Ruth Davidson yesterday issued a stern warning to Boris Johnson, saying he has to apply himself to the Brexit talks to ensure their outcome is in Scotland’s best interests.
The Scottish Tory leader vowed she personally would make sure that the Foreign Secretary takes Scotland into account when negotiating withdrawal from the EU.
Speaking on the eve of the Conservative Party’s UK Conference in Birmingham, Davidson disclosed that she recently met the former London mayor to discuss the implications of Brexit for Scotland. Davidson described the meeting in London as “very professional”, despite the bitter clashes between the pair during the EU referendum campaign.
But she was unable to dispel the impression that she still harbours some hostility towards the most prominent Leave campaigner when she declined to say directly that she took Johnson seriously as a politician.
Heading to a conference that will be dominated by questions about Brexit and the precise nature of the UK’s EU withdrawal, Davidson said her concern was with taking action to enable Scottish industries such as financial services, oil and fishing to flourish in the new political climate.
On her meeting with Johnson, Davidson acknowledged that the new Foreign Secretary hadn’t had “the easiest run-in”, having to contend with the Nice bombings and the Turkish coup. “He has been tested in his first few weeks and he is a man of ability, who’s applied himself to the task,” Davidson said, before challenging Johnson to do the same with Brexit. “I want to make sure that he applies himself to the task of Brexit and I will do all I can to make sure Scotland’s interests are front and centre as part of that,” said Davidson.
But when asked if she took Johnson seriously, Davidson dodged the question by replying: “I take the position of Foreign Secretary seriously and I always have.”
She laughed when asked if she took the current occupant of the position seriously, before adding: “I have to say I was pleasantly surprised and impressed when I had a meeting with him.” Her faint praise was at least a change of tack from the antipathy apparent between the two when they clashed while on opposite sides during the EU referendum campaign.
In a newspaper article, the Scottish Conservative leader said her Tory colleague had the same “brazen chauvinistic” style as Alex Salmond. The pair crossed swords when they appeared on opposite sides during the Wembley TV debate, with Davidson accusing the Brexit campaign of selling a lie.
On another occasion she attacked Johnson’s anti-EU rhetoric, saying she wasn’t sure if the “bumble-busting, kitten smirk tangent bombast routine is cutting through”.
Last night an SNP spokesman said: “It speaks volumes about the competence of Theresa May’s Brexiteer ministers that Ruth Davidson struggles to offer even qualified support for a Foreign Secretary who just three months ago she claimed had repeatedly ‘lied’ about the case for leaving the EU. Before the referendum Ruth Davidson was happy to tear into Boris Johnson over Europe – the question is why she now acts like a born-again Brexiteer if she thinks our EU membership is so important.”
Scottish Labour economy spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “Campaigning during the EU referendum, Ruth Davidson viciously attacked leading Brexiteers like Boris Johnson – now she is preparing to share a platform with them.”
Having ended up on the losing side in the June referendum, Davidson said she was determined to make the most of Brexit and contrasted her approach with the SNP’s refusal to accept the result. “I was a pretty strong advocate for Remain. I was the one pulling a shift on the stage at Wembley when I didn’t see anybody else in Scotland [doing the same] – no matter how much they want to slap me round the head right now,” Davidson said. “The question mark now is for those of us who advocated for Remain, who fought for Remain, who voted for Remain. What do we do? There are two things we can do. As politicians we can go off and sulk that we didn’t get the answer we wanted. I’m not a natural sulker. Or we can do what we are paid to do, which is put our shoulders to the wheel and try and deliver something that is going to work for people in Scotland, and try and make this work.”
Today Prime Minister Theresa May, Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis will address delegates on the first day of conference on “making a success” of EU withdrawal.
Their contributions will come amid confusion and criticism about what coming out of the political bloc actually means for the UK.
Johnson has indicated he favours “hard Brexit”, which would mean a clean break from the single market and the customs union. Davidson has said she wants access to the single market.
“People like financial services organisations want to make sure there are passporting of financial services so they can mitigate the effect of Brexit,” said Davidson. “There are some sectors, like the fishing industry, who see that there are opportunities from not being part of the EU and not being subject to some of the EU rules. How do we maximise those?
“Then there are some sectors, like oil and gas, who have previously said things like the reason they are worried about Brexit was not to do with regulation because we are already ahead of where the EU were, but it was about investment and how do we reassure markets and make sure the investment comes on stream.”
She added: “There is actually quite a lot of hard work to be done. I’m determined that I’m going to pull my weight and do as much of it as I can, rather than sit in the corner and moan that I didn’t get the result that I wanted.”
Ahead of the conference, May said First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s government will have a say in the UK’s negotiating stance on Brexit but no veto to stop the process. The Prime Minister has also made it clear she opposes the idea of a second independence referendum.
Sturgeon’s position is that she will explore all options for protecting Scotland’s relationship with the EU, including the possibility of a second indyref.
Davidson said the UK government should not block another independence vote but added that Sturgeon did not have a mandate to hold one, describing the 2014 poll as a “pretty clear result”.
“It was a 10 point result. It was not a narrow margin,” Davidson said. “I think that the idea that Nicola Sturgeon takes my vote for Remain and the thousands of other Scots like me who voted to Remain as some sort of proxy for another independence referendum is a nonsense.”