'No mandate' to remove Scotland from single market - Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted Scotland will not be 'window dressing in a talking shop' when it comes to Brexit negotiations as she restated her threat to call a second independence referendum if the UK exits the European single market.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon . Picture: Ian Rutherford

The First Minister demanded a meaningful role in developing the UK’s negotiating position as Theresa May came under sustained pressure over the lack of detail on her government’s Brexit strategy.

Facing MPs for the first time since the end of the summer recess, the Prime Minister refused to reveal whether she wanted the UK to remain a full member of the European free trade zone.

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Mrs May was accused by SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson of “waffle” after she said she would not give a “running commentary” on the government’s Brexit plans, and insisted she would not reveal its negotiating strategy “prematurely”.

Pro-EU supporters gather outside the Scottish Parliament following the Leave vote

Ms Sturgeon, meanwhile, pledged to use her influence to try to secure a “soft Brexit” that keeps the UK in the single market, telling MSPs that withdrawing the threat of a second independence referendum would leave Scotland “at the mercy of Westminster decisions no matter how damaging or destructive”.

She claimed the Prime Minister’s mantra “Brexit means Brexit” was a “meaningless tautological soundbite” that was being used to conceal an absence of actual policy.

“Of course our ability to fully assess the different options will be constrained until we start to get some clarity about what the UK government is seeking to achieve,” she said.

“We continue to press for urgent clarification on how the UK government will deliver on the Prime Minister’s commitment to full involvement for Scotland.”

Ruth Davidson, Kezia Dugdale, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pictured during the EU referendum. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Ms Sturgeon added: “I accept that the Prime Minister has a mandate in England and Wales to leave the EU, but I do not accept that she has a mandate to take any part of the UK out of the single market.”

Responding to Mrs May’s comments earlier in the day, Ms Sturgeon said it was unacceptable “to have a cloud of secrecy hanging over the UK government’s negotiating position”.

Conservative MSP Jackson Carlaw dismissed the First Minister’s approach as “belligerent and self-defeating”, while Labour leader Kezia Dugdale accused her of shifting her position on a second independence referendum – linking it to single market membership rather than full EU membership.

Pro-EU supporters gather outside the Scottish Parliament following the Leave vote

Speaking on a radio phone-in programme, former SNP leader Alex Salmond said failure to retain membership of the single market could bring forward a second independence referendum. This week Ms Sturgeon announced a consultation on a Referendum Bill, suggesting a second vote would not be called in the next year.

However, Mr Salmond said: “The SNP is a pro-independence party but Nicola Sturgeon has identified that our key priority is to keep Scotland within that single market place.

“I think that [single market membership] would affect the timing as opposed to whether there was a referendum. I think if there is no compromise or no ability to keep Scotland within the single market within the context of the UK, that will mean an early referendum – if there is, the referendum might be later.”

In the House of Commons, Mrs May came under pressure with the SNP, Liberal Democrats, and Conservative and Labour backbenchers repeatedly calling on her to clarify her position on the single market.

Ruth Davidson, Kezia Dugdale, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pictured during the EU referendum. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Challenging the Prime Minister for an “in or an out answer” Mr Robertson said: “This government has had all summer to come up with a plan, to come up with a strategy, and so far we‘ve just had waffle.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “This government isn’t concealing its hand – it hasn’t got a hand or, it would appear, a clue.”

Mrs May’s refusal to set out the government’s position comes less than 24 hours after Downing Street distanced itself from comments by the secretary of state in charge of Brexit, David Davis, suggesting the UK would leave the single market.

A No.10 spokesman said on Tuesday Mr Davis was expressing “his opinion” after he said it was “very improbable” that the UK could stay in the common market while imposing restrictions on EU immigration, as the government has committed to doing.

Jeremy Corbyn accused the government of issuing “contradictory messages”, but in comments likely to renew questions over his own support for the EU, a Labour source suggested the party leader would be content for the UK to come out of the European free trade zone.

The source said there were “aspects” of the single market that Mr Corbyn “campaigned against in the referendum”, particularly treaties and directives relating to the privatisation of public services, adding: “So it depends how you define the issue.”

Asked repeatedly whether Mr Corbyn supported full membership of the single market, the source would only say that Labour supports “access to the single market in terms of goods and services”.

The statement puts the Labour leader out of step with comments by his deputy, John McDonnell, who warned during the referendum campaign that leaving the single market would cause “substantial” damage to the UK economy, and at odds with Scottish Labour Party policy.

Ms Dugdale wrote to the First Minister last night to clarify her support for Ms Sturgeon’s efforts to keep Scotland in the single market, adding that Scottish Labour was “an autonomous party”.

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