No-deal Brexit risks harming Covid response, says Nicola Sturgeon

There is pressure for an extension to Brexit trade talksThere is pressure for an extension to Brexit trade talks
There is pressure for an extension to Brexit trade talks
The Scottish Government could be forced to divert resources away from dealing with Covid-19 to prepare for a no-deal Brexit if the UK government refuses to extend the deadline for key talks, Nicola Sturgeon has warned.

The Scottish First Minister urged politicians at Westminster to “think again” on previous refusals to extend the existing Brexit transition period.

As a crucial round of negotiations got under way, MSPs were warned the Scottish economy could be facing a “double hit” as a result of both Brexit and Covid-19.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It came as leading figures from the fishing industry demanded the UK government give no ground on the sensitive issue of access to British waters – but warned that French boats would blockade British ports if their catch is reduced.

As it stands, if no extension is agreed, the UK could be forced to adopt World Trade Organisation rules in its dealing with Europe from the start of 2021.

The UK government has until July to apply for an extension, with Ms Sturgeon saying not to do this would be “deeply irresponsible and reckless”.

The First Minister said: “If you take the Scottish Government, we are, as I think absolutely everybody would expect, focused on dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

“But if there is no extension request we are going to have divert resources from that to thinking about and starting to prepare for the onsequences again of a no-deal Brexit. I would just appeal to common sense. Does anybody seriously think right now that that is a sensible thing to be doing? I don’t and I hope the UK government comes to its senses.”

As it stands, she claimed Boris Johnson’s government was “ploughing ahead” with Brexit plans which have a “very high risk potential of effectively a no-deal Brexit at the end of this year, regardless of everything else we’re dealing with just now”.

Ms Sturgeon called on the UK government to do what most people “would probably think is sensible in the midst of a global health crisis that has also become an economic crisis”.

Teams led by Boris Johnson’s Europe adviser David Frost and the EU’s negotiator Michel Barnier began meeting virtually for the latest round of discussions yesterday, after days of angry rhetoric.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Progress needs to be made ahead of a high-level summit later this month between Mr Johnson and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen. Fishing rights and the question of a “level playing field” in trade regulations remain the biggest stumbling blocks.

The fishing industry warned UK ministers not to give ground in talks, and to make securing a bigger share of the North Sea catch for British fishermen – even if it means conflict on the water.

Barrie Deas, the chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, told journalists yesterday that if access to British waters is reduced, “as day follows night, there will be blockades”.

Mr Deas said: “They’ve done it for much less in the past. There will be a reaction in France by the fishermen, that’s just the nature of the beast we’re dealing with.

“That’s not a reason not to do what we’re doing.”

Mr Deas said the EU’s “hard line” position on retaining access rights that allow European boats to catch six times as much fish in UK waters as British boats means there was not much optimism a deal on fishing can be reached by the end of June deadline

However, he added that failure to do a deal was a “nuclear option” that would eventually lead to a compromise based on a reduced EU quota.

Economy secretary Fiona Hyslop warned yesterday the impact of Brexit and Covid-19 now risks the prospect of a “W-shaped” recovery in Scotland.

“If the UK government does not achieve a deal with the EU in relation to Brexit and we are careering towards a no-deal Brexit, we know from the no-deal planning previously that certain parts of the economy will be affected and certain regions will be affected worse, for example food and drink,” she told Holyrood’s economy committee.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Ms Hyslop added: “The combination of those two factors, particularly a no-deal Brexit, if that’s what transpires, would really compound what will already be a very difficult situation.

“Regardless of what your views are on Brexit generally, there is a concern about a no-deal Brexit having a further impact.”

The financial crash of a decade ago saw a 5 per cent reduction in GDP over the first year of that crisis, but the Covid-19 lockdown has been estimated to have seen a 33 per cent fall in GDP over the period of closure.

Ms Hyslop said that initial analysis had suggested the economy could bounce back quickly as activity was restarted, resulting in a “V shape” recovery. But there were now growing concerns that not just local, but global demand could be suppressed in the longer term.

“There’s a possibility that the V-structure changes, it’s why it could be a W-shaped recovery,” she said.

Scotland’s chief economist Gary Gillespie warned that if Scotland leaves the EU as planned at the end of the year, it would bring “additional frictions” to the economy in the form of extra trade or regulatory costs.

“That could essentially cost up to 1 per cent or 2 per cent of GDP, but that would be over and above the type or shape of recovery we would face from the pandemic and the uncertainty,” he said.

Meanwhile, a committee of MPs has warned that the government may struggle to run effective public information campaigns on coronavirus and the end of the Brexit transition at the same time.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Commons public accounts committee said there was a danger important messaging on the need to prepare for the new arrangements with the EU will be “crowded out” if the focus is still on Covid-19.

The committee said it was “vital” that citizens and businesses were well prepared for the changes that the end of the transition will entail.

However, it said that despite spending £46 million, there was no evidence that a previous campaign ahead of the UK’s earlier planned withdrawal at the end of last October had resulted in people being better prepared.

It said planning had started too late, with too much spent on mass advertising designed to raise general awareness and not enough on targeted activity to get people to take action.

“We are concerned about whether the Cabinet Office will have sufficient capacity to work effectively on both campaigns simultaneously,” the committee said.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit now to sign up.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Joy Yates

Editorial Director



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.