‘No need for agreement’ from Holyrood on UK-wide Brexit plan

Michael Russell accused UK of moving goalposts. Picture: Contributed
Michael Russell accused UK of moving goalposts. Picture: Contributed
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Scottish Brexit minister Michael Russell has accused the UK government of “changing the goal posts” after government sources said there was no need for an agreement on Brexit strategy.

UK ministers met devolved counterparts for the latest round of talks on Brexit, with Chancellor Philip Hammond updating the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) on efforts to retain access to the European single market for UK financial services.

But in the clearest signal yet that talks at the JMC are set to collapse without agreement, a UK government source made clear a deal was not necessary following conflicting votes on Brexit at Holyrood and Westminster.

“Changing the goalposts is not a helpful way of seeking a way forward,” Mr Russell said. “[Theresa May] would have to consider the implications of that.”

He demanded that the Scottish Government’s demand for a separate Brexit deal for Scotland be included in the Article 50 letter that will be sent to Brussels by the end of March, triggering the two-year exit process.

In a symbolic vote at Holyrood on Tuesday, MSPs voiced their overwhelming opposition to the triggering of Article 50, by 90 to 34.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson accused Mrs May of breaking a commitment made days into her premiership to seek “an agreed UK-wide approach” before launching the formal Brexit process. On a visit to Edinburgh to meet Nicola Sturgeon in July, the Prime Minister said: “I won’t be triggering Article 50 until I think that we have a UK approach and objectives for negotiations – I think it is important that we establish that before we trigger Article 50.”

Mr Robertson asked Mrs May if she would “keep her word to Scotland” or “just carry on regardless”. The Prime Minister reminded him that “the Scottish Parliament does not have a veto on the triggering of Article 50”.

Giving evidence to MPs on the Commons Brexit committee yesterday morning, University of Edinburgh politics professor Nicola McEwen said the JMC “lacks transparency”, making it difficult to determine if the group was achieving anything.

“It would be nice if it was more transparent. It’s appropriate for governments to engage privately, to have a space for frank discussion, but I think a bit more scrutiny of that process would possibly help it along the way,” she said.