UK government ‘depriving Scotland of Brexit details’

The UK is due to leave the European Union by October 31
The UK is due to leave the European Union by October 31
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Scottish Government civil servants have been deprived of key information relating to a no-deal Brexit by the UK government, Nicola Sturgeon has claimed.

Her declaration comes after Tory leadership contender Jeremy Hunt claimed the Scottish Government was not making adequate preparations for a no-deal scenario.

Former first minister Jack McConnell also warned relations between civil servants in Edinburgh and London had been hit by growing divisions as a result of enhanced devolution. The claims are made in a new collection of essays published by the Smith Institute think tank today.

Ms Sturgeon said the civil service in Scotland has “often worked well” with the UK-wide civil service despite “inevitable tensions”.

But she said: “Our experiences have been mixed here, however.

“The Scottish Government has also had to work with the UK government on the aftermath of the 2016 referendum on leaving the EU.

“The UK government has routinely deprived Scottish Government civil servants of important information – for example, on preparations for a no-deal Brexit – which I would expect to be made available. This is perhaps a reminder that, regardless of the professionalism and goodwill of civil servants, clear leadership from ministers is still absolutely essential if government is to function effectively.”

It is feared a no-deal Brexit could cost up to 100,000 jobs north of the Border. Ms Sturgeon has warned the Scottish Government will not be able to fully mitigate the impact.

SNP ministers are concerned about a lack of information in key logistical areas such as how much ferry capacity will be available after exiting the EU and on what routes they will run. It is also not known what goods will be classed as “priority” and what arrangements will be made for Scottish needs, including the particular challenges of rural areas. It is also not known whether food exports can be integrated with imports, which would allow Scots goods to be shipped on the “outbound” journey.

Mr Hunt, the foreign secretary, said the Scottish Government was not doing enough to prepare for a no-deal scenario during a visit to Scotland last week, but declined to specify particular areas of concern.

Lord McConnell says it is time to “refresh and renew a battered civil service”.

He warns enhanced devolution has led to a freeze in relations between civil servants north and south of the Border.

“Internally within the UK, respect for the autonomy of the devolved nations and the relationship between their ministers and civil servants leads to a lack of interchange now that is dividing the practical experience of different levels of government,” he adds.

“To tackle this, regular secondments and interchange should take place between UK departments and departments reporting to Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

“Top level civil servants in London, and in the devolved administrations, should have spent some of their career working at the other level, understanding the systems and dynamics at play there and understanding the relationships from both sides.”

The former first minister warns there is a need for the civil service in the UK to be strengthened.

“There are too many instances of covering up for ministers or colleagues and in these times of identity politics, where nationalism and patriotism can become confused, too many stories arise of promotions based on political loyalties,” he says.

The collection of essays has been published in an attempt to “bring clarity” to the debate about the challenges of delivering an impartial civil service. Steve Barwick, editor of the collection and deputy director of the independent Smith Institute think tank, said it shows the “diligence and impartiality” of civil servants is respected by the vast majority of politicians.

A UK Government Spokesperson said: “There are regular discussions at all levels between the UK and Scottish Government ahead of UK’s exit from the European Union to discuss the next steps in delivering Brexit in a smooth and orderly way.”