Theresa May and EU leaders last night agreed that Brexit talks “should accelerate over the months to come” as devolved administrations called on the UK government to rule out leaving the EU without a Brexit deal.
The Prime Minister made a last-ditch appeal to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to allow deadlocked talks to move on from the UK’s financial commitments and discuss a free trade agreement and transition period.
Amid growing calls from pro-Brexit Conservative MPs for the government to abandon the talks without a deal, ministers from the devolved governments in Edinburgh and Cardiff warned a no-deal Brexit must be taken off the table.
Scotland’s Brexit minister Michael Russell said a no-deal Brexit was “impossible to imagine” – but Scottish Secretary David Mundell claimed the UK government “can’t control” whether it gets a deal from the EU or not.
Last night’s dinner in Brussels, which was attended by Brexit negotiators David Davis and Michel Barnier, was announced at the last minute and kept off public diaries. It comes ahead of a summit of EU leaders this week that will decide on Friday whether talks on trade and a post-Brexit transition can begin.
Emerging from a meeting in London with Mrs May’s deputy on devolution after Brexit, Mr Russell warned that leaving the EU without a deal would deal a huge blow to Scotland’s economy.
He said: “We made it very clear, both from Wales and from Scotland, to David Davis that as he goes to Brussels he must take a very strong message: that it would be impossible to imagine no deal, and it would be immensely damaging.”
However, Mr Mundell suggested it was out of the government’s hands whether a deal is secured or not.
He said: “We can’t control whether there’s a deal. There are 27 other parties in this negotiation, but we’re not planning or preparing to have no deal, we want there to be a deal, but it would be wrong not to take steps to plan for that contingency, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
The UK government has refused to confirm the existence of impact assessments reported to show the economies of Scotland and the north-east of England will be hardest hit by Brexit.
Mr Russell is understood to have asked to see the government’s data during yesterday’s meeting with First Secretary of State Damian Green, but was told assessments only cover different economic sectors, not regions of the UK.
The Prime Minister also spoke yesterday by phone with the leaders of France and Ireland about the need for progress in Brexit talks.