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EU stalemate helps Sturgeon pursue real prize

Terry smiling headAt the end of yesterday’s first meeting of the devolved administrations over Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon was quite right to say we were no further forward than before the talks began.

That’s about the sum total of agreement reached at a Downing Street gathering that promised to at least lay down some ground rules.

Ms Sturgeon left looking like she was chewing a wasp and made it clear that nothing had been gained from her trip to London. The frustration at seeming to be walking up the down escalator was evident. If only she could have said what she really thought.

Her demeanour was certainly more aggressive than that of her counterparts who, by contrast, seemed either bewildered or perhaps more conciliatory.

Depending on your point of view Scotland’s First Minister is either admirably wearing her European credentials on her sleeve or is posturing for what she sees as her ultimate prize.

She may have a genuine desire to ensure Scotland is not excluded from Europe’s single market, but her real goal is to get Scotland out of the UK. If that means roughing up the Prime Minister on home turf in order to expose the intransigence of Westminster, then so be it. Downing Street resistance to her demands hands her more ammunition for calling a second vote on independence.

The EU debate provides the perfect arena for playing out the Anglo-Scottish battle. Ms Sturgeon may be digging in her heels and showing some tenacity in demanding control of immigration and international trade, but she must know there is little chance of getting either.

Sturgeon after electionThe prospect of Scotland getting a separate EU deal, however much the First Minister justifies it on democratic grounds, is close to zero. Like it or not, Scotland voted as part of the UK and it is ridiculous to dis-aggregate the vote constituency by constituency and let those who voted Remain to keep their EU ties.

That said, the UK government is playing with fire. It cannot insist on the one hand that it will negotiate “for the whole of the UK” while holding out for a special deal for the City of London. What’s good for the goose…

We are now left in a continued state of limbo. Quite simply, no one has a Scooby what to do. Theresa May insists that the talks are going to plan, and that it would be wrong to show her hand at this stage.

Amid all these talks about doing nothing, the banks are threatening to up sticks and move to Frankfurt or Dublin.

However, that also looks like a bit of Sturgeon-style posturing. They have more to lose than gain by rushing away from the world’s biggest, most mature and stable financial centre in the world.

Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of Big Bang when the City was de-regulated they have more to celebrate in being together, in sharing a common culture, language and scale that they could not easily replicate elsewhere.

At present, the warnings seem to mainly concern the investment banks. The European Commission has hardly taken a liking to their antics so they can only expect a more stringent rules-based system if they move to France or Germany.

Speaking of the two titans of the EU, both are facing elections soon with neither Francois Hollande or Angela Merkel sitting easily in their respective offices. Who’s to say their successors, if they emerge, will not take the Brexit debate down another route?

The players may be reluctant to show all their cards just now, but there is clearly more to play for.

 



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