PM plays down separate Brexit deal hopes as Scottish Government unveils plans

Prime Minister Theresa May has played down the prospect of a separate Brexit deal for Scotland as Nicola Sturgeon published her own proposals to protect Scottish interests in Europe.

The First Minister said her plans – which include options allowing Scotland to remain in the single market even if the rest of the UK leaves and the transfer of significant powers to Holyrood – represent a “significant compromise” on the part of the Scottish Government.

While Mrs May has promised to look “very seriously” at the paper, she told a House of Commons committee it was “not right” to assume “an acceptance of differential relationships” as part of the Brexit negotiations.

Mrs May also appeared to suggest Ms Sturgeon would not be justified in calling a second independence referendum if Scotland fails to secure a different deal.

Holyrood’s opposition parties accused the SNP of using its proposals to engineer another vote on leaving the UK.

Failing a ”soft Brexit”, in which the UK as a whole would stay in the single market and the customs union, Ms Sturgeon has proposed an arrangement which would allow Scotland to remain in the free trade bloc – through the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA).

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.

She also argued that, whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the devolution settlement should be “fundamentally revised”, with new powers over areas including immigration, employment law, social protection, fishing, the environment, justice and agriculture transferred to Holyrood.

Unveiling her proposals at Bute House in Edinburgh, she said: “I hope and expect that the UK Government in considering these proposals will demonstrate the same flexibility and willingness to compromise.”

She added: “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.”

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 shortly after Ms Sturgeon published her paper.

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.”

Asked if the Scottish Government would be justified in calling a second independence referendum if it failed to obtain its own deal, she said: “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.”

Opposition parties were given the opportunity to question Ms Sturgeon after she gave a ministerial statement on her plans at Holyrood.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson questioned whether the proposals were being used to ”manoeuvre for independence”.

”Isn’t it time to end the threat of transitioning to something that people in Scotland don’t want and have roundly rejected?” she said.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale disagreed with any suggestion that “the European single market was somehow more important to Scotland than the UK single market”.

”That is clearly wrong. The First Minister should therefore accept that and end the uncertainty facing our economy by ruling out a second independence referendum,” she said.

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