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Analysis

Sturgeon and Davidson back May’s deal for different reasons

by Kirsty Hughes | 12.12.2017

The headlines were clear if surprising: Nicola Sturgeon welcomes the draft Brexit deal. The latest Survation poll shows 68% of Scottish voters now back remain. And the Scottish government has been clear that staying in the EU is its preferred option for the UK and for an independent Scotland. So why the welcome?

Nicola Sturgeon did caveat her statement a little, repeating her preference for the UK to at least stay in the single market and customs union. She could though have welcomed the agreement on EU citizens’ rights (belated though it is) while criticising the overall deal as a step towards a damaging, hard-Brexit, Canada-style trade deal. That would have got rather different headlines – showcasing Scotland’s opposition to Brexit.

Sturgeon also welcomed the commitment to no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. She pointed out that if Northern Ireland got some sort of special arrangements, this would call into question the UK government’s push towards “common UK frameworks” post-Brexit – something that has caused a sustained stand-off with both Welsh and Scottish governments. Sturgeon went on to call for any special arrangements for Northern Ireland to be available for the other devolved nations – in line with the Scottish government’s year-old policy of wanting Scotland to stay in the EU’s single market.

Ruth Davidson’s agenda

Meanwhile, the Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson also called the deal “a real step forward”. Yet earlier on last week, Davidson had thrown her weight behind the DUP as they threatened to stymie the deal. Davidson emphasised the vital importance of upholding the integrity of the UK’s internal market. And she criticised Sturgeon for arguing that Scotland should have a differentiated deal – calling that a knee-jerk pro-independence statement (despite the Welsh leader, Carwyn Jones, and London mayor Sadiq Khan also calling for differentiated deals).

Davidson insisted, in a column in the Scotsman, that neither she nor the 13 Scottish Tory MPs would support Northern Ireland getting a “markedly separate deal”.

Ironically, Davidson’s position, much more than Sturgeon’s, seems to be based around her anti-independence stance, rather than on a clear position on how Brexit should unfold (shifting from apparent sympathy for staying in the single market to support for an “open” Brexit to talking about getting a comprehensive trade deal). Her antipathy to special arrangements for Northern Ireland may become problematic for Theresa May as talks move onto trade – when this issue is highly likely to recur.

As talks unfold in the coming months, we are quite likely to see an emerging deal around a short transition and a Canada-style trade deal, and possibly some special or specific arrangements for Northern Ireland or a long UK-EU debate over what “full alignment” means.

In such a scenario, the SNP – with its Brexit “compromise” position of staying in the single market and customs union – will presumably vote against such a final deal. But will they support a further EU referendum on the deal or make a dash for a second independence referendum – or neither?

And meanwhile the Scottish Tories look like prioritising their anti-independence stance, perhaps complicating any solution of the Northern Ireland issue. Some have argued that Davidson’s support for the DUP was really a clever ploy to push May towards a soft Brexit. It looks, rather, like one more hurdle in May’s path to a Brexit deal of any kind.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

One Response to “Sturgeon and Davidson back May’s deal for different reasons”

  • I thought that these political leaders were intelligent?
    They appear to be incapable of spotting a complete fudge and inconsequential agreement with no substance whatsoever.
    They should be demanding details and certainty, not half promises of unworkable crazy solutions.
    The farce goes on, Brian Rix would have had a field day, if it wasn’t so tragic!