Scotland politics

Sir Tom Hunter: Politicians 'have let us down' on Brexit

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Media captionSir Tom Hunter: "Is there any politician who can hold their head up through this [Brexit] process? You have let us all down."

One of Scotland's richest men has accused politicians of letting down the country as he called for another referendum to be held on Brexit.

Sir Tom Hunter said voters had been lied to by the Leave campaign during the EU referendum in 2016.

They had therefore made their decision without knowing the facts about what Brexit would mean, he added.

The entrepreneur also said he believed there should be another referendum on independence - but "not now".

Sir Tom was speaking on the first episode of BBC Scotland's Debate Night programme, which also featured Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, Labour MSP Monica Lennon and poet and author Jenny Lindsay.

The programme was being recorded as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn confirmed his party would join the SNP and Liberal Democrats at Westminster in backing calls for another EU referendum - a so-called People's Vote - after his alternative Brexit plan was again defeated in the Commons.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said holding another vote on Brexit would be a betrayal of the democratic decision made by the public in 2015.

MPs voted to endorse Mrs May's Brexit strategy on Wednesday evening - but only after she made a series of concessions.

Responding to a question from the audience about whether the UK would ever actually leave the EU, Sir Tom said he did not know - but that he did know the rest of the world is "laughing at us" as "this is no way to run a country".

He said: "What I would like to see is a People's Vote. I don't think it's the perfect answer, but there are no perfect answers here.

"I know the arguments against it and I respect those arguments, but I make decisions based on some facts and we had very few facts (ahead of the referendum) and the facts that did come we were lied to."

Image copyright Martin Shields

Sir Tom said the other 27 EU countries had "stuck together and slapped us about" while the Conservatives were "ripping each other's throats" and some Labour MPs were quitting the party to join the new Independent Group in the Commons.

He added: "Is there any politician who can hold their head up through this process? You have let us all down, and we are going to have to pay."

Sir Tom went on to contrast the Brexit debate with the "grown up debate in Scotland" ahead of the independence referendum in 2014.

He said: "I think there should be another independence referendum in Scotland, just not now.

"Just look at the chaos we are in just now and I don't think even John (Swinney) would want to pile more chaos on top of that. We need to see what happens here and then have a debate."

Independence referendum

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in January she would set out her plans for a second independence referendum "in the coming weeks" even if the UK's departure from the EU is delayed beyond 29 March.

Her deputy, Mr Swinney, told the audience: "We have said that we would wait until there was clarity on Brexit. I don't think anybody could say we have got clarity on Brexit."

Like Sir Tom, Mr Swinney said he now did not know if the UK was ever going to leave the EU - which "makes me feel more optimistic about this process than I have felt for a long time".

He added: "If I had been on this programme maybe a couple of weeks ago, I would have said yes, inevitably we are going to leave and we are going to leave in a hard no-deal Brexit and that would be a calamity.

"I hope in the period that now unfolds we have the opportunity to establish a different route through this.

"Inevitably, by necessity, we have to revoke Article 50 to give us time to establish what is the best way to proceed.

"I happen to favour a People's Vote, which enables the public to decide upon these particular issues."

Labour MSP Monica Lennon said it was not looking possible for a Brexit deal to be agreed before 29 March, and that an extension now seemed inevitable - with Labour backing another referendum in order to avoid leaving without a deal.

But Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser warned that the country's political institutions were increasingly distrusted by people, and it would therefore be "fundamentally dangerous" for politicians to in effect tell voters they had made the wrong decision in 2015.

And he said he remained confident that the country would leave the EU "because that is what the people of the United Kingdom voted for".

What is Debate Night?

  • The hour-long programme sees members of the public put their questions to a panel of politicians and other public figures on the big issues affecting Scotland and the rest of the world.
  • The programme is hosted by Stephen Jardine, and is produced for BBC Scotland by Mentorn Scotland, makers of Question Time.
  • It is broadcast on the new BBC Scotland channel at 22:45 on Wednesday nights, and will also be available on iPlayer.

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