Bid for special Scottish EU deal is ‘a waste of oxygen’

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron
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ARGUING for a separate deal for Scotland in the wake of the Brexit vote is a “waste of oxygen”, according to UK Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

On a visit to Edinburgh, he repeated his call for a fresh UK-wide referendum once the terms of withdrawal from the European Union have been negotiated.

But he claimed focusing on a special arrangement for Scotland was a diversion from the opportunity to keep the whole of the UK inside the EU.

Mr Farron said the looming impact of Brexit had been set out in the grim forecasts in last week’s Autumn Statement.

He said: “The only logical and democratic route is for what started with democracy to end with democracy, not with a stitch-up, and that means the terms of the deal we get from our negotiations over Brexit should be put to the British people in a referendum and they get the chance either to endorse it or to stay put.

“Given there are so many different potential outcomes from the negotiations, who is to say which one the British people voted for unless you ask the British people?”

He said the Remain vote in Scotland, Northern Ireland, London and in many English constituencies helped build the argument there was no mandate to deliver a hard Brexit, but he said it should not be used as “another excuse to bang on about independence”.

And on the SNP’s attempts to secure a unique deal for Scotland if the UK government pursues a hard Brexit, Mr Farron said: “All the evidence is that’s not an option – there are not separate rules for different bits of a member state. and arguing for it is using up valuable oxygen that could be spent on arguing for something that is possible, that is a referendum on the terms of the deal.”

A poll published yesterday found Scotland remains overwhelmingly pro-Europe with 65 per cent saying they would vote Remain if there was another referendum tomorrow – more than the 62 per cent who voted that way in the June 23 vote.

The survey also found 42 per cent would like Scotland to try to remain in the EU after Brexit without becoming independent, but only 22 per cent thought it would be possible.

Meanwhile SNP Brexit minister Michael Russell called on the UK government to stop undermining the reputation of Scotland’s universities and instead make clear overseas students are welcome and valued in Scotland and the UK.

Speaking to students and staff at Queen Margaret University, Mr Russell said: “Scotland is a destination of choice for EU students, and students from across the world, attracted by our world renowned universities.

“But the UK government must not be allowed to undermine Scotland’s vital university sector through its actions and rhetoric on EU freedom of movement and its attitude towards overseas students.

“The Scottish Government will do everything we can to protect Scotland’s place in Europe, retain free movement of people and stay in the single market.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com