Scottish Conservatives to block post-Brexit trade role for Scottish Government

Scottish Conservative MPs have warned the government they will not support any move to give the Scottish Government a formal role in trade negotiations after Brexit.

The group of Scottish Tories is “wary” of suggestions that ministers from Holyrood could be given a seat at the table in talks with third countries after the UK leaves the EU.

The move comes as Nicola Sturgeon is set to meet Theresa May in London to discuss the Prime Minister’s offer of an “enhanced role” for devolved administrations in the remaining stages of Brexit.

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There has been speculation that Mrs May could offer the First Minister and her Welsh counterpart a greater role in trade talks in exchange for support in getting the UK government’s embattled Brexit deal through the House of Commons.

Anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray holds a placard as he demonstrates with a megaphone outside the Houses of Parliament on January 22. Picture: Tolga Akmen/ AFP

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Before Christmas, trade minister George Hollingbery told the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster that he would be “drawing [devolved governments] as closely in as is reasonable to the actual negotiations themselves”, with talks set to cover areas of responsibility shared between London, Edinburgh and Cardiff.

Mr Hollingbery said Holyrood ministers would have a “full part in the process of not only creating the outlines of our future trade agreements but also having a role further down the line”.

He was backed up by the Scottish Secretary David Mundell, who said there was “no reason why that shouldn’t happen”, adding that it was “what business and industry bodies want”.

But concerns were raised on the eve of the Sturgeon-May meeting about how, with a Scottish Tory source saying they wanted devolved trade envoys to “sell Scotland and nothing more”.

“The idea of Nicola Sturgeon joining Theresa May on international trade missions isn’t new, it’s been around for some time,” a source told The Scotsman. “The Scottish Government will not be negotiating trade deals. That’s the job of the UK government.

“What has to be clear is that Nicola Sturgeon would be taking part purely to sell Scotland and nothing more – if they’re there at all. The Scottish Tories would be very wary about supporting anything that went beyond that.”

The comments come as a spokesman for the First Minister said previous pledges from Downing Street to involve Holyrood in the process have amounted to “warm words and platitudes.” Mrs May’s current “red lines” over a no deal are unlikely to yield progress, he added.

Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman said he does not expect anything “hugely significant” to come out of the meeting today, despite Mrs May promising greater engagement with the devolved administrations in a statement to the Commons yesterday.

“We’ve heard that kind of thing in the last number of years – it hasn’t so afar amounted to very much at all,” the spokesman said. “But the First Minister will go along and we’ll see what comes out of that.”

The Scottish Government has been frustrated at Mrs May’s approach on the impact of EU departure on Scotland.

“We’ve put forward proposals for the past two and a half years which have pretty much been ignored or rebuffed,” the spokesman added.

“Every time that there’s an undertaking to involve the devolved administrations and take on board what we say, it’s pretty much warm words and platitudes rather than anything significant or substantial. Maybe the Prime Minister is in a different place now, but the evidence so far suggests not.