Gulf widens over EU talks
Russell warns of deadlock as May offers Brexit deal
Scotland’s Brexit minister Michael Russell has warned of constitutional deadlock over the UK’s handling of the Brexit negotiations.
Following the third meeting involving ministers from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, Mr Russell accused Prime Minister Theresa May of showing contempt for the devolved nations.
The Scottish Government’s paper on ‘Scotland’s place in Europe’ was among the documents discussed.
Mrs May claimed she was open to consider Scottish concerns. In a newspaper article she said: “From the start I’ve been determined that the Scottish government should be fully engaged in the process and my commitment remains absolute.
“I welcome the Scottish government’s paper.
“Today we shall seek to understand more about its proposals and press on with sharing information and views, and we will continue to do so in a series of further meetings before our formal negotiations with the EU begin.”
She repeated her opposition to Scottish independence, but on the rights of EU citizens living in Scotland, she expressed optimism that a deal would be reached.
Mrs May added: “We want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Scotland and the rights of Scots in other member states as quickly as we can.
“I am ready to strike such a deal right now and many EU leaders agree.
“But I want no-one to be in any doubt that it remains an important priority to resolve this – because it is the right and fair thing to do.”
The Scottish government said it accepted there would be one deal over exit from Europe, but within that it wanted to see a “differentiated approach” for Scotland.
Mr Russell said after the ministerial meeting: “It was a difficult morning. On the positive side, we were able to take forward the Scottish paper and have an agreement that the options that remain, and that paper would be taken forward by technical discussion and by bi-lateral discussion.
“But overall its very concerning. The prime minister’s speech this week was the wrong thing to say at the wrong time.
“I think it’s fair to say that at least in great part the other administrations [of the United Kingdom] were very concerned that she had pre-empted this meeting.”
He accused Mrs May of showing “contempt” for pro-EU voters in Scotland by rejected any plan that creates internal barriers to trade within the UK.
However, Scottish Secretary David Mundell (above) said the UK government had not ruled out what the Scottish government had proposed.
He said: “If there is evidence that, for some reason, there should be a differentiated Scottish arrangement, then of course that will be properly looked at and considered.
“But at the moment I don’t have any evidence to suggest that Scotland would benefit from a differentiated arrangement from the rest of the UK.
“If we can get that access to the single market, without barriers and without tariffs, then that’s exactly what Scotland’s businesses are looking for. That’s what Scotland’s economy needs.”
He added: “That’s why we should, in my view, all come together and focus on achieving that outcome for the United Kingdom.”
Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis (below) said the proposals in the Scottish paper were an ‘important contribution’ to the process, but he emphasised that further questions needed to be answered about their practical implications and delivery.
The committee also looked forward to receiving a paper from the Welsh Government.
Mr Davis said the UK Government was determined to form a strategy that is in the best interests for the whole of the UK.
He said: “As the Prime Minister made clear in her speech, Brexit is a chance for us to build a stronger UK and strengthen the Union between our four nations.
“It is only by us coming together that we can fully grasp the opportunities that our departure presents. We will use the latest thinking and analysis shared at today’s meeting to inform our work to deliver an exit that works for the whole of the UK.”
The Great Repeal Bill, which will reverse the 1970s legislation ushering the UK into the EU, was a further point of conversation.
“We are working with the devolved administrations to ensure that the Bill delivers maximum legal certainty across the UK,” said Mr Davis.
“The Government will ensure that when powers are repatriated from Brussels back to Britain, the right powers are returned to Westminster, and the right powers are passed to the devolved administrations, so no new barriers to living and doing business within our own Union are created.
“That means maintaining the necessary common standards and frameworks for our own domestic market, empowering the UK as an open, trading nation to strike the best trade deals around the world, and protecting the common resources of our islands.”
Also on the agenda was a paper from the Northern Ireland Executive on market access.
Discussions at the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) will be continued at the Joint Ministerial Committee (Plenary) later this month.
The committee has been established to allow the devolved administrations to input into the UK’s negotiating position, ahead of triggering Article 50 by the end of March.
The UK Government is also engaging with the devolved administrations at official level, in addition to the regular meetings and open channels of communication at ministerial level.