As FM seeks compromise solution..

Downing St offers little hope of Scots EU deal

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon

Downing Street has again insisted that the Brexit talks will take place on a united front, pouring cold water on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s bid for Scotland to get a separate deal.

Ms Sturgeon says the Scottish Government’s Brexit blueprint represents a ‘significant compromise’ on the part of her administration.

But a Downing Street spokesman said: “We are committed to negotiating a deal that works for the whole of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom voted to leave the EU together and we intend to leave the EU together.

“Our position is a negotiation that sees the UK as a whole exit the EU with a deal that is in the best interests of the whole of UK to trade and operate within the single market.”

The spokesman also made clear Prime Minister Theresa May’s opposition to a second independence referendum.

At the presentation of Scotland’s Place in Europe, the Scottish government’s contribution to the Brexit negotiations, Ms Sturgeon played down independence as a factor.

Instead she has focused on keeping Scotland in the European Single Market, retaining freedom of movement, and equipping the Scottish Parliament with the powers it needs to serve Scotland’s interests post-Brexit.

It is the first detailed plan dealing with the implications of Brexit published by any government to mitigate the economic, social, democratic and cultural risk since the referendum in June.

Scotland’s Place in Europe aims to build as much consensus within Scotland as possible and to unify the country around a clear plan to protect our interests.

Main points:

  • The Scottish Government’s position is that the whole of the UK should remain in the Single Market.
  • Scotland could stay in the Single Market even if the rest of the UK chooses to leave. The paper addresses challenges and solutions: how continued membership of the Single Market could be achieved with Scotland still being part of the UK; the legislative and regulatory requirements; and, financial contributions.
  • Free movement of goods, services and people can continue across the UK, even if Scotland is in the single market, and the rest of the UK is not. There are already a range of differential arrangements in operation within the EU and in relation to the Single Market and the European Customs Union. There is no reason ‘flexible Brexit’ – implied by the UK Government in relation to different sectors of the economy, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar –  cannot be applied to Scotland.
  • The Scottish Parliament needs additional powers to protect the rights that will no longer be underpinned by EU law.  Areas of EU competence that are currently within the Scottish Parliament’s responsibility (such as fishing and agriculture must remain so.  Additional devolution should be considered of repatriated powers that are not currently devolved but which would enable the Scottish parliament to protect key rights (such as employment law), and of a broader range of powers to protect Scotland’s interests and support a differentiated solution (such as power over immigration).

The First Minister said: “The result of the EU referendum means that Scotland is faced with the biggest threat in modern times to our long-term economic well-being.

“A hard Brexit, taking us out of the EU and the Single Market, could have a devastating effect on jobs, investment and standards of living, with research suggesting up to 80,000 jobs lost in Scotland and earnings per head £2,000 lower after a decade.

“Today’s paper from the Scottish Government is aimed at avoiding that outcome. Scotland’s Place in Europe is a set of proposals that are detailed and serious, but given the Scottish Government’s belief that independence within the EU is the best option for Scotland, they are also a significant compromise on our part.

“A material constitutional change has occurred since 2014, and that is why the option of independence must remain on the table – without that option, Scotland would simply have to accept the inevitability of whatever decisions the UK Government makes, no matter how damaging they are to Scotland’s interests. However, independence is not the focus of the paper I am publishing today.

“The proposals are designed to respect Scotland’s voice and protect our national interests, and I expect when the UK Government considers these proposals – as the Prime Minister has committed to do – it demonstrates the same flexibility and willingness to compromise.

“It is important to note the proposals we set out today do not prioritise membership of the EU Single Market over continued free trade across the UK.

“We want the UK Government to make clear when it triggers Article 50 that it intends to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union. If it will not do so, we want the UK Government to seek, as part of its negotiation, a differentiated solution for Scotland as set out here.

“Everything about Brexit will be difficult and unprecedented. The negotiations ahead will be characterised by a need to find practical solutions to a range of complex issues. It is in that spirit that we seek to find solutions that will respect the voice and protect the interests of Scotland.

“The Prime Minister pledged to consider the proposals we brought forward when she came to Scotland in July.

“She repeated that commitment when I spoke to her on the phone yesterday. I hope she honours that commitment in full. The UK Government response to these proposals will tell us all we need to know about whether we are, in reality, a partnership of equals.”

Bryan BuchanBryan Buchan, CEO of Scottish Engineering (right), the support body for the industry in Scotland said: “The First Minister’s “second strand” proposal to devolve business and trade regulations from the UK norm would be totally impractical.

“In the unlikely event that Scotland was allowed to be part of an EU while the rest of the UK had left, our manufacturing sector would literally have to adopt two regulatory systems if they were to continue trading with the UK which is recognised as our largest market.

“It would potentially make the tendering process so complicated that customers in the rest of the UK would probably opt for a more local supplier rather than try to accommodate the established Scottish supply chain.”

Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, welcomed assurances from the Scottish and UK Governments that they will work with each other.

On the immigration issue she offered some support for adopting an existing model.

“We believe there is also a strong case to be made for future flexibility in terms of immigration to Scotland in order to ensure that our aspirations for growth are not limited by a population that is growing slower than that of the UK as a whole. 

“The likes of Quebec already have a degree of flexibility within the overall Canadian immigration system and we believe that there is an economic case to explore similar options within the UK,” she said.

David Watt, executive director, Institute of Directors in Scotland, said: “Scotland will have certain needs and priorities which may differ from other parts of the UK, but equally we recognise England is our largest trading partner and we can’t afford in any way to damage the extremely important trading relationship we have with the rest of the UK. 

“Some of the Scottish Government’s proposals may seem quite difficult to achieve but at least there is some clarity of intent.”

Ruth DavidsonScottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson (right), said: “We all want the best deal for Scotland in the Brexit talks that are to come.

“On this side of the house, we believe that means coming together to negotiate hard in the interests of all of us in the UK  – not throwing up more divisions between us in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. 

“We all want the freest possible trade between the UK and the EU; we all want a deal which allows our firms to continue to operate in the European single market; and we all want a deal which ensures European companies can still do the same here. 

“I am confident that the Scottish Government and UK Government can work together to achieve that.

“However, I have to question many other areas of the SNP Government’s approach from today. 

“On its plan for a separate deal, the First Minister claimed this morning that Scotland could opt to stay in the single market, with the UK out, without damaging UK free trade.

“But many firms – such as the head of Scottish Engineering – are pointing out today, this would mean Scottish manufacturers having to adopt two different regulatory systems in order to trade in the UK – our largest market.

“He says this could mean Scottish firms being ditched for firms elsewhere in the UK. 

‘Can the First Minister explain why this would be in Scotland’s interests?

“And lastly, the First Minister insisted this morning that she wanted to find compromise, and that she is not using it to manoeuvre for independence.

“Yet the paper today declares that one of the reasons the SNP supports membership of the European Single market is because it would – in its words – ‘ease the transition to a full independent Member State.’

“If she really wants compromise, wouldn’t a start be to end all talk of another referendum? Isn’t it time to end the threat of transitioning to something that people in Scotland don’t want – and roundly rejected?”

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