It follows a letter from Cabinet external affairs secretary Angus Robertson to the UK Government’s Brexit minister, Lord Frost, raising concerns about the ongoing dispute between the EU and the UK over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The protocol is a key aspect of the Brexit deal signed off by Boris Johnson last year, which sees checks on goods imported from Great Britain at Northern Irish ports to allow them to move across the border into the Republic of Ireland.
As part of these checks, a border control post close to Cairnryan, Scotland’s main port linking the country with Northern Ireland, was required for checks on goods arriving in the UK from Ireland and the wider EU via Northern Ireland.
However, in September the Scottish Government halted work on the post due to “major uncertainties” over funding.
Despite this, preparatory work is back underway, with US engineering giant Tetra Tech handed a £310,000 contract to undertake ground inspection surveys.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “Scottish ministers took the decision to pause the construction of the Border Control Post (BCP) until there is greater clarity from the UK Government on the long-term funding, the need for this infrastructure, and more information about the timescales when controls might come into effect.
“To ensure there is a rapid restart when the UK Government provides the assurances we need, we are progressing preparatory work to acquire a suitable site for the facility, including ground investigation surveys.”
The UK Government, led in negotiations by Lord Frost, wants fundamental changes to the operation and governance of the protocol, while the EU has proposed measures which would mitigate the protocol’s impact.
The Brexit minister has warned that it may invoke Article 16, a key part of the protocol that allows either side to implement “safeguarding measures”, should they believe the protocol is causing serious practical problems or the diversion of trade.
Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, welcomed a “changing tone of discussion” around the protocol following talks with Lord Frost in London last week.
However, Mr Robertson said in a letter to Lord Frost he was “increasingly alarmed” around the “continued lack of progress” of talks between the EU and UK, warning potential “further great harm to Scotland”.
He states: “It seems barely believable that the UK Government is now contemplating an action – the triggering of Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol – that could result in a disastrous trade dispute with the EU which would clearly hold back recovery from the pandemic.
"That would be a further act of economic vandalism at the worst possible time.”
Mr Robertson also warned of the return of uncertainty caused by a potential ‘no deal’ situation, and urged Lord Frost not to invoke Article 16.
He also called for a meeting between the UK Government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Mr Robertson added: “The increasingly ideological and confrontational approach the UK Government has taken has clearly damaged levels of trust in a manner that leaves me profoundly concerned about what might unfold in the next few weeks.
"It is critical that the UK Government responds constructively to the EU’s new proposals on the protocol, and that devolved governments are now meaningfully engaged and their views heard.”