Scotland politics

Keith Brown 'sorry' over China investment memo

Keith Brown
Image caption Keith Brown said he was sorry for issues arising for the memorandum of understanding

Scottish Economy Minister Keith Brown has apologised over a collapsed investment pact with two Chinese firms, saying he takes "full responsibility".

The Lib Dems had sought to have Mr Brown formally censured at Holyrood over the deal, which the first minister signed with the companies in 2016.

Concerns were raised by opposition parties about the human rights records and credibility of the firms.

MSPs voted against censuring Mr Brown after he apologised in the chamber.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with SinoFortone and China Railway No. 3 Engineering Group (CR3) at her official Bute House residence in March 2016. It was said to be worth up to £10bn.

Opposition parties raised questions about the firms, after reports China Railway Group had been named in an Amnesty International report on human rights abuses, and had been blacklisted by Norway's national oil fund. The credibility of SinoFortone also came under scrutiny,

Ms Sturgeon stressed that no specific deals had been done, and said due diligence would be carried out before any were.

Image copyright Sinofortone
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon signed the memo at Bute House in March 2016

The Scottish government initially blamed opposition parties for the eventual collapse of the deal, highlighting what they called a "climate of hostility".

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie put forward a motion for debate at Holyrood calling on the Scottish government to "apologise" for the affair and censuring Mr Brown "for failing to exercise basic diligence initially and then subsequently criticising opposition MSPs for raising basic questions".

Mr Rennie told members that "Scotland's reputation has been tarnished".

Referring to the affair being dubbed "the Scottish shambles" in China, he said: "The Scottish shambles was born, and Keith Brown was the midwife."

He was backed by the Conservatives, with Dean Lockhart criticising SNP "incompetence", and Labour, with Richard Leonard saying it was a matter "not merely of good or bad business, but a matter of good government".

'Direct apology'

However Patrick Harvie of the Greens, while critical, said he could be convinced to abstain in the final vote if he heard a "clear, simple and direct apology" from Mr Brown.

The cabinet secretary put forward an amendment removing mention of the censure but including passages regretting concerns arising and "considering and taking account of" them, and he duly apologised to members.

He said: "I take full responsibility for the handling of this MoU, and I am sorry for the issues that have arisen from it."

He said parliament would "learn lessons" and would "only sign investment agreements where appropriate due diligence, including of the human rights records of companies involved, has been undertaken".

In the subsequent votes, Mr Brown's amendment was passed by 63 votes to 55, with three members abstaining, and the motion subsequently passed.

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