly campaign for Brexit,” he admits. “I knew it would be tough. Separating ourselves from the EU was never going to easy.”

Businesses in Scotland’s north-east were hit by seasonal worker shortages last year due to Britain tightening immigration rules.

Mr Greene admitted the issue wasn’t “handled well” initially – but insists the UK should not be relying on cheap labour from abroad.

British and EU flags.

He said: “We got so used to this idea of having access of cheap labour. There’s a socialist argument to be made for raising the bar.

“The short-term problem is there’s an immediate need to get seasonal workers in. At first that wasn’t handled well, but there’s been a large push to be more flexible. We have seasonal visas now. But that’s not to say the problem is fixed.”

He added: “There’s no reason we should have to bus people in on flights to pick fruit. You’ve got to make farming and fishing viable career options.

“We’re still going to need people to come in and I still welcome people to come in.”

Farmers and soft fruit firms were plunged back into uncertainty in December as the UK Government refused to confirm whether they would renew the seasonal visa scheme for 2022.

Economic benefits?

Mr Greene brushed off early economic forecasts over Brexit and said: “The end of the world did not happen.”

He insisted Britain’s EU departure will open up new global trading opportunities and said money claimed back from the bloc has helped deliver Westminster’s levelling up agenda.

It comes despite a recent economic survey warning warning Brexit will continue to hit export growth and could lead to increased shipping costs.

Scottish Government analysis previously claimed that the UK’s EU exit could cut over 6% from GDP in years to come.

The doomsayers will always say it’s a disaster.

– Jamie Greene MSP

But Mr Greene insisted Scotland was currently “underperforming” compared to the rest of the UK and blamed the SNP for holding back the economy.

He said: “The doomsayers will always say it’s a disaster. The modelling they were banding around was unreasonable and hasn’t come into pass. We’re seeing the UK economy do pretty well.”

The MSP added that Britain has not yet seen the “full fruition” of benefits he believes will come from Brexit.

But he added: “I do think we’re starting to see the seeds of some of the positives.

“Brexit is boosting Scotland’s ability to trade with the world. These are real meaningful and tangible benefits we weren’t able to see in the past.”

Is the new Brexit bill a ‘power grab’?

Boris Johnson sparked fury among SNP rivals recently as he published his new Brexit Freedoms Bill.

The proposed legislation would see more EU laws brought back to the UK as Britain continues to disentangle itself from the bloc.

But deputy first minister John Swinney accused the Tories of “undermining” devolution while Westminster party chief Ian Blackford said the move was a “power-grab”.

Jamie Greene dismissed SNP claims and blasted the nationalists as “hypocrites” over Brexit.

The Scottish Government should be welcoming these powers.

– Jamie Greene MSP

He said: “All of these rules and regulations and laws all sat in Brussels. The right thing to do is to bring them back to these islands.

“The SNP are hypocrites on this. I’m not sure where they think these laws should sit.

“The Scottish Government should be welcoming these powers. Why on earth do we not welcome that, other than pure and simplistic grievance?”

He added: “They’re welcome to their opinion, but those laws and outdated reforms will come back to the UK and Scottish Government. And it’s about time in my view.”

The pro-union MSP also denied that Brexit would make a vote for independence more likely despite over 60% of voters in Scotland backing the EU in 2016.

He said: “This was a UK-wide referendum. It wasn’t regional or local. Every eligible voter had one vote.

“What’s happened in terms of the narrative has been very depressing.

“Those Leave voters have been wiped off the political slate. It’s a myth that it’s purely a Conservative vote.”

Is the partygate scandal a distraction from Brexit?

Mr Greene joined Douglas Ross and every other Tory MSP north of the border last month in calling for Boris Johnson to quit as prime minister.

The Scottish Conservatives have since been in open rebellion against their Westminster colleagues with the Tory chief refusing to obey their requests.

But Mr Greene doesn’t believe the ongoing partygate scandal undermines Brexit – despite Mr Johnson being a central figure in delivering it.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

He said: “The government is more than one man. There’s a robust and established civil service who do their job well.

“Is some of this distraction? I think it is. I’m sick to the back teeth of talking about No10 parties. We’ve got a lot more work on our hands.

“It’s a frustrating distraction. Which is why we agree it’s for the best that the Prime Minister should move on. That is our principled position.”

“The overarching theme is – we could spent time looking at past what ifs. We have to move forward and that means putting the past behind us.”