Brexit is “remorselessly unpicking” the Union, former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has warned in a scathing attack on Brexiteers who he accused of turning the Conservatives into an “English nationalist” party.
The former Liberal Democrat leader accused leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg of “not giving a damn” about other parts of the UK, and likened his “divisive” politics to nationalism in Scotland and Catalonia.
In a Q&A session at the Lib Dem conference in Brighton, Mr Clegg was asked whether the UK’s exit from the EU would make an independent Scotland and a united Ireland more likely.
“Intuitively, I’ve always felt that if you start unpicking one union – the family of nations of the European Union–- that has an umbilical link to the union of our own family of nations,” Mr Clegg replied.
“It’s very important to remember that the Conservative Party... has now broadly speaking turned into an English nationalist, rural and suburban party. You can see that in the appalling pronouncements of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who couldn’t give a damn about the Good Friday Agreement, doesn’t really care what happens in the politics of Holyrood.
This is a poisonous turn in Conservative politics, away from the traditions of one nationNICK CLEGG
“This is a poisonous turn in Conservative politics, away from the traditions of one nation – a proud tradition of trying to hold the family of nations together – to one that is increasingly divisive and crucially indifferent to other parts of the United Kingdom because politically, it’s not where their majority lies.”
Mr Clegg added: “If that were to continue, if the Conservatives and the frenzied supporters of the Conservative Party in the right wing press were to continue to hold the whip hand in British politics, then I do think that bit by bit, remorselessly, the case for separatism... will flourish.
“So there’s a real danger that we don’t just lose our place in one union, we lose our own Union as well.”
In his speech today, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie will say the deadlock in Brexit talks shows why the SNP should abandon their independence dream.
Warning that “breaking up is hard to do”, Mr Rennie will argue: “The lessons of Brexit are the lessons for independence. Everyone can see it, except Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. The rest of the world can see the lesson of the destruction of a single economic market.
“They can see the harm of making it harder for business to get goods and services to market, harder for individuals to get the benefits and opportunities that brings. But the SNP response to the break-up of the EU single market is to break up the UK single market.
“The SNP response to the break-up of the EU customs union is to break up the UK customs union.
“I cannot for the life of me see how the SNP can conclude from all this that the response to the break up from Europe should be the break-up of Britain. Breaking up is hard to do.”
Mr Rennie will also question the SNP’s commitment to EU membership, saying: “For those who say that we need independence to escape Brexit I tell you quite frankly that the SNP will not put automatic EU membership on their independence ballot paper.
“That’s because they care first and foremost about independence. After all, they supported independence even when the they opposed Europe in the 1970s.
“They supported independence before North Sea oil. It always comes first.”
The Scottish Lib Dem leader will call on the SNP to “get off the fence” and give its full backing to the campaign for a second EU referendum.
SNP MP Rona Mackay hit back, saying: “This is ludicrous stuff from Willie Rennie who bizarrely would rather attack the SNP government over Brexit than the Tories or Labour.
“It is Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn who both want to drag Scotland out of Europe against our will – not the SNP.
“And Willie Rennie has now made clear he too would rather that Scotland suffers the catastrophic effects of the Tories’ Brexit shambles than be a self-governing, independent country in Europe.
“With contributions like this, it is no wonder the Lib Dems are comprehensively rejected by the people of Scotland at election after election. Willie Rennie is an irrelevance, who has taken them absolutely nowhere.”