FM urges clarity on talks
Sturgeon takes Brexit concerns to Barnier in Brussels
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon met the EU’s Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels today to stress her concerns for Scotland in the Brexit process.
Ms Sturgeon again urged the UK Government to “engage properly” with the devolved governments and to stay inside the Customs Union and Single Market.
She told Mr Barnier these offer the best possible outcome from Brexit, short of continuing EU membership.
Ms Sturgeon was not able to negotiate any terms with Mr Barnier as this is a UK matter, but the meeting allowed her to take her case to the Brussels top table and to get a clear indication from the Brussels side on how the EU-UK talks are proceeding.
She said afterwards that they held a “constructive and positive discussion” and emphasised her “strong view” that “time is running out for the UK” to strike a deal over Brexit.
Ms Sturgeon added: “The clock is ticking and the longer it takes for the UK to reach a sensible position, the greater the risk of a no deal outcome to this which is in absolutely nobody’s interest.
“I don’t think there’s support for it in the UK and there’s certainly no preparedness for it in the UK so sooner or later reality is going to bite for the UK government and my view is that we should try to make that sooner rather than later.”
The meeting comes a week after Mr Barnier spoke in Lisbon when he accused the UK negotiating team of playing “hide-and-seek” by refusing to spell out exactly what it wants.
The First Minister today hosted a round table with members of the business community in Brussels before she formally opened the expanded Scotland House – part of the Scottish Government’s network of hubs across Europe with offices now in London, Dublin, Berlin and soon to open in Paris.
She said: “People and businesses are desperate for clarity on Brexit, but with just months to go before the withdrawal agreement has to be signed the UK Government still cannot agree a position.
“This damaging uncertainty could come to an immediate end if only the UK Government would put jobs and living standards first and agree to continuing Single Market and Customs Union membership – for Scotland and the whole of the UK.
“Whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, we are committed to continuing our collaboration, our friendship and our partnership with other European countries.
“Increasing our presence across the EU is a significant part of maintaining those relationships and the newly expanded Scotland House has a major part to play in representing Scotland across the whole of the EU.”
Her visit drew criticism from opposition parties who said Ms Sturgeon should see the complications of splitting the UK from the EU as a warning for her own independence ambitions.
Labour Brexit spokesman Neil Findlay said: “The timing of this,on the back of the SNP’s cuts commission, is unfortunate for the First Minister.
“Brexit simply shows how difficult it is to leave a political union – even one less integrated than the UK.”
Tory constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins said Ms Sturgeon, during an interview, had talked down the importance of the UK market, claiming the European single market was “eight times the size of the UK market”.
Mr Tomkins said: “It’s plainly misleading to talk of the European single market in this way.
“The SNP government’s own figures prove that the importance of the UK single market – the very one the nationalists want to destroy – is four times more important than the EU.
“It’s becoming ever more obvious that Nicola Sturgeon wants to create a political crisis to justify her continued push for independence. Instead of acting in Scotland’s best interests, the SNP is acting according to their own narrow political agenda.”
Responding to news the First Minister distanced herself from the findings of the Growth Commission by referring to them as just “a set of recommendations”, Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie said: “This could be the biggest climb-down since the Grand Old Duke of York.
“The Growth Commission was supposed to be a game changer and the SNP’s best shot at convincing the majority of people they had learned the lessons of the last independence referendum. Yet it’s taken all of three days for the First Minister to brush it off. All this report has really done is divide the nationalist movement.
“There’s plenty going on at home that warrants the government’s attention. We’ve seen the chaos that comes with Brexit, let’s learn that lesson and give independence a wide berth.”