Theresa May dismisses Nicola Sturgeon's calls for special Brexit deal for Scotland
Theresa May dismisses Nicola Sturgeon’s calls for special Brexit deal for Scotland
The Prime Minister suggested SNP plans to keep the country in the single market even if the rest of the UK leaves could prove “impractical”.
It marks another setback after Chancellor Philip Hammond ruled out any special arrangements and accused the First Minister of “clutching at straws”.
Ms Sturgeon today faced accusations of steering Scotland towards separation as she refused to rule out another independence referendum over its place in the free trade bloc.
The First Minister argued the whole of the UK should stay in both the single market through the European Economic Area (EEA) and customs union.
What we will be negotiating is a United Kingdom approach and a United Kingdom relationship with the European Union
But launching a complex Brexit plan Ms Sturgeon said if, as expected, this does not happen the UK Government should back a different arrangement for Scotland in EU divorce talks.
This would see the country bidding to join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which includes Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, a retain single market mebership as part of the EEA.
The 49-page document also demanded sweeping new powers be devolved to Holyrood, including some control over immigration and business regulation.
Nicola Sturgeon today faced accusations of steering Scotland towards separation
Ms Sturgeon claimed they represented a reasonable “compromise” to breaking up Britain and were part of a bid to “unify the country around a clear plan”.
But the paper admitted the proposals would help “ease the transition” to Scotland becoming “a full independent Member State” of the EU.
Ms Sturgeon also said she still thought a second referendum was “highly likely” and “must remain on the table”.
And the SNP leader vowed to continue to pursue her dream of secession even if Mrs May accepts them.
But speaking to the Commons Liaison Committee, Mrs May said that Scotland has had its chance for independence and played down the Nationalists’ proposal.
She also warned that if the SNP succeeded it would leave Scotland isolated “outside the EU, outside the European single market and outside the UK single market” where most of its trade goes.
Mrs May added: “The single market of the United Kingdom is worth four times as much to Scotland as the single market of the European Union.”
The Prime Minister was challenged by SNP MP Pete Wishart over the possibility of “differential arrangements”.
But she 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..”
Mrs May 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.”
Launching the blueprint at her official residence, Bute House in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon conceded a different arrangement would be “technically and politically challenging”.
But she brushed aside a string of warnings from academics and political leaders that this would require a hard border with England and damage trade.
She said: “I hope and expect that the UK Government in considering these proposals will demonstrate the same flexibility and willingness to compromise.”
Ms Sturgeon stressed she has not changed her position on independence “one iota”.
May warned that if the SNP succeeded it would leave Scotland isolated
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But she claimed her focus was “to explore if we can find common ground” with the UK Government and were “serious and reasonable” prosposals.
Ms Sturgeon also claimed they would “safeguard both” trade across the bloc and the UK.
“Talk of a hard border for Scotland has always rung hollow from a UK Government that says no such hard border will be required between a post-Brexit UK and the Republic of Ireland, a continuing member of the EU,” she said.
Ms Sturgeon added: “I have asked for them to be considered, so I think it is only fair that I fulfil my side of the bargain and give the UK Government time to do that before I immediately start talking about what I’d do in the, at the moment, hypothetical scenario that they reject these proposals.”
But Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson warned they amounted to “independence in Europe” and accused Ms Sturgeon of “manoeuvring” towards separation.
She also said the Scottish Government had put forward “evidence-free assertions” and a special deal would create a trade barrier between Scotland and England.
Ruth Davidson accused Sturgeon of ‘manoeuvring’ towards separation
Ms Davidson added: “Nicola Sturgeon talks about compromise but written in black and white in her own report is her true intention – she wants independence in Europe.
“If she truly wants the best Brexit deal, she should be pulling together with other parts of the UK, not trying to split the country up.”
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale also repeated calls to rule out another independence referendum.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie branded the paper “Christmas window-dressing” for separation.