EUROPE Minister David Lidington has warned Scottish Brexit negotiators they “must not lose sight of the UK market” which contributes four times as much to the local economy as the European Union.
Mr Lidington has held a series of meetings in Edinburgh to seek a unified approach to securing “the best possible outcome for everyone” from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
However, SNP ministers at Holyrood have told him their outlook towards the EU “differs considerably” from the UK Government - and have pledged to explore all options to protect Scotland’s European interests including another independence referendum.
Mr Lidington’s Conservative colleague Ruth Davidson, the party’s Scottish leader, told him that retaining access to the EU single market is Scotland’s “over-riding priority”.
European Council leaders have made clear that access to the single market requires acceptance of all four EU freedoms - including freedom of movement which was one of the main grievances of the Leave campaign in their efforts to take back control of immigration.
President Donald Tusk said: “There will be no single market a la carte.”
Mr Lidington met Scottish External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop and members of the First Minister’s Standing Council on Europe to set out the UK Government’s plans for the creation of a special EU unit to tackle the issues ahead.
Mr Lidington also met the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee, and joined Scotland Office Minister Andrew Dunlop in a meeting of EU consul-generals based in Edinburgh.
He said: “The UK Government has been clear that the Scottish Government will be fully involved as the UK prepares to negotiate its departure from the European Union.
“Of course, getting the best possible deal with the EU market, worth £11.6 billion to Scottish exports, will be crucial as the negotiations unfold - and we must not lose sight of the UK market that is worth four times as much to Scotland.
“People should be in no doubt: the UK Government will negotiate hard for the interests of the whole United Kingdom and with the full involvement of governments from across the United Kingdom.
“Now is the time for us to work together, as Team UK, to face up to the new realities of our position and to achieve collectively the best possible outcome for everyone in the United Kingdom.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Ms Hyslop and Mr Lidington had a constructive discussion where the Cabinet Secretary was able to emphasise the importance of direct Scottish Government involvement ahead of, and throughout, the Article 50 process.
“The Cabinet Secretary made clear that Scotland’s outlook toward the European Union differs considerably from the position of the UK Government and re-iterated our clear commitment to protecting our relationships with the EU.
“She also urged Mr Lidington to take urgent action to provide clarity for EU migrants living in Scotland and the UK and emphasised the importance of Scotland’s place in the single market.”
Ms Davidson said: “There is undoubtedly a need for all the devolved administrations to work with the UK Government to ensure we get a deal that reflects the needs of all of us.
“Chiefly amongst this will be our continued access to the single market.
“Protecting our trade with the European Union will boost our economy, sustain jobs and help to fund vital public services.”