Boris Johnson has dismissed Nicola Sturgeon’s request for Scotland to have its own visa and immigration strategy, branding the plan “fanciful and deranged”.
The first minister unveiled the proposal on Monday, saying Scotland needed a “tailored” approach to offset the country’s ageing population, falling birth rate and the impact of Brexit.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackord pressed the issue with Mr Johnson at prime minister’s questions this afternoon, claiming a Scottish visa would “grow our economy and protect public services”.
The prime minister scoffed at the idea, however, saying: “I think the idea of having a Scottish only visa, with border at Berwick and inspection posts, I think it is absolutely fanciful and deranged.”
Mr Blackford hit back, saying the response illustrated that “the prime minister doesn’t have a clue” about the policy.
Scottish ministers say greater inward migration is needed to boost Scotland’s working-age population in particular, and that an end to freedom of movement could threaten this.
Mr Blackford added: “The Scottish Government’s proposals will boost Scotland’s population, grow our economy and protect public services. The UK Government’s policies threaten to plunge our working age population into decline.”
Mr Johnson responded: “We will have exactly such a thing, we will have a points-based system that will deliver the immigration this whole country needs.”
He added: “The way to boost the population of Scotland is not to have a Scottish government that taxes the population of Scotland to oblivion and that fails to deliver results in their schools.
“The SNP have not had a debate in their Parliament on education for two years, what are they debating today? Whether or not to fly the EU flag. They should get on with the day job.”
The jibe came as MSPs prepared themselves to vote on whether to keep the European flag flying at Holyrood after the UK leaves the EU on Friday.
The parliament’s corporate body management group had decided to take the flag down at the moment of Brexit, but the Scottish Government has pushed for a vote in the chamber, citing the 62% Remain vote north of the border.
Analysis: SNP’s House of Commons guerrilla war continues
The Union remains intact, but the cracks seem to be growing and showing more with each session of PMQs, writes Daniel O’Donoghue.
With the Labour leadership campaign rumbling on, Jeremy Corbyn’s weekly turn at the despatch box has become something of an irrelevance.
His questions today ranged from climate change to Saudi arms sales to the prime minister’s relationship with Donald Trump, none of which landed a blow.
The SNP meanwhile, which billed itself as “the real opposition” in Westminster after the election, continues to do a much better job at making Mr Johnson squirm.
The 47-strong nationalist contingent succeeded once again this week in securing several backbench questions, all united around one issue – immigration.
SNP MP Carol Monaghan kicks off #PMQs by asking Boris Johnson to devolve immigration powers to Holyrood so that ‘Scotland can be that beacon of hope’ to unaccompanied child refugees across the world
— Dan O'Donoghue (@MrDanDonoghue) January 29, 2020
MPs Carol Monaghan, Angela Crawley, Patrick Grady, Owen Thompson, and Ronnie Cowan took turns in noting how Mr Johnson’s policy would damage the care sector, entertainment sector and the food and drink industry.
The group echoed and magnified leader Ian Blackford’s main argument about the need for a Scottish visa and left Mr Johnson struggling to come back with a coherent response.
On the final SNP attack, the prime minister could say little else than to direct the concerns to the home secretary.
Expect plenty more of these coordinated strikes from the SNP in the coming weeks.