Nicola Sturgeon will visit Downing Street on Tuesday for talks with Theresa May in a bid to break the deadlock over new powers for Scotland after Brexit.
It comes as a government pledge to set out the UK’s Brexit deal in primary legislation was dismissed as a “sham” after MPs were warned they will send the country crashing out of the EU without a deal if they vote against it.
In a major concession ahead of fresh Westminster debate on Brexit legislation, David Davis told MPs on Monday they would get to scrutinise the final EU exit deal “line by line” and vote on it before 29 March, 2019.
However, the Brexit Secretary angered MPs on both sides of the Commons by saying there would be no legislation and no vote if talks in Brussels fail to produce an agreement, and warned that parliament could only choose between the government’s deal and no deal at all.
READ MORE: MPs to be given vote on Brexit deal
The Conservative MP Anna Soubry claimed ministers were “preparing for no-deal”, while the Labour MP Chris Leslie said the concession was a “sham” and “totally worthless”.
Another Tory MP, Heidi Allen post on Twitter: “Pointless if we have enshrined a drop dead date in the Bill, & get a deal at 11th hour! There’d be no time! And also offers no safeguard if no deal is reached. Unacceptable.”
Her colleague Antoinette Sandbach added: “The announcement is meaningless if, for any reason, the timetable slips beyond March 2019.”
Mr Davis’ statement was an attempt to see off possible rebellions on Tuesday when MPs debate amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. A number of Tory MPs have put their names to amendments calling for a vote on the detail of the UK’s Brexit deal.
The government also faces defeat over the use of so-called Henry VIII powers in the bill, which will allow ministers to amend EU law transferred into UK statute.
Dominic Grieve, the Conservative former Attorney General, yesterday also took aim at an amendment proposed by ministers, saying plans to make the date of Brexit explicit in legislation were a “thoroughly stupid” idea.
The SNP’s Europe spokesman Peter Grant said Mr Davis’ announcement was “a panicked concession to appease Tory rebels”.
“This last-minute move shows how hopelessly divided the Tory party is, and the lack of confidence the UK government has in itself to make a success of Brexit,” Mr Grant said.
The First Minister and Prime Minister will meet for the first time since March with talks between their officials continuing in a bid to avoid a constitutional crisis over the Withdrawal Bill.
The SNP claims plans to hold onto control of 111 EU responsibilities in devolved at Westminster before devolving some of them represents a “power grab”.
A senior UK Government source said: “Everyone is hoping for constructive talks.”
The meeting follows claims over the summer that Ms Sturgeon would be “banned” from face-to-face meetings with Mrs May. In a recent interview, the First Minister gave an awkward account of their last meeting, saying the Prime Minister was a “difficult” character who insisted on “reading from a script” in private talks.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister will be seeking clarity on a range of issues at this meeting with the Prime Minister, including Brexit and the impact on Scotland of the EU Withdrawal Bill.
“She will also set out the Scottish Government’s expectations of the UK budget, as well as discussing the introduction of Universal Credit and the effect it has had.”
Meanwhile, European business leaders warned Mrs May that jobs and investment in the UK could be lost unless urgent progress is made in the Brexit talks.
At a Downing Street meeting yesterday, the Prime Minister was told that businesses are “extremely concerned” at the slow pace of negotiations with Brussels and it was vital that trade talks were given the green light in December’s summit of EU leaders.
Mrs May was also urged to keep the UK within the customs union and single market in a transitional arrangement after the formal split from Brussels in March 2019 - and to secure agreement on that by Christmas.
The Prime Minister told the gathering of business leaders from across the EU that she wanted to agree an implementation period “as soon as possible”.
Emma Marcegaglia, president of the lobbying group BusinessEurope, said: “Business is extremely concerned with the slow pace of negotiations and the lack of progress only one month before the decisive December European Council.”
After the meeting in Downing Street she told reporters: “We don’t want uncertainty, we are very concerned.
“We know that if companies don’t see certainty probably they will have a contingency plan and probably they will leave the UK, or they will invest less.”