Theresa May must bring the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales into the next phase of negotiations with the EU and commit to staying in the single market and customs union, the SNP’s leader at Westminster has said.
The call from Ian Blackford came as UK ministers sparked a new clash with the Irish government and the EU by suggesting a deal struck only last week to break the deadlock in Brexit talks is not legally binding, and will be abandoned in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
David Davis warned that the ‘divorce’ agreement struck last week, including a financial settlement with the EU of over £35 billion, would only apply if trade talks are successful.
The Brexit secretary said he was seeking a “Canada plus plus plus” deal that adds access to services to the CETA agreement signed off by Ottawa and Brussels last year.
Mr Blackford said the UK’s commitment to “full alignment” with EU regulations as part of a deal to keep the Irish border open meant the government would eventually have to concede remaining within the single market.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr programme, Mr Blackford challenged Labour to support the SNP’s calls for continued membership of the single market to avoid “unparalleled” economic damage.
UK ministers refused calls from the Scottish and Welsh Governments to be directly involved in the first phase of Brexit negotiations. Mr Blackford said devolved administrations had to have a greater role in the second phase of negotiations to avoid the kind of disagreements over the Irish border that nearly blocked last week’s breakthrough.
“I would remind the Prime Minister that we’re talking about four nation states within the United Kingdom.
“We can see the difficulty she has gotten into over Ireland. What the Prime Minister should do is pull the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales into these negotiations.
“She’s also got to understand that the people in Scotland and in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU and we’re asking for her to respect the wishes of the Scottish people and the Scottish Government, who have made it clear that we should be staying in the single market and customs union.”
He added: “It’s about the living standards of people post-Brexit. What we have now is a situation where the UK has signed up to have full convergence with [the Republic of] Ireland and the rest of Europe.
“It’s the ‘how’ bit of that that’s important. What I’m saying to the Prime Minister and everyone else is that the single market and the customs union is the path to doing that.”
Meanwhile, Mr Davis and the Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire both called into question the agreement reached last week, with the Brexit Secretary saying it was “conditional on an outcome”.
Mr Davis appeared to contradict comments by the Chancellor Philip Hammond, who has said it was “inconceivable” that the UK would not pay its multi-billion pound Brexit bill even if trade talks fail.
“No deal means that we won’t be paying the money,” he said, adding: “This was a statement of intent more than anything else. Much more a statement of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing.”
The Irish government’s chief whip, Joe McHugh, branded the Brexit Secretary’s comments as “bizarre”.
He told RTE: “We will as a government, a sovereign government in Ireland, be holding the United Kingdom to account, as will the European Union.
“My question to anybody within the British Government would be, why would there be an agreement, a set of principled agreements, in order to get to phase two, if they weren’t going to be held up? That just sounds bizarre to me.
“This, as far as we’re concerned, is a binding agreement, an agreement in principle.”
EU leaders have yet to formally approve the move to the second phase of talks, which will be voted on at a summit in Brussels starting on Thursday. A draft text due to be approved by member states that “negotiations in the second phase can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken during the first phase are respected in full and translated faithfully in legal terms as quickly as possible.”