Sturgeon’s EU plans rejected over risk of UK trade barriers

Brexit Secretary David Davis
Brexit Secretary David Davis
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The UK Government rejected Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to protect Scotland’s relationship with the EU because it would create trade barriers and cause “significant disruption” of the UK internal market.

The rationale for the UK Government’s decision not to adopt the economic models proposed by the First Minister in her “Scotland’s Place in Europe” document came to light in a letter written by Brexit Secretary David Davis.

In the letter, Mr Davis also expressed dismay that the Scottish Government called for a second referendum before he had properly discussed Nicola Sturgeon’s plan.

Mr Davis was responding to Ms Sturgeon’s hefty paper, published in December which set out detailed proposals of how Scotland could protect trade and freedom of movement after Brexit.

Mr Davis’s letter was written in March, but remained under wraps until it was published on the Scottish Parliament’s website.

The letter said UK Government officials has undertaken a “programme of intensive discussions” to understand Ms Sturgeon’s proposals.

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Ms Sturgeon looked at a range of possibilities including the possibility of Scotland becoming a full or associate member of the European Free Trade Association to maintain its place in the Single Market, in the event of the UK going for a hard Brexit.

Mr Davis said his officials had been engaged in “a substantive programme of work” and added: “I am disappointed that the Scottish Government has called for another referendum on independence before we were able to discuss the outcomes of this joint work that was entered into good faith.”

On the detail of Ms Sturgeon’s paper, Mr Davis said: “There are clear barriers to making your proposals a reality. Scotland’s accession to EFTA, and then the EEA (European Economic Area), would not be deliverable and, importantly, would require the consent of all EFTA and EU member states.

“Any divergence between EU and UK law -as a result, perhaps of new EU regulation- could lead to the creation of new barriers to trade within our Union, which could take the form of additional controls and checks on trade within the United Kingdom.”

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Mr Davis added: “Given that trade with the rest of the UK is worth four times trade with the EU, I do not believe that such significant disruption to the internal UK market is in Scotland’s – or the UK’s – best interests.

“And Scotland’s businesses could face a confusing mix of regulatory regimes.”

The four page letter claims the UK and Scottish Governments have many common objectives, but it warned that Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for membership of the EU Single Market cannot be met.

“The Scottish Government and the UK Government agree that achieving the freest and most frictionless trade with the EU and maintaining the deeply integrated trade and economic relationship with the EU is in both Scotland’s and the UK’s interests,” Mr Davis wrote.

“You have called specifically for membership of the Single Market as the means of delivering that end; as the Prime Minister has made clear, this is simply not possible if we wish to take back control of borders and immigration in the way people in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom desire, nor if we wish to enjoy the supremacy of our domestic courts.

“However we share the same goal in terms of the outcome.”

The Scottish Government’s Brexit Minister Michael Russell has written back to Mr Davis re-stating the “fundamental importance” Ms Sturgeon’s administration places on EU Single Market membership.

Mr Russell added that the Scottish Parliament had “agreed an independence referendum” and complained that there has not been “proper discussion or engagement on the strategic choices we face” with the UK Government.