May's Brexit Stance No Clearer After Meeting, Sturgeon Says

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at 2016.10.24
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May's Brexit Stance No Clearer After Meeting, Sturgeon Says

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit negotiating stance is no clearer after a meeting with the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

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‘‘At the moment it doesn’t appear to me that there is a U.K. negotiating strategy,” Sturgeon tells reporters outside May’s office in London after the talks on Monday. “I don’t know any more now about the U.K. government’s negotiating stance than I did before.”

All three semi-autonomous governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast have expressed concern about the damage Brexit will do to their economies, with May tending toward a deal with the European Union that will favor immigration restrictions over continued membership of the single market. Scotland and Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. to share a land border with the EU, voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the bloc, and the Scottish government says Brexit may justify another referendum on independence.

Monday’s Joint Ministerial Committee meeting was the first between the U.K. prime minister and the leaders of the three administrations in more than two years and signaled an attempt by May to unify Britain’s exit plans ahead of negotiations with the EU that she’s signaled will start by April. In a further olive branch on Monday, May offered Sturgeon, Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones and Northern Irish First Minister Arlene Foster a “direct line” to Brexit Secretary David Davis, setting up a sub-committee of the JMC that will meet more regularly, starting next month.

Frank, Robust

“It was frank, it was at times robust, there was a fair amount of frustration in the room,” Sturgeon said of Monday’s talks.

May’s office described the two-hour talks as “constructive” in a statement. The prime minister told the meeting that there was “important work to do” in “getting the best possible deal for the whole of the U.K.” She pledged to “further strengthen our own unique and enduring union” in the process.

“Wales voted to leave, but the people of Wales didn’t vote to be done over,” Jones told Sky News television after the meeting. “Access to the single market is the most important issue.”

Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, told reporters that “we believe we need to be at the heart of those negotiations.”

Sturgeon has floated the idea of a separate deal for Scotland that would keep it in the single market even if other parts of the U.K. leave. She said the option of a second independence referendum remains open if Scotland is taken out of the single market as well as the EU.

‘Hard Brexit Cliff-Edge’

“I don’t want to see Scotland driven over a hard-Brexit cliff-edge, because that will mean lost jobs, lost investment, lower living standards,” Sturgeon said. “If that’s the position that we end up being in, then I think it is essential that Scotland at least has the option of choosing an alternative.”

Welsh First Minister Jones said he doesn’t see how Sturgeon’s proposal for Scotland to remain in the single market if the rest of Britain leaves “could work practically,” while May’s spokeswoman, Helen Bower, rejected the idea.

“The government is going to negotiate its departure from the EU as one United Kingdom,” Bower told reporters in London ahead of the four-way meeting. “A single U.K. position is vital to protect the U.K.’s interests as a whole. We need to make sure that we are not putting up barriers for trade within the U.K.”

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Published at Mon, 24 Oct 2016 14:43:21 +0000

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