Nicola Sturgeon has claimed the Scottish Government was left waiting more than 30 hours to get a response from an so called Brexit “hotline” unveiled by Theresa May this week.
The claim has prompted a new row with the Prime Minister whose spokesman last night dismissed the comments made by Ms Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament yesterday as “inaccurate”.
It is a further sign of the deteriorating relations between London and Edinburgh over the Brexit process after Downing Street talks aimed at defusing tensions this week saw Ms Sturgeon emerge afterwards to brand them “deeply frustrating”.
The Joint Ministerial Council meeting between Mrs May and the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on Monday saw plans unveiled for a Brexit “forum” to ensure all nations of the UK had their say in the process.
The proposal for a “direct line” to Brexit minister David Davis were also set out by the Prime Minister as part of the charm offensive to assure the UK devolved administrations that their input would be listened to as the UK negotiates its departure from the Brussels block.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs yesterday that the Prime Minister has been “unwilling or I suspect unable to answer the most basic questions” about the UK’s plan for Brexit.
“The only new information that we got on Thursday was that the UK government has set up what they have called a hotline to David Davis,” the First Minister added.
“I can share with the chamber today that Michael Russell’s office called that hotline this week. He called it just before midday on Tuesday.
“It took until after 6pm on yesterday to actually get David Davis on the hotline. That’s 36 hours.
“So yes there is now telephone we can currently call – it’s just currently not very hot.”
The time period from noon on Tuesday until 6pm the following day is actually 30 hours and not 36 hours as suggested by Ms Sturgeon, although the exact timing of the calls was not made clear.
A Number 10 spokesman rejected Ms Sturgeon’s account as being “not an accurate version of events”.
He said: “A call was booked in with David Davis and that call took place at the time it was booked in for.”
And a spokesman for the Department for Exiting the European Union, headed by Mr Davis, also rejected the First Minister’s version of events.
He said: “This is not correct. The Scottish Government asked for a call to be arranged for yesterday morning and the Secretary of State spoke to Mike Russell later in the day, as soon as his diary allowed.”
The latest exchanges underline the increasingly strained relations between the Scottish and UK governments over the plans to depart the European Union. Scotland voted 62 per cent to 38 per cent in favour of Remain in the June referendum, but the weight of votes south of the Border swung the result in favour of Leave.
Ms Sturgeon has since warned that she is ready to call a second referendum on Scottish independence in order to protect Scotland’s place in the EU as an independent country and has indicated such a scenario is “highly likely”.
Relations between both governments nosedived last week when Mr Davis, on a trip to Glasgow, warned that the prospect of a separate Scottish deal on Brexit is a non-starter, insisting that a single UK-wide agreement was the only realistic option. The SNP government in Scotland has insisted that Scotland must secure access to the EU single market and even indicated that Scotland should be given powers to strike its own international trade deals.
Ms Sturgeon came under fire yesterday from Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins for placing “hostility and threats” over ministerial collaboration in the Brexit process.
“I just wish that the UK government would start collaborating with us,” Ms Sturgeon added.
The First Minister has previously warned that the UK is facing a “lost decade” after Brexit, insisting that the likely economic impact has yet to be felt.
The Scottish Government is currently working on formal proposals which would avoid a “hard Brexit” for Scotland to keep the country in the single market, even if the rest of the UK chooses to leave.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs yesterday; “In the referendum campaign, Ruth Davidson was very clear that she thought that Scotland and the UK should stay in the single market. The proof of the pudding will be whether Scottish Conservatives are prepared to back proposals in the Scottish interest or capitulate to their bosses at Westminster.”
A recent report by Strathclyde University’s Fraser of Allander Institute warned that the impact of a “hard Brexit”, when no alternative trade deals were agreed, meaning the UK falls backs on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, could see about 80,000 jobs lost to Scotland. Even under less extreme scenarios, the Scottish economy would still experience a dramatic impact on jobs and wages after Brexit, according to the study.
The UK government has said it expects to secure tariff-free access to EU markets.