Borders council leader urging Scottish Government to help foot bill for Brexit preparations

2016's EU referendum count at Springwood Park in Kelso.
2016's EU referendum count at Springwood Park in Kelso.

Scottish Borders Council leader Shona Haslam is calling on ministers at Holyrood to hand over cash earmarked for preparations for Britain’s exit from the European Union.

According to figures from the Scottish Conservatives, English local authorities have received £56.5m over the last two years to help them get ready for Brexit but councils this side of the border haven’t been paid a penny.

That’s despite the Scottish Government being handed £37.3m last year and £55m this year by UK ministers to help prepare for leaving the EU.

However, Scottish National Party MSPs, though stopping short of disputing those figures, have hit back, pointing out that it’s the Conservative-led UK Government’s fault that Scotland is being forced out of the EU against its will in the first place.

Tweeddale East councillor Mrs Haslam said: “This is quite unbelievable.

“The SNP Government continues to squirrel away money and not pass it onto those who are actually doing the work.

“As a local authority, we are working incredibly hard to ensure that front-line services are maintained and unaffected by Brexit.

“To hear that financial support has been given to the Scottish Government but it has, again, failed to be passed on is disheartening.”

The council has been working on civil contingency plans in case of potential Brexit-related emergencies, including setting up a task force to monitor events and be ready to deal with any shortages of food, fuel and medicine resulting from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Mrs Haslam’s concerns are being echoed by Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont, a fellow Tory.

He said: “On an almost-daily basis, we hear from the SNP government about the challenges of Brexit, yet incredibly we now know that the Scottish Government hasn’t even spent the money it has been given to prepare for Brexit.

“In England, councils have received nearly £60m, yet the SNP have provided no financial support for our own councils.

“The fact that the SNP are now demanding more money just goes to show they are more interested in manufacturing a grievance than being a responsible government.

“Scottish Borders Council are quite rightly making plans to ensure that as we leave the EU, there is minimal disruption for services and for businesses, and they are doing this without any support from the Scottish Government.”

That accusation has sparked an angry reaction from SNP MSPs including Christine Grahame, however.

The Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP said: “It takes a real brass neck for the Tories to demand the SNP do more to clean up their Brexit mess while Westminster cuts deeper into Scotland’s annual resource budget.

“This shameless stunt by John Lamont to try to pin the catastrophic fallout of Brexit on the SNP is nothing short of embarrassing.

“Even before we have left the EU, Brexit has already left households £1,500 worse off, with the economy at its weakest since 2012.

“Brexit is the Tories’ mess, no one else’s. End of story.

“We are now in the 11th hour. John Lamont and his Tory colleagues in Westminster need to get their heads out of the clouds and extend article 50 immediately for the sake of jobs, businesses and livelihoods across Scotland.”

Borderers voted to remain in the EU by 58% to 42% in 2016’s referendum and Scots overall also came out against Brexit, by 62% to 38%.