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04/02/19 00:01

UK “not remotely” ready for Brexit

First Minister delivers speech at Georgetown University on Scotland’s future.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will today (Monday) outline her position on Brexit and Scotland’s future as she addresses an audience at Georgetown University in Washington DC at the start of her visit to the United States and Canada.

Speaking at the start of Women World Leaders Week at Georgetown’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security, the First Minister is expected to say:

“In 2016 the UK voted to leave the European Union by a margin of 52% to 48%. But the vote in Scotland was very different – we opted to remain by 62% to 38%. So as things stand, on 29 March - in just 53 days’ time - Scotland will be taken out of the European Union against our democratic will.

“We are often told in Scotland that the United Kingdom is a partnership of equals. Yet two parts of the UK – Scotland and Northern Ireland – voted to remain in the EU. The two others – Wales and England – voted to leave.

“The vote in Scotland has been ignored. And over the two and a half years since the vote took place, our interests have been sidelined. It is impossible to reconcile any of that process with the idea of the UK as an equal partnership.

“The negotiations and discussions that have taken place since the referendum have been tortuous in the extreme – largely as a result of red lines put forward by the Prime Minister.

“Those red lines meant the UK Government quickly ruled out the closest forms of partnership with the EU. These would have involved continued membership of the single market and the customs union.

“The European Single Market is one of the great modern success stories. It allows independent nations to take advantage of a market of 500 million people – that’s eight times the size of the UK alone.

“To leave this successful, developing market-place makes no economic sense. It will damage the prospects of future generations.

“And for the UK Government, the greatest prize of leaving the EU appears to be ending free movement of people and curbing migration. Yet for Scotland, that is one of Brexit’s greatest downsides.

“People in Scotland currently have the automatic right to work and study in Europe. In future, we will be denied that; and people from elsewhere in Europe will be denied similar opportunities in Scotland.

“If this happens there is a very real risk that Scotland’s working population will start to fall again, with severe economic and social consequences.

“The UK is not remotely prepared to leave the EU in 53 days’ time. That’s been obvious for a while now. The UK Government should finally recognise that, and it should ask the EU to agree to put back the planned date for Brexit.

“The request for an extension has to be accompanied by an achievable plan. The UK government could reconsider the closest possible forms of partnership with the EU – the ones which the Prime Minister ruled out in 2016 – such as membership of the customs union and single market. Those would at least minimise the harm caused by leaving the EU.

“The second and, in my view, better option is to hold a further referendum on EU membership. At present there seems to be no consensus in the UK Parliament for the option of Single Market and Customs Union membership – or indeed any other option – and therefore the Scottish Government’s view is that this issue should be put back to the people.

“That fundamental point – that no Scottish parliament, of any political composition, would approach Brexit in the way that the UK government has – helps to explain why Brexit is also relevant to the debate on Scottish independence.

“In the independence referendum in 2014, voters in Scotland were repeatedly told that if we became independent, we would have to leave the European Union. Voting to stay in the UK, was portrayed as the way to protect our EU membership.

“That in itself raises the question of whether decisions about Scotland should continue to be taken at Westminster – or whether it would be better if they were taken in Scotland.

“And now the ongoing chaos at Westminster and the way Scotland’s interests have been consistently ignored, makes that question even more relevant.

“So I have said I will outline my thoughts on the timing of a possible independence referendum in the next few weeks – once the terms of Brexit are clearer.

“But, amid the chaos, confusion and uncertainty of Brexit, one thing is clearer than ever. Namely, that Scotland’s vital national interests are not properly served by relying on the Westminster system which treats Scotland as an afterthought, and that those interests can only properly be served by being an independent country.”