Scotland’s Brexit minister has called on rival parties to unite and “speak with one voice” in a bid to keep the UK in the single market as political turmoil continued over Britain’s departure from the European Union (EU).
Mike Russell said there was “overwhelming support” for this both at Holyrood and among the public as he urged Labour and the Tories to back the whole UK remaining in both the European single market and customs union.
He spoke out as Prime Minister Theresa May was seeking urgent talks with Northern Irish leaders after the UK Government’s attempts to settle the Irish border issue failed to reach agreement.
Hopes of a deal on the key issue had been dashed when the Democratic Unionist Party - which props up the minority Conservative Government in Westminster - made clear it would not accept any arrangement which saw Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of the UK.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said she was clear the UK should not be divided by ‘’different deals for different home nations’’ in the wake of the UK Government’s efforts to make progress on Brexit talks.
Nicola Sturgeon retweeted a comment that it was “really interesting the number of senior DUP people retweeting @RuthDavidsonMSP...”
The First Minister commented: “The Scottish Tories seem more interested in appeasing the DUP than in standing up for Scotland’s best interests. Scotland’s interests demand continued single market membership.”
Meanwhile, Mr Russell recalled that days after the vote to leave the EU in June 2016 Ms Davidson had said staying in the single market should be the “over-riding priority” for the country.
“I don’t think that has changed,” he told MSPs at Holyrood
“If this chamber were to speak with one voice on membership of the single market and the customs union, I think it would be very effective indeed.
“Single market membership for the whole of the UK would be the way out of this incredible mess that has been created by Theresa May and I urge it on every member in this chamber.”
His comments came after Ms Sturgeon called on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to back the UK remaining in the single market and customs union.
The SNP leader tweeted: “This could be the moment for opposition and soft Brexit/remain Tories to force a different, less damaging approach - keep the UK in the single market and customs union. But it needs Labour to get its act together. How about it @jeremycorbyn?”
Mr Russell reiterated that as he pressed new Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard to make his position clear.
The Scottish Brexit minister said: “The whole of these islands should be in the single market and the customs union - we urge that upon all, but particularly upon the Labour Party.
“If the Labour Party were to adopt that to be a standard, that would move this on very considerably indeed.
“The First Minister made that point in a tweet to Jeremy Corbyn this morning and I repeat it to Richard Leonard.”
It is understood the UK Government and the EU had been poised to agree a deal guaranteeing ‘’regulatory alignment’’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic in order to prevent the imposition of a hard border.
Mr Russell stressed it was membership of the single market that allowed the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic to “be completely porous”.
The leaders of devolved administrations - including Ms Sturgeon - made it clear any special status for Northern Ireland would prompt demands from other parts of the UK for their own tailor-made Brexit.
SNP MSP Mairi Gougeon said in Holyrood: “I don’t think it’s fair that it can be one rule for one constituent part of the UK and another for everyone else.”
Labour’s Lewis Macdonald said, however, that “it would be a mistake to use the chaos of Theresa May’s failed deal on Northern Ireland yesterday simply to push for a differential deal here too”.
He added: “Is the right conclusion not to say if it’s good enough for Northern Ireland, it’s good enough for the whole of the UK?”
Mr Russell told him: “That is precisely what I have just said. A differentiated deal is at the end of the row, we are forcing the pace by trying to say ‘let’s have a deal for the whole of the UK’.”
He added: “It is wise to be prepared for any circumstances ... we are preparing ourselves, we have to be realistic, if there is not that solution, there has to be another solution.”