Ian Swanson: Sturgeon left out in cold by May’s Brexit strategy

Nicola Sturgeon leaves Downing Street after her meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Nicola Sturgeon leaves Downing Street after her meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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THERESA May has repeatedly declared her determination to “make a success” of Brexit as she heads towards triggering Article 50 and launching the negotiations for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

But she did not make much of a success of convincing the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that she is willing to include them in the process.

Nicola Sturgeon emerged from Monday’s two-hour summit in Downing Street talking of a shared frustration among the leaders of the devolved administrations and complaining she knew no more about the UK Government’s approach after the meeting than she had before.

“I got the strong sense the UK Government doesn’t know what it is trying to achieve,” she added.

Ms Sturgeon wants a “flexible” Brexit which would recognise that Scotland voted heavily against leaving the EU and has distinct needs.

And a report by the Institute for Government think tank this week warned that imposing a Brexit settlement on the devolved nations would be a “reckless strategy”.

But Mrs May insists that there will be a single UK position going into the talks with the EU and for someone who was on the Remain side during the referendum campaign she seems bewilderingly unreceptive to Scotland’s case.

Even before the talks at Number Ten, Conservative ministers had rubbished the Scottish Government’s call for more powers over immigration and international trade.

And suggestions surfaced from a Downing Street spokeswoman that Ms Sturgeon had been “undermining” the UK’s negotiating position by having her own talks with European politicians. The warm words and guarded optimism of Mrs May’s visit to Bute House just days after she had become Prime Minister seem to have been replaced with something close to mutual exasperation.

Ms Sturgeon is still planning to publish “specific proposals” within the next few weeks which would keep Scotland in the single market even if the rest of the UK leaves.

And it is becoming clear that for all the Prime Minister’s tough talk, there are special deals on offer for some.

Mrs May is said to be considering an arrangement which would see the UK paying billions of pounds into the EU after Brexit to secure privileged access to the single market for Britain’s banking and financial sector.

And it is widely rumoured that Japanese car-makers Nissan have been made promises about EU access to persuade them to choose their Sunderland factory to make the latest version of the Qashqai.

Higher education, for which the EU is equally crucial, has not unreasonably demanded similar consideration. Edinburgh University principal Sir Tim O’Shea told Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee that a third of their research output is carried out in collaboration with academics from other EU countries, while a quarter of research staff – almost 5000 workers – are from the EU.

And if special arrangements can be made for banks, car companies and universities, why not for Scotland?

It was left to Scottish Secretary David Mundell, after the frustrating Downing Street summit, to say there was still room for “nuances and options” for different parts of the UK and different sectors.

But Mrs May needs to show some willingness to be more open, ready to listen and prepared to accommodate Scotland’s interests if she really wants a united UK position.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com