People’s Vote rejection ‘difficult to justify’, says Scottish Brexit Secretary

The Scottish Government will use Brexit talks with the Prime Minister to try to push for voters to be given another say on staying in the European Union, Nicola Sturgeon’s Brexit Secretary has said.

With the First Minister in London for discussions with Theresa May, Mike Russell suggested the “best outcome” to the Brexit deadlock would be a People’s Vote.

While he said Holyrood ministers would see this as a “requirement” in any possible compromise, he was also careful not to close down any options.

Mr Russell told MSPs: “If I were able to wave a magic wand and get what I want – apart from no Brexit, which has been a complete distraction and disaster for the last two and half years of massively damaging proportions – then it would have to be a very long delay, a referendum, the European elections taking place and perhaps some calmness coming into this to look at the damage that would be done by proceeding along the present lines.”

He stressed “at the present moment it is very difficult to say what will take place in the next 24 to 48 hours”.

The Scottish Constitutional Relations Secretary added: “I think the best outcome of this would be a People’s Vote on an option.

“But I never will absolutely say never.

“I just do not wish to close any possible avenue in the next 72 hours.

“But I think it would be very difficult to justify refusing to take this to the people.”

He added: “Debate, discussion, negotiation, is really important on a genuine basis, that’s what everybody will be trying to do in the next 72 hours.”

Mr Russell spoke following Mrs May’s offer to meet Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for talks in a bid to end the impasse – a move that has sparked an angry reaction from Eurosceptics within her own party.

He also spoke about the impact the Brexit process has had on politicians, who have been left “wrung out”.

“It is tough,” he said. “People are pretty wrung out by this. The last two and a half years has been very tough for people at the heart of this.

“Everyday you get up in the morning and think: What on earth is going to happen next?”

He spoke about the steps the Scottish Government was taking to minimise the impact if the UK is forced to leave the EU without a deal in place.

Mr Russell told MSPs on Holyrood’s Constitution Committee: “I want to stress very strongly at the outset we can not do everything.

“That should be understood. This would be an unprecedented set of circumstances, we have tried to cover all the bases but clearly that would be very difficult to do.”

Retailers are “reasonably confident” they could keep their stores stocked if there was a no-deal Brexit, Mr Russell said, though he added supplies of some items might not be “completely uninterrupted”.

He also said the UK Department of Health had assured Scottish ministers that insulin for diabetics “has been stockpiled by more than one manufacturer so it would be available for an extended period of time”.

Mr Russell said the Scottish Government would soon be launching a campaign aimed at encouraging European citizens living in Scotland to remain in the country.

“We believe there is a sufficient risk, and evidence of a sufficient risk, for us to take some exceptional steps to try to encourage people to stay,” he said.

“What we are doing is mounting a campaign, which will be live shortly, to encourage EU citizens to stay and to make it clear that they are valued and wanted.”