Europe proposals a genuine attempt to unify the country – Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon has published detailed proposals to keep Scotland in the European single market, stating they are a “serious and genuine attempt” to “unify the country around a clear plan”.
The options outlined in the paper – Scotland’s Place in Europe – represent a “significant compromise” on the part of the Scottish Government, the First Minister said.
“I hope and expect that the UK Government in considering these proposals will demonstrate the same flexibility and willingness to compromise,” she said.
A Downing Street spokesman said the UK Government would “look closely” at the paper.
Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems warned against it being used by the SNP to push for a second independence vote.
Ms Sturgeon has made it clear that Scotland must retain access to the single market under any Brexit deal after the majority of Scots voted to remain in the EU in the June referendum.
“We are determined to maintain Scotland’s current position in the European single market,” she said.
The Scottish Government has firstly proposed the UK as a whole should stay in the single market by remaining “a party to the European Economic Area agreement” and staying in the customs union.
A so-called “soft-Brexit” deal is “entirely democratically justifiable”, Ms Sturgeon said, although she conceded it seems an “unlikely outcome”.
The paper also outlines ways in which Scotland could stay in the single market – through the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA) – even if the rest of the UK chooses to leave.
Ms Sturgeon insisted this option did not prioritise membership of the single market over continued free trade across the UK, but would “safeguard both” and would not require a hard border.
Under this option, Scotland would be outside the customs union if the UK decides to leave it and would require powers over immigration to be devolved to Holyrood.
She said: “There will be those who say a differentiated option for Scotland such as the one we propose would be too difficult to achieve – and as I have said, the paper does not underestimate the challenges.
“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 paper also argues that, whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the devolution settlement should be “fundamentally revised”.
Powers over fishing and farming should be repatriated from Brussels to Holyrood while areas such as employment law, immigration and powers to strike international agreements should also be devolved.
“It is beyond any doubt that the Brexit vote – with its different outcomes in different parts of the UK – has raised fundamental questions, not just about our relationship with Europe but also about how political power is exercised across the UK,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“So, to the Westminster government, I say this – your response to these proposals will tell us much, perhaps everything, about whether the UK is, in reality, the partnership of equals you claim it to be.”
The option of a second referendum on independence remains on the table but talk of another vote was played down.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The day after the referendum in June, I made a clear commitment.
“I promised to explore – not just my preferred option of independence – but all options to protect Scotland’s place in and relationship with Europe.
“I said specifically that we would seek to find a solution that would enable Scotland’s voice to be heard and our interests protected from within the UK. This paper fulfils that commitment.”
The paper is expected to be discussed in detail when the UK Government and devolved administrations meet at the Joint Ministerial Committee in January.
The Downing Street spokesman said: “The Government is committed to getting a deal on exiting the EU that works for all parts of the UK – which clearly includes Scotland – and works for the UK as a whole.
“The best way for that to be achieved is for the Government and devolved administrations to work together.”
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said: ”Nicola Sturgeon talks about compromise but written in black and white in her own report is her true intention – she wants independence in Europe.”
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale added: ”If Nicola Sturgeon really wants to unite the country, she should take this opportunity to rule out another independence referendum.”
The Lid Dems claimed the paper was “window dressing” for independence but the Scottish Greens – who back independence – described the plans as “the maximum limit of compromise”.
Mrs May played down the prospects of Scotland obtaining a separate Brexit deal from the rest of the UK.
She said she did not believe the Scottish Government would be justified in calling a second independence referendum if it failed to obtain its own deal.
An independent Scotland would be outside the EU and would lose membership not only of the European single market, but also the single market of the United Kingdom, she said.
Mrs May was challenged by SNP MP Pete Wishart over the possibility of “differential arrangements” for Scotland as she gave evidence to the cross-party House of Commons Liaison Committee in Westminster.
The Prime Minister told him: “What we will be negotiating is a United Kingdom approach and a United Kingdom relationship with the European Union. I think you’ve assumed an acceptance of differential relationships which I don’t think it’s right to accept.
“I said when I became Prime Minister and first met the First Minister that we will look very seriously at any proposals that come forward from the devolved administrations, but there may be proposals that are impractical.”
She added: “I don’t think there is a need or a reason for the Scottish Government to hold another independence referendum. I think the Scottish people gave their view in the referendum of 2014.
“If Scotland were to become independent, then not only would it no longer be a member of the European Union, it would no longer be a member of the single market of the European Union and it would no longer be a member of the single market of the United Kingdom.
“The single market of the United Kingdom is worth four times as much to Scotland as the single market of the European Union.”
Mrs May said she welcomed the “contribution to the debate” represented by the Scottish administration’s paper, though she said she had not yet had time to read it.
“We’ve been encouraging the devolved administrations to identify their particular concerns and priorities so that we can take that forward as part of the discussions we are having to ensure we have a full UK view as we go into the negotiations,” she said.
“I would expect the Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Assembly to come forward with the particular concerns they have and we will be able to discuss these within the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) structures that we have.”
Asked whether powers on issues like agriculture currently held by Brussels could be devolved to Edinburgh after Brexit, the PM said: “We will obviously have discussions within the JMC environment about how the arrangements will work when we have to take a framework currently set out in Brussels into the United Kingdom and recognise the different interests of the devolved administrations and the different devolution deals currently in place.”