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18/03/19 15:10

Letter to the Prime Minister

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has today written to the Prime Minister about the role of the devolved administrations in talks on the future trade relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Full text of letter:

Dear Theresa,

I recognise that this is a critical week for Brexit, ahead of the European Council at the end of the week. It is therefore with concern that I have read press reports over the weekend about offers you may be making to the Democratic Unionist Party, upon whom you rely for a working majority in the House of Commons. As a consequence I wanted to seek clarity and assurance from you at the outset.

Since the EU referendum in 2016 there has been sustained and consistent damage done to the devolution settlement, and to the idea that the UK is a partnership of equal nations. As you are aware, like Northern Ireland, Scotland voted to remain in the European Union.  

In the past two years however, Scotland’s wishes and national interests have been roundly ignored and at times treated with contempt by the UK Government.

I now have three further major concerns over what appears, from reports, to be your strategy for securing a majority for your Brexit deal. By according the DUP disproportionate influence, it seems clear that maintaining your majority in the UK Parliament comes before respect for the properly constituted governments across the UK.

Firstly,  there must  be no question of one political party  - the DUP - being represented in  talks on the future trade relationship between the UK and EU when other political parties and Devolved Governments are not. As you are aware, in August 2018, the Scottish Government published a paper in respect of our role in International Trade negotiations. There has been no indication that the UK Government is taking these proposals seriously, although there has since been support for a greater role for devolved administrations in trade negotiations from both the International Trade and Scottish Affairs select Committees in the House of Commons. In addition, there have been no meaningful moves to ensure the devolved governments have a properly enhanced role in the next phase of EU-UK negotiations.

Secondly, the UK Government’s proposals to the DUP appear to involve a serious curtailment of the powers of the Scottish Parliament. Indeed in seeking to obtain support for your deal in December the UK Government committed, in the event that the Protocol on Northern Ireland is required, “to ensure that there would be no divergence in the rules applied in Great Britain and Northern Ireland in areas covered by the Protocol”. Many of the relevant rules fall within devolved competence and therefore it is not in the gift of the UK Government to unilaterally constrain the powers of the Scottish Parliament in order to strike a deal with the DUP. Continued alignment can only be guaranteed with the full support of the Scottish Government and Parliament. As you will be aware, the Scottish Government continues to be concerned that Scotland will be placed at a disadvantage if your proposals take effect.

Finally, we continue to see decisions from the UK Government which undermine and discredit the existing UK funding framework and which short-change Scotland. In 2017, The UK Government provided an additional £1 billion to Northern Ireland as part of the confidence and supply agreement between the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party and recently it allocated another £140 million in Northern Ireland’s 2019-20 Budget. These funds were allocated to devolved matters and it is completely unacceptable that these decisions did not result in additional consequentials for Scotland. The UK Government’s actions mean that Scotland has lost out on equivalent funding of around £3.3 billion. The UK Government cannot continue to favour Northern Ireland over the other devolved administrations for short-term political gain and we expect any future funding to be allocated in a fair and transparent manner.

I have said and will continue to say that while there is no broad consensus in the UK Parliament for your Brexit deal, the decision ought to be put back to the people in a second EU referendum - that is the responsible and democratic thing to do. However should the UK continue on a path to exiting the EU, then there must be fair and equal treatment of the four nations of the UK in relation to influence over and a role in the negotiations of the future relationship through the properly constituted devolved institutions.

At present, far from ensuring such fair treatment you appear to be pursuing a path that privileges one political party, further constrains the powers of the Scottish Parliament and short-changes public spending in Scotland. This approach would not be acceptable.