Brexit: Nicola Sturgeon to set out ‘common sense’ alternative plan

Nicola Sturgeon at last week's SNP conference. Picture: PA
Nicola Sturgeon at last week's SNP conference. Picture: PA
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Nicola Sturgeon will this week set out a “common sense” alternative to the UK Government’s Brexit plans, warning the public are being presented with a “false choice” over EU withdrawal.

Tomorrow the First Minister will launch her plans in the latest Scottish Government paper on Brexit, which will re-emphasise her arguments for continued membership of the single market and customs union.

The paper will be published ahead of Wednesday’s key EU summit and amid reports the Brexit transition period could be extended by another year to help Theresa May find a solution to the Irish border problem.

The extension has been proposed by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and would mean the UK being tied to the EU until the end of 2021 rather than 2020.

But the proposal has been met with fury by Tory Eurosceptics because it would add £17 billion to the Brexit bill and has angered the DUP, which May relies on to prop up her government.

Sturgeon’s paper will be released when she gives a speech to the Royal Society of Arts in London tomorrow.

The paper will argue the UK government’s “false choice” between a “bad, possibly blindfold” Brexit deal and a no-deal scenario should not be accepted.

Speaking in advance of its publication, Sturgeon said: “The UK is scheduled to leave the European Union less than six months from now – but both a withdrawal agreement and a clear, detailed statement on the future relationship must be concluded much sooner.

“As things stand, we still have no guarantee of a transition agreement or a detailed proposition setting out the future trading relationship between the UK and EU.

“The UK goverment seems intent on presenting a false choice between whatever bad, possibly blindfold, deal they manage to conclude and a no-deal scenario. However, the Scottish Government will this week set out our common sense, workable alternative and make clear why we believe there is now an opportunity to seize an alternative path.”

In the June 2016 referendum, Scotland saw a majority (62 per cent) of the electorate vote to remain in the EU.

Sturgeon said her administration had a duty to work to ensure the Scottish share of the vote was respected even though the referendum was conducted on a UK-wide basis. She said: “It is not too late for public duty and calm heads to prevail and for a no-deal or bad, possibly blindfold, deal outcome to be averted.

“MPs and the wider public should not accept the false choice that is being presented – there is an alternative and our proposals are the only way to truly protect our businesses, people and communities from the worst effects of Brexit.

“Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU and our duty as a government is to work as hard as we can to ensure that vote is respected and for Scotland’s key interests to be protected.

“That means staying in the customs union and single market, which is around eight times bigger than the UK market alone.

“With time running short, the UK government must take stock and listen to our proposals.”

But Adam Tomkins, Scottish Conservative shadow secretary for the constitution, countered, saying: “The assertion that the EU single market is eight times larger than the UK single market is designed to be misleading.

“Two-thirds of Scotland’s trade depends on the UK single market, underlining the fundamental importance of the Union to Scotland’s economy.

“If the First Minister genuinely wants to act in the best interests of Scotland she must take indyref2 off the table and focus on improving Scotland’s stagnant economy, falling educational standards and lengthening hospital waiting times.”

Sturgeon’s intervention comes after she warned last month that extending the timetable for Brexit negotiations must remain on the table if the UK is to “avoid an economic cliff edge”.

Last week, she closed the SNP’s annual conference in Glasgow with a claim that her party’s goal of independence for Scotland was “clearly in sight”, although she urged activists to show patience when it came to breaking up the UK.

Yesterday the Department for Exiting the European Union said it would not comment on reports that the UK could remain tied to Brussels’ rules beyond the end of 2020 to give negotiators more time to finalise a trade deal.

The potential extension of the transition period, which would see the UK stay in the EU single market and customs union, is being considered as intensive negotiations continue ahead of Wednesday’s summit.

The year’s extension would allow extra time to draw up a deal on the future UK-EU relationship – and avoid the need to use a controversial “backstop” arrangement to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The need to resolve the backstop issue is a political headache for the Prime Minister, who is trying to fend off the threat of cabinet resignations after at least four senior ministers expressed concern over the way the issue is panning out.

The European Union’s version, which would see just Northern Ireland remain aligned with Brussels’ rules, has been called unacceptable by May and is fiercely resisted by her DUP allies.

May’s counter-proposal, set out in June, was for a “temporary customs arrangement” for the whole UK, but Tory Brexiteers are suspicious this could turn into a permanent situation – restricting the freedom to strike trade deals around the world. Pressure intensified on the Prime Minister when DUP leader Arlene Foster warned her not to accept a “dodgy” deal from Brussels.

Foster told May not to accept a plan that would “effectively cut Northern Ireland adrift”.

In a strongly worded article in the Belfast Telegraph, Foster warned against the EU’s backstop proposal and also stressed that she would not accept any measure that resulted in extra checks for goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.