Scotland’s new representative in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet has said he is willing to help take the UK out of the EU without a deal, despite the vast majority of Scots voting to Remain.
Alister Jack, who replaced David Mundell as Scottish secretary, insisted that leaving without an agreement with Brussels would not be “seriously damaging” if the UK prepared properly.
Unlike Mr Mundell, Mr Jack voted for the UK to leave the EU at 2016’s referendum and has rapidly risen through the Conservative Party ranks despite only becoming an MP in 2017.
In his first interview since being promoted, Mr Jack said the result of the vote was a “UK decision” and that Scotland’s 62 per cent Remain vote was no more important than Wales’s choice to Leave.
He also questioned predictions that a no-deal Brexit would be extremely detrimental to the economy, arguing that some forecasts had already turned out to be too pessimistic.
“I don’t think a no-deal Brexit will be seriously damaging if we prepare for it properly,” he told the BBC.
“I do think there will be bumps along the way, I’m quite realistic about that.
“I think there are great opportunities for us as a nation on the other side of Brexit. One of the things I’d like to see is a strong deal with our European partners and a free trade agreement.”
Mr Jack said while a no-deal Brexit was not his “preferred option”, it should be kept “on the table” during negotiations with the EU right up until the deadline of 31 October.
“If we have to leave without a deal, if I feel we have prepared for that, then we will leave without a deal,” he said.
“That will be a Cabinet decision and that’s what we’ve all signed up to.”
Mr Jack, who is the MP for Dumfries and Galloway, also said the UK Government would “absolutely not” agree to a second Scottish independence referendum. His view on the issue could prove important, as in order for the Scottish Government to hold a legally binding vote, the necessary powers must be transferred from Westminster.
In a letter to Mr Johnson yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon said she looked forward to “taking this matter forward” with him after Holyrood returns from its summer recess in September.
The SNP’s Scotland Office spokesman Tommy Sheppard said Mr Jack’s comments proved he was “completely out of touch and even more detached from the people of Scotland than his predecessor”. Mr Mundell, who was sacked by Mr Johnson after pointedly refusing to back him at any stage of the Tory leadership contest, described Mr Jack as a “Brexiteer”.
He said he had been forced out as the new Prime Minister wanted to “mould a Cabinet in his own shape”, promoting those who would be willing to back a no-deal Brexit.
“He certainly didn’t feel I was maybe as on board with a no-deal Brexit as he would want me to be ... I’ve always been clear that a no-deal Brexit isn’t a good outcome,” he said.
Mr Mundell refused to say if he would vote to block a no-deal Brexit if the matter came before MPs in the House.
He said: “I am very clear I don’t think no-deal is a good outcome, but on the other hand I am very, very clear we have to leave the EU. We have to deliver on the electoral mandate from the referendum. If not, I think we face a severe dislocation to our political system.”
Mr Mundell described a no-deal Brexit as “a difficult outcome”, but stated: “We have to get to each scenario as it comes along.
“One of the things that has happened in dealing with Brexit is people have made statements and declarations way ahead of the issues emerging. At this moment the focus is on trying to get a deal.”
Mr Mundell continued: “I think we have been too guilty of setting out firm and fixed positions ahead of events unfolding and emerging.”
The first ministers of Scotland and Wales have told Mr Johnson that it would be “unconscionable” for the UK to leave the European Union without a Brexit deal.
Ms Sturgeon had on Wednesday demanded an urgent meeting with the new Prime Minister, warning that preparations for a second Scottish independence referendum would continue.
“Given your public comments about leaving the EU on 31 October with or without a deal, ‘come what may’ and ‘do or die’, it is now – more than ever – essential that in Scotland we have an alternative option,” she said.