Brexit: UK’s new stance ‘won’t protect Scotland’, claims Mike Russell

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Scotland will not be protected “in any real way from the damage of Brexit” in Theresa May’s new blueprint for the UK’s future relationship with the European Union, Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell has warned.

Mr Russell said the proposals, agreed after a marathon Cabinet meeting at Chequers, were a “step in the right direction”.

Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell

Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell

But he also questioned whether the proposals, which will see the UK tied to EU rules on goods, would be acceptable to remaining EU member states and to hardline Brexiteers within the Conservative Party.

He spoke out after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that “it hasn’t taken long for the #chequers plan to start to unravel”.

The SNP leader said on Twitter: “It simply underlines fact that if UK is leaving the EU (which I wish it wasn’t) the only workable solution is to stay in single market and customs union.

“As I said yesterday, it’s very much ‘game on’ for that now.”

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All members of the UK Cabinet have signed up to the proposals, but backbench Brexiteers have been more critical, with speculation at Westminster that some could be prepared to submit formal letters calling for a leadership contest.

Meanwhile, it emerged that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson backed the proposals at Chequers despite claiming that defending the plans was like “polishing a turd” during the meeting.

Mr Russell described the plans as being a “step towards” continuing membership of the EU single market and customs union - the Scottish Government’s preferred position.

But he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland programme: “The two issues here are will it be accepted, and I think there are things in it that are not acceptable to the EU and I think that is going to require further negotiation, this is a start, not a finish.”

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He also noted there was “a great deal of muttering” about the proposals from the “extreme Brexiteers” in the Tory Party and others.

Mr Russell said: “We may be on a journey, it may not be a journey however that Theresa May is capable of taking, given her party.”

He insisted: “Without staying in the EU there will be damage, but actually the single market and the customs union - the full single market and the customs union, the Norway option - is the least damaging part of it.”

Mr Russell continued: “Without freedom of movement, real freedom of movement, there are whole sections of the Scottish economy that are going to suffer very badly, they are suffering already as people are reluctant to come.

“This isn’t the end point, I’m quite sure it isn’t the end point. If it is a part of a journey then it is to be welcomed but that journey has a fair bit to go before Scotland will be protected in any real way from the damage of Brexit.”

READ MORE: SNP MP: ‘Dismiss Scottish people’s voice on Brexit at your peril’

However, Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw accused the First Minister and her party of “undermining Scotland’s best chance of a deal with the EU”.

Mr Carlaw said: “The only thing unravelling in the last week has been Nicola Sturgeon’s government, with a collapsed education policy, a shambles over votes on Heathrow and then a totally botched government reshuffle of her own making.

“Having said Theresa May could never get her Cabinet to agree a position to deliver a pragmatic Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon now finds herself outflanked by a united UK Government negotiating position and she just can’t stand it.

“Her sole interest is in hijacking Brexit to stoke up further grievance, and all to pursue her singular obsession with independence.”

The Tory demanded: “Give it a rest, Nicola. Stop undermining Scotland’s best chance of a deal with the EU.”