David Davis urged to restart Brexit meetings between devolved governments


Scotland's Brexit Minister has made an urgent plea to his UK counterpart David Davis to kick-start meetings between the devolved administrations over Brexit.

Mike Russell also said the Scottish Government still wanted to pursue the options it had put forward aimed at keeping the country in the single market - even though UK ministers have already dismissed this.

The Scotland's Place in Europe paper, which was launched by the First Minister in December 2016, made keeping the whole UK in the trading block its first recommendation - and said if that could not be achieved Scotland should be able to remain.

But Mr Russell said the general election result, which saw the Conservatives lose their overall majority in Parliament, had "substantially derailed" the case for a hard Brexit.

In those circumstances he argued the proposals the SNP administration has already put forward should be put back on the table.

He stressed: "If we can get the process started again of course we would be willing to sit down and talk about the issues in Scotland's Place in Europe, the way in which we could work together on those.

"We do not wish Scotland to leave the EU, but Scotland's Place in Europe makes it clear we are prepared to compromise, that compromise can be found."

Mr Russell said he had spoken to the UK Brexit Secretary once in the two weeks since the election, but was pressing him to restart the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) process.

These meetings bring together the leaders of the UK's devolved governments, and Mr Russell said it was "vital" they start up again.

Speaking at a conference on Brexit organised by the Scottish Centre on European Relations (SCER), the Scottish Brexit minister said: "The JMC is meant to meet monthly. It has not met since February.

"My urgent request to David Davis after the election was that it meet as soon as possible.

"We're now two weeks on from that election and we don't have a date for it.

"But it's vital we have that meeting and we start the process again of finding a way to talk to each other, and we will continue to press for that.

"I have spoken to David Davis once since the election and will continue to press for the JMC to meet."

Mr Russell said while there had not yet been any "concrete sign" that the UK Government would change its stance on Brexit in the wake of the election result, he said that reports that as many as 30 Tory MPs may not accept a situation where the UK was forced to leave the European Union without a deal showed the "impossibility of pursuing that possibility when times get tough".

The alternative proposals from the Scottish Government, as well as similar ones from Wales, had not been "treated with any great respect at all" by UK ministers, he added.

Mr Russell told the event in Edinburgh: "The outcome was a single paragraph in a four-page letter to me from David Davis dated on the same day as the Article 50 letter, which simply said that they did not regard the proposals as practical.

"The Welsh document was dismissed in a virtually identical letter on the same day."

But he said he had been "slightly encouraged this morning in the exact wording of the Queen's speech, which referred to the devolved administrations first as the bodies that should be consulted".