“The ship has sailed” on a compromise deal for a soft Brexit, the SNP’s Westminster leader has said, committing the party to securing a second EU referendum – or if that fails, a vote on independence.
Ian Blackford revealed a shift in SNP policy on Brexit, which has up until now been to promote a Brexit deal that keeps the whole of the UK inside the single market and customs union.
Within the past few weeks, Nicola Sturgeon has continued to argue that a “Norway Plus” Brexit deal is possible, provided Theresa May changes course and abandons her own agreement with Brussels.
However, during an emergency debate in the Commons on the abandonment of last week’s vote on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, Mr Blackford said time had run out for any compromise and suggested the SNP would throw its weight fully behind a so-called People’s Vote that could keep the UK in the EU.
He was asked by the Conservative backbencher Anna Soubry if he would vote for Norway Plus “or does he think that boat has set sail?”.
Mr Blackford replied: “The position of the Scottish National Party has always been that the people of Scotland voted to Remain and we wish that to be respected, and the People’s Vote creates the circumstances where at least we can test the will of the people in the United Kingdom.
“We have said that we are seeking to compromise. We have sought to compromise over the last two-and-a-half years, and the honourable lady is correct, that that is the minimum we would accept.
“But I believe that ship has now sailed. We ought to be staying in the European Union, that is the best option. We should be putting that to the people.”
The First Minister is to meet Mrs May today for Brexit talks between the UK and devolved governments in the same week the SNP sought to push for a no-confidence vote in the Prime Minister.
Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser claimed the SNP’s stance on Brexit had been “exposed” as “petty game playing”.
“Mike Russell is demanding yet another referendum on Brexit, but, no surprise, refuses to say whether he’d back the result if he lost again,” he said.
“Now, despite Nicola Sturgeon backing a Norway-style deal, Ian Blackford has unilaterally ruled it out, claiming that the ‘ship has sailed’ on such a plan.
“When it comes to a so-called alternative to the Prime Minister’s plan, the SNP is all at sea. The truth is that the SNP isn’t serious about any so-called alternatives to the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, it just wants to push Britain towards the precipice of no deal in the hope it can resurrect its plans for independence.”
In the Commons, Mr Blackford said it was “an outrage” that a vote on the terms of Brexit would not take place until the second week of January. “The entire UK runs the risk of crashing out of the European Union on the basis that the Prime Minister and the Government are trying to deny this House the opportunity to have a vote,” he said.