Westminster’s reply to the SNP’s case for remaining in the single market was taken seriously after all. So why did May allow Sturgeon to claim she’d been ignored?

Here’s a strange thing. There we were, led to believe  that Theresa May had dismissed almost with  contempt Nicola Sturgeon’s  carefully  considered case for the UK, or at least Scotland,  to remain within the single market. It turns out it wasn’t like that at all. We know that because the Scottish Government itself has just published a reply to the SNP’s paper Scotland’s Place in Europe, from the Brexit Secretary David Davis in a letter dated 29 March. It lists the meetings held to discuss it and the work done to evaluate it and explains why the SNPs’ position was rejected.

Davis observes:

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 in good faith.

So why did May, or Davis, fail to answer the charge from Sturgeon directly on the record,  that the Scottish government’s case hadn’t been seriously considered? They could have made more of it although the gist was known through the political lobby.  Not only that, but the SNP minister Mike Russell is publishing  Davis’s reply contrary to  the UK government’s wishes he says, because the UK’s Scotland Secretary David Mundell had  “completely misrepresented the Scottish government’s position about its release in the Commons.”.   Mundell claimed that the Scottish government had asked for it not to be released, something a spokesman for  Russell denied.

The little spat prompts the question, what did the Conservatives have to hide when  the letter reveals that they took the SNP’s case more seriously than they allowed commentators to believe? The clue may lie in the timing.  May had just met Sturgeon in Edinburgh to emphasise that “now is not the time” for  Indyref 2, on the day before  it was known that Davis was about to reject the SNP’s Brexit position. May might have wanted to deny Sturgeon the fresh ammunition of May’s outright  rejection of  the SNP case.   The Conservatives will be sure to make more of it as May campaigns in Scotland on  a modestly rising tide of Tory support.

Davis’s  bullishness about the UK government’s ambitions for Brexit contrasts with the fears of a hard Brexit voiced  by Blairites, the Lib Dems, the SNP and most Irish north and south except  the DUP.

Extracts from Davis Davis’s letter.

The intergovernmental engagement that has taken place within the UK between the four governments since the referendum result has been unprecedented. The Prime Minister has chaired two plenary meetings of the JMC, and we have met four times in the JMC(EU Negotiations). Underpinning these has been a significant amount of bilateral engagement at Ministerial level, alongside official level working. As you have acknowledged, this engagement has intensified over the past two months, specifically in response to the Scottish Government proposals.

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.

We are aiming to agree a bold and ambitious free trade deal with the EU that is more ambitious than any other trade deal agreed to date.

The Scottish Government and the UK Government agree that we will always want immigration, especially high-skilled immigration, from EU countries. Our Governments agree that workers’ rights cannot be eroded as we leave the EU.

Let me turn to your paper on Scotland’s Place in Europe.

As I have already set out, we share many of the same objectives. However, there are clear barriers to making your proposals a reality. Scotland’s accession to EFTA, and then the EEA, 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. 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.

We will achieve a better deal for all if we are united in our approach – and from our wider engagements I believe this is what the Scottish people want too.

As powers are repatriated from the EU, we must work together to ensure that stability and certainty are not compromised, and that the effective functioning of the UK single market is maintained. There will be areas where common frameworks may be required, for example where they are necessary to protect the freedom of businesses, including businesses in Scotland, to operate across the UK single market and to enable the UK to strike free trade deals. Our guiding principle will be to ensure that no new barriers to living and doing business within our own Union are created as we leave the EU. You will know that the process must be a considered one and cannot be done without intensive discussions with the devolved administrations about where common frameworks will need to be retained in the future.

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  • Fear Éireannach

    David Davis is as full of it as any politician out there. He is apparently going to achieve frictionless trade with the EU, yet any divergence between EU and UK law – as a result, perhaps, of new EU regulation, would be major obstacle to trade. So how long will his trade be frictionless for, just the day after they leave the EU?

    This horsecrap is even more notable in relation to NI, where there is supposed to be no border, yet there is supposed to be “no new barriers doing business within our own Union“. These people are shameless.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    Is there any evidence that May is a Unionist (Scot or NI)? Would it not suit, and be the ideal opportunity for SE England, to put the stick about and teach the Celtic fringe a few lessons in reality and who pays the bills; if they care to leave the UK then that’s to the good?

  • Scotty13

    David Davis has been central to the EU negotiations since they were first introduced. He seems to be thinking out the box as you’d hope, anticipating possible pit-falls. These include the SNP’s inability to accept Brexit was voted for by almost one third of their supporters.

    I watched the committee meeting these notes came from. I was disappointed that those who opposed the Brexit Secretary were hell-bent on undermining the UK’s decision, and weakening the UK government’s bargaining position with the EU. Don’t they realise that the entire UK will suffer, including the so called ‘Celtic Fringe’ if negotiations fail over the next two years?

    On this occasion, the UK needs to be positive. We need to focus on an outcome that will allow the relationship we have with the EU to be better than it has been, not worse. We also need the nationalists to accept they do our country no favours by criticising the May government at every turn.

    The Scottish electorate isn’t stupid.

  • Madra Uisce

    The Scottish electorate isn’t stupid.

    Exactly and that is why they overwhelmingly voted to stay in the EU.

  • sam mccomb

    Yes, indeed. If the UK or rUK wants to trade with the EU it will have to be aware of and implement any new EU regulations affecting that trade. What is Davis talking about?

  • Roger

    Yes there is plenty of evidence.

  • eamoncorbett

    The best the UK can hope for is the Norwegian model which is basically all pay with no say . This model will at least solve all of the border issues .
    Accepting some or all of the 4 freedoms will be tricky for the Tories and could lead to problems down the road especially with the huge expected majority post the election . If the UK is obliged to contribute to the EU post Brexit for free access to the single market and has to accept some of the so called freedoms , one has to wonder what was the point of leaving in the first place .

  • Abucs

    I thought I remembered May saying that her government was working with the different elected bodies of the United Kingdom with regards to Brexit and they planned to continue this. Perhaps it was the commentators that got it wrong?