PM must consider single market proposals, says Holyrood's Brexit minister

Updated: 

Holyrood's Brexit minister has insisted there is an "overriding obligation" on Theresa May's Government to consider proposals that could keep the UK and Scotland in Europe's single market.

Mike Russell made the comments as the SNP Government prepares to publish a paper proposing that Britain should remain in the free trade bloc even though the UK has voted for Brexit.

The research, being published on Tuesday, will also set out how Scotland could remain in the single market without the rest of the UK.

It will be "the first serious attempt by any government in the UK to address the challenges thrown up by the Brexit vote," he said.

In addition to this, it will propose a "substantial transfer of new powers to Holyrood" after the country leaves the European Union (EU).

Just days after the UK referendum result, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the creation of an expert group - the Standing Council on Europe - to advise the best ways of maintaining Scotland's links with Europe.

Almost six months after the vote - which saw 62% of Scots back Remain - the group, which includes specialists in legal, financial, business and diplomatic matters, will publish its proposals.

Mr Russell, minister for UK negotiations on Scotland's place in Europe, said: "People in Scotland voted to remain in the EU by an overwhelming 24-point margin.

"We believe that the best option for Scotland, one which would fully protect our place in Europe, is to be an independent member of the EU.

"But, in line with our commitments to explore all options to protect Scotland's interests, we will set out compromise proposals which, while not conferring the full benefits of EU membership, would mitigate the Brexit damage."

He continued: "At the heart of our plan is a framework to keep Scotland's place in the European single market.

"A Tory hard Brexit threatens to cost Scotland 80,000 jobs over a decade. That would be a national disaster for Scotland.

"This plan advocates continued single market membership for the whole of the UK - but also outlines ways in which that could be achieved for Scotland even if the rest of the UK leaves the single market."

He went on: "Our paper will include proposals for substantial transfer of new powers to Holyrood.

"That reflects the fact that Article 50 negotiations will involve 'repatriation' of responsibilities from Brussels and there must be no attempt to use Brexit as cover for a Westminster power grab.

"In addition, the plans we outline to maintain Scotland's place in the single market will also require new powers to be devolved to Edinburgh.

"We will table these plans for formal discussion at the Joint Ministerial Committee meetings which will be held with the UK Government in the coming weeks and months.

"However, there is an overriding obligation on UK ministers to engage seriously with our proposals.

"The Prime Minister is on record as promising she would do so - and indeed that Scotland would be 'fully engaged' in the process, with Article 50 not being invoked until there was an agreed UK-wide approach."

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: "We'll consider the Scottish Government's proposals carefully.

"I hope to see plans that are credible and backed up by evidence. I also hope they commit to working closely with us - in a Team UK approach - to get the best possible deal.

"That is how we will get the right deal for the whole of the UK - and the right deal for the UK will be the right deal for Scotland."

Scottish Labour's Europe spokesman Lewis Macdonald said: "We want a close relationship with Europe, which should mean access to the single market. But it is important to realise that access is different to membership.

"Britain is leaving the EU, and it is very hard to see any way in which Scotland could remain in both the United Kingdom and the single European market. Expert after expert has said as much since summer.

"Scottish Labour will categorically reject any proposal that would put our place in the UK at risk, or could lead to a hard border with England."