Norway and Canada options 'not workable'
Scotland ‘cannot expect separate Brexit deal’
Scotland cannot expect to be treated as a special case in the negotiations over the Brexit deal, according to a key figure in the single market debate.
Tory MEP Vicky Ford, who chairs the parliament’s Single Market Committee, said there was “no interest” among European leaders – and in some countries “active hostility” – to the idea of “certain parts” of the UK being treated differently to the rest in any new arrangements.
Ms Ford said there were no ‘cut and paste solutions’ for the UK, stating that the Norway, Switzerland and Canada options would not work for Britain.
She it was “time to stop the bickering” and “forge a new national consensus” on Britain’s future relationship with Europe.
Her comments followed those of David Jones, Minister of State for the Department for Exiting the European Union, who said after chairing a meeting of the devolved nations that the best way to get an EU deal that works for everyone across the UK is for all four nations to work together to find common ground.
Ms Ford told a 300-strong audience of actuaries and other guests in Edinburgh – and 200 watching live online – that there was no appetite among European leaders for separate deals with areas of the UK.
She said: “As many of our partners in Europe have stated, there was one UK-wide referendum with a result for the whole country.”
Ms Ford, who is gathering opinions from across the EU, said she was “acutely aware” that a majority of voters in Scotland voted to remain in the EU.
But she said her own Cambridgeshire constituency was deeply divided, with one half voting 70/30 to remain and the other by the same ratio to leave. The issues dividing opinion were “exactly the same” across the UK.
Addressing the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries autumn lecture at the EICC, she said: “Just as I seek to find a new relationship that works for both the north and south of Cambridgeshire I believe we will all be best served if we find a future that works for both north and south of the border.”
Responding to a question about whether she was effectively urging the Scottish government to end its attempts at seeking some sort of Scotland deal, she said: “The issues I hear in Scotland are the same ones being raised across the UK. If there is a specific Scottish issue let us deal with it together.”
Earlier, Scotland’s Lord Advocate James Wolffe said the Scottish Government was not asking for a veto by intervening in the case, but said MSPs were entitled to a vote before the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which starts the two-year process of negotiating the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
In submissions to 11 justices in the UK’s highest court, Mr Wolffe said whether Scotland consented is “a matter of constitutional significance”. He argued EU law provisions would become redundant following withdrawal from the EU with a whole series of effects on Scotland’s devolved legislative powers.
Ms Ford went on to dismantle arguments in favour of an “off the shelf” solution, saying that the UK’s economy is “too diverse” to follow the Norway model; “too big” to have a relationship with the EU like Switzerland; and “too sophisticated” to copy the Canada-style free trade arrangement.
“We cannot cut and paste anyone’s else’s relationship…we need to find a completely new way forward,” she said.
Referring to the recent “scribbled notes” seen being carried by an aide leaving a Downing Street meeting last week, she said: “This is not trying to have our cake and eat it; it is in the interests of many other countries to find a new way as well.”
Ms Ford admitted the single market had its failings, saying its sometimes “top-down, one-sided approach can stifle innovation” and add to costs.
“Furthermore, there are increasing signs that the single market of the future risks being increasingly less free, more protectionist and far less flexible.”
But she said the key pillars of the single market – free movement of people, market access and regulatory control – were currently more “nuanced” than was commonly perceived, which would offer the UK some room for negotiation.
In Belgium, for instance, “it is impossible to move into the country without a well-paid job”. She added that no one in the country can access local services, rent or buy a property without a social security card and they cannot get a social security card unless their employer is paying a contribution into the system.
“In Germany, politicians are in the process of removing benefits for migrant workers until they have been in the country for five years,” she said.
Even those non-EU countries which have access to the single market are not abiding by all of of its requirements. Switzerland is about to introduce new rules so that jobs must be advertised first to local people. Liechtenstein has a cap on annual migration numbers.
Ms Ford said that apart from immigration, a factor which swayed Brexit voters was excessive regulation.
However, she said even some of those who backed Leave, such as Lord Dyson, now want to see common European standards adopted which are seen as fundamental in the pursuit of a barrier-free relationship with the EU.
Ms Ford said “siren voices” were calling on Britain to give up on the single market because of the perceived obstacles.
“Well, to them I say: this is not a time for timidity or feint hearts. We need ambition, confidence and optimism.
“Once Article 50 is triggered and the negotiation starts, we can get down to the real business.
“We all, in the UK and the EU, need to keep calm and negotiate.”
She defended the decision of Mrs May and her team not to disclose “all the hands in their deck”.
Last night MPs voted overwhelmingly 448 to 75 to back Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit timetable for leaving the EU.
Mrs May has come under pressure from MPs, businesses and investors to set out at least a broad picture of how she sees Britain’s future relationship with the EU. She says giving too much away could weaken Britain’s hand in the country’s most important negotiations since World War Two.
However, Ms Ford said negotiators “also need to give enough explanation to shine a light on the pathway for those on the other side of the negotiating table.”
She added: “They will only do that if we all across Britain stop bickering and start giving pragmatic suggestions and practical support.”