Lib Dems tell SNP to 'get on board' with referendum on Brexit deal

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The SNP must “get on board” with a referendum on the terms of the UK’s Brexit deal, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has said after the Scottish Government appeared to back away from the idea.

Nicola Sturgeon has previously appeared open to having a referendum that could keep the UK in the EU, saying it would become “irresistible” if a hard Brexit was the only deal on offer.

But the Scottish Government’s Brexit minister Michael Russell refused to entertain the idea, suggested by the Lib Dems, saying in an interview this morning that it was more important to try and convince UK ministers to stay in the EU single market and customs union.

Asked on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme why the SNP does not back second EU referendum, Mr Russell said: “Because the reality of the situation presently is that there is no mechanism so to do.

“What we need to do is to be in the position of sitting down and saying “isn’t this just all rather stupid… there a way forward that is a compromise. We started offering a compromise 18 months ago.

“We’ve been offering a compromise to people who are not listening and who are so busy fighting amongst themselves that they’re not rational about it.”

Pressed on whether the SNP was opposed to a referendum on the Brexit deal because it could undermine the case for a second independence vote, Mr Russell added: “No - what it’s down to is to try and find a rational way through the most incredible mess that we have ever seen either constitutionally or in terms of these islands.

“And the right way to do that is to get the mechanisms of government working again with the joint ministerial committees, to sit down and discuss how we might move forward.

“We do not reject the overall result of the referendum within the UK, but Scotland voted to stay in the EU and that’s a vital point.”

Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable said the shift against giving the people a say on the terms of the UK’s Brexit deal was “disappointing”.

Mr Cable said: "There is a growing demand from the public for such a vote. If they don't switch back then the SNP will look completely flat-footed as public support continues to grow for a Brexit deal referendum.

“It is perfectly possible to have a referendum in time. The SNP need to get on board.

“I have been working jointly with the SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford and others to build a consensus. Today's move from the SNP is disappointing."

Mr Russell will brief peers in the House of Lords on Monday on changes demanded by the Scottish Government in order to make the devolution clauses of the EU Withdrawal Bill acceptable to MSPs.

Lib Dem peers including former deputy first minister Lord Wallace and former presiding officer Lord Steel have said they will back amendments suggested by the Scottish Government if UK ministers fail to introduce their own.