Nicola Sturgeon has pledged that Scotland’s “partnership” with the EU will remain after Brexit as she prepares to meet EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels today.
The First Minister will unveil plans to expand the Scotland House base of businesses in the EU capital in a show of European solidarity as Brexit disputes intensify in the UK government.
And Ms Sturgeon appeared to back Mr Barnier’s recent call for the UK government to step up the pace of Brexit negotiations as she hit out at the lack of an “agreed position” among the Tory party.
But the SNP leader was accused of seeking to “weaponise” the Brexit debate and using the trip for narrow party political purposes.
The Scottish Government wants to stay inside the customs union and single market, which Ms Sturgeon describes as “the best possible outcome from Brexit, short of continuing EU membership”.
Mr Barnier expressed frustration at the state of the negotiations last week, claiming that the UK was playing “hide-and-seek” by refusing to spell out exactly what it wants.
In a strongly worded speech in Lisbon, Mr Barnier stressed that “time is and will remain tight”, and called for progress to “speed up” if details of the future relationship are to be agreed before the Brexit date.
The Scottish and UK governments have been in dispute over what should happen to powers currently held by Brussels after MSPs refused to give their consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill.
Ms Sturgeon is to hold the meeting while in Brussels for the official opening of the expanded Scotland House, a hub for Scottish businesses in Europe.
She said: “People and businesses are desperate for clarity on Brexit, but with just months to go before the withdrawal agreement has to be signed, the UK government still cannot agree a position.
“This damaging uncertainty could come to an immediate end if only the UK government would put jobs and living standards first and agree to continuing single market and customs union membership – for Scotland and the whole of the UK.
“Whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, we are committed to continuing our collaboration, our friendship and our partnership with other European countries.
“Increasing our presence across the EU is a significant part of maintaining those relationships, and the newly-expanded Scotland House has a major part to play in representing Scotland across the whole of the EU.”
Ms Sturgeon plans to hold another referendum on Scottish independence when the terms of Brexit become clear, although the prospect of a re-run of the 2014 vote has so far been rejected by the UK government which has power the constitution.
The Scottish Government’s policy is for an independent Scotland to remain part of the EU.
Tory constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins accused the First Minister of using today’s Brussels trip to agitate on independence.
He said: “This is Nicola Sturgeon’s latest attempt to weaponise Brexit. Rather than working with the UK government to do a deal on Brexit, she’s chosen to take a pointless trip to Brussels.
“It’s becoming ever more obvious that Nicola Sturgeon wants to create a political crisis to justify her continued push for independence.
“Instead of acting in Scotland’s best interests, the SNP is acting according to their own narrow political agenda.”
Labour Brexit spokesman Neil Findlay said: “The timing of this,on the back of the SNP’s cuts commission, is unfortunate for the First Minister.
“Brexit simply shows how difficult it is to leave a political union – even one less integrated than the UK.”
Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie also called on Ms Sturgeon to rethink her latest drive for independence.
“I hope that Nicola Sturgeon uses her visit to Brussels to reflect on the damage caused by breaking up political unions,” Mr Rennie said.
“The unfolding economic and social damage from Brexit is surely all the hard evidence we need to realise that breaking up the political union of the UK is a bad idea.”