Brexit: Nicola Sturgeon calls on PM for Norway-style deal as 'democratic compromise'

'For MPs to support a bad or blindfold Brexit ... would in my view be a real dereliction of duty'

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 15 October 2018 13:49 BST
Nicola Sturgeon: 'Membership of the single market and customs union is surely the obvious democratic compromise'

Theresa May must change her Brexit approach to include continued membership of the single market and the customs union rather than “railroading” MPs into a bad deal, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

As Brexit talks hit an impasse ahead of a crucial EU summit, Scotland’s first minister urged MPs to reject any “cobbled-together agreement” and called for a Norway-style deal with Brussels, as the only “democratic compromise” that would unite different factions.

Ms Sturgeon said the SNP would vote against a deal based on the prime minister’s Chequers proposals, which she described as “impractical, undesirable and undeliverable”, and she insisted the Canada-style approach favoured by Brexiteers also lacked widespread support.

She urged MPs to reject the “false choice” between whatever deal Ms May secures and a no-deal Brexit, and not to allow themselves to be railroaded into backing the prime minister over fears of a catastrophic cliff-edge exit from the EU.

The Scottish leader’s intervention comes as the prime minister was due to make an unscheduled commons statement on the state of Brexit negotiations after weekend talks broke down over arrangements for the Irish border.

SNP leader Ms Sturgeon, speaking at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) in London, said: “In these circumstances, it is probably the case that the only option with any chance of commanding a parliamentary majority is single market and customs union membership.

“Now, I am not saying that the way to such a solution would be easy. But it might well be the only option which is not completely impossible at this stage.

“It should be acceptable to the EU. It avoids the worst economic damage that Brexit will wreak. It resolves the Irish border issue. And it comes closest to reconciling the different views of Leavers and Remainers.”

She accused the government of “threatening us with fire, to make us choose the frying pan”, and argued any deal Ms May presents will probably be vague about the future relationship with the EU and damaging to the UK’s interests.

“For MPs to support a bad or blindfold Brexit – a cobbled together withdrawal agreement and a vague statement about our future relationship – would in my view be a real dereliction of duty,” Ms Sturgeon said.

She added: “As the crucial vote looms closer, it is also time for individual members of the House of Commons to consider what compromises they see as justified – and which are not – if they are to serve their constituents and the wider public interest.

“If they do that, I believe that a common sense outcome could yet be found.”

The first minister reiterated her support for a new Brexit referendum if a sensible plan cannot be agreed, an option The Independent is backing through its Final Say campaign.

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Scotland voted by 62 to 38 per cent in favour of remaining in the EU in 2016, and the SNP government has been vocal in its opposition to the prime minister’s exit strategy.

The SNP has also argued Brexit strengthens the case for Scottish independence, heaping pressure on Conservatives north of the border.

Ruth Davidson, the Scots Tory leader, hinted she would resign if Northern Ireland was given special trading terms with the EU in a Brexit deal, against a background of the SNP arguing for Scotland to remain in the single market even if the rest of the UK leaves.

Ms Davidson said she “could not support” such an agreement, in a joint letter to the prime minister also signed by David Mundell, the Scottish secretary.

Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins said Ms Sturgeon’s speech was merely “drumming up the prospects for Scottish independence”.

“If the SNP doesn’t back a deal, it is automatically supporting a no-deal scenario – something the nationalists have admitted would be bad for Scotland,” he said.

“And, of course, they don’t care if outcomes are bad for Scotland, so long as they’re good for the prospects of another independence referendum.

“This was just the latest opportunistic contribution from Nicola Sturgeon, whose behaviour on the Brexit process has been selfish and utterly shameless.”

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