Chancellor Philip Hammond dealt a crushing blow to Nicola Sturgeon’s Brexit strategy yesterday when he ruled out Scotland forging a separate EU deal from the rest of the UK.
During a visit to Edinburgh for talks with the First Minister, Mr Hammond said there could not be a Scotland-only deal on trade and immigration.
Ms Sturgeon has put protecting Scotland’s relationship with Europe at the heart of her Brexit strategy.
A key option proposed by the First Minister would be for Scotland to somehow retain its relationship with the single market and freedom of movement if the UK loses it.
But when asked about the chances of a separate Scottish deal on trade and immigration, Mr Hammond said: “Honestly, I think this is not a realistic prospect.”
Ms Sturgeon is due to publish options aimed at protecting Scotland’s place in Europe shortly. In addition to a separate Scottish deal, her options will include a second independence referendum.
The uncompromising stance taken by such a senior member of the UK Government suggests an individual deal is a non-starter.
“The European Union is clear it will negotiate a deal with the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom is the member state, and I think you only need to think about it for a few moments to realise that a separate immigration deal for any part of the United Kingdom would be impractical,” Mr Hammond said.
The Chancellor acknowledged that Scotland had important trading relationships with the EU, but said its economic links with the United Kingdom were four times as important.
“This is a United Kingdom issue and the will of the people of the United Kingdom was to leave. We are clear we can’t have a different deal or different outcome for different parts of the United Kingdom.
“We have to work together as a United Kingdom to get the best possible deal with Europe and then to make our way in the world as a United Kingdom to the benefits of all parts of that United Kingdom,” he said
Ahead of next week’s Supreme Court hearing on Article 50, Mr Hammond was asked if triggering Brexit required consent from the Scottish Parliament.
The Chancellor would not be drawn on the details of the UK Government’s attempt to appeal against the High Court decision that MPs should be consulted before the Brexit process began.
Mr Hammond said: “I look forward to us moving on from this sort of slightly backward-looking clutching at straws, trying to resist the will of the people, to embracing it, recognising that it is going to happen, and committing to work together to make sure it’s done in a way that is most supportive of UK economy and Scottish economy.’’
Ahead of his meeting with the First Minister, Mr Hammond had appeared to endorse Brexit minister David Davis’s suggestion that the UK could contribute to the EU budget in return for single market access.
Mr Hammond said: “You can’t go into any negotiation expecting to get every single objective that you set out with and concede nothing on the way.
“David Davis is absolutely right not to rule out the possibility that we might want to contribute in some way to some form of mechanism.”
After Mr Hammond’s meeting with Ms Sturgeon and finance secretary Derek Mackay, a spokesman for the First Minister said: “The Chancellor said he looked forward to hearing our proposals on Scotland’s place in Europe, and that they will be considered fully – in line with the specific undertaking given to the First Minister by the Prime Minister when they met in Edinburgh in July.