Brexit pressure intesifies on PM as Scottish Tories warn against separate deals

5 December 2017, 14:29

Ruth Davidson Scottish Conservative leader

Brexit pressure intensified on Theresa May as the leader of the Scottish Conservatives warned the Prime Minister not to cut separate deals for different parts of the UK.

The intervention by Ruth Davidson came as Mrs May tried to plot a way forward in withdrawal negotiations after the Democratic Unionist Party refused to accept proposals which would have shifted Northern Ireland's customs border to the Irish Sea.

In pointed remarks, the Scottish Tory leader tweeted that any Brexit agreement must be UK-wide.

Ms Davidson said: "The question on the ballot paper asked voters whether the UK should stay or leave the European Union - it did not ask if the country should be divided by different deals for different home nations.

"While I recognise the complexity of the current negotiations, no government of the Conservative and Unionist Party should countenance any deal that compromises the political, economic or constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.

"All sides agree there should be no return to the borders of the past between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

"Similarly, jeopardising the UK's own internal market is in no-one's interest.

"If regulatory alignment in a number of specific areas is the requirement for a frictionless border then the Prime Minister should conclude this must be on a UK-wide basis."

The comments came as Mrs May briefed Cabinet colleagues on Tuesday on the race against the clock to find the key to break deadlock in Brexit talks on the Irish border and other issues.

Mrs May plans to return to Brussels before the end of the week, with time running out to persuade leaders of the remaining 27 EU nations at a summit on December 14-15 that "sufficient progress" has been made on divorce issues to move Brexit negotiations on to their second phase concentrating on trade.

The PM was expected to speak by phone with DUP leader Arlene Foster as Mrs May grappled to find a form of words acceptable to the Northern Irish party, on which she relies to prop up her minority administration at Westminster.

Chancellor Philip Hammond struck an upbeat note, insisting he was "very confident" that the Government would be able to make progress over the coming days.

Speaking to reporters as he arrived for a scheduled meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels, Mr Hammond said: "This is a very complex set of negotiations. There are many moving parts in it, there are many parties involved.

"We are very confident that we will be able to move this forward. Discussions are going on right now and will go on throughout the day."

He added: "We have made a lot of progress over the last weeks. We have made tremendous steps forward. We are very close, but we are not there yet.

"As the Prime Minister said yesterday, we will have to do some further consultations, further discussions, today and she expects to come back to Brussels later in the week."

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to "get his act together" on Brexit.

She tweeted: "This could be the moment for opposition and soft Brexit/remain Tories to force a different, less damaging approach - keep the UK in the single market and customs union. But it needs Labour to get its act together. How about it @jeremycorbyn?"

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband also took to twitter to express concern about how negotiations were unfolding, saying: "What an absolutely ludicrous, incompetent, absurd, make it up as you go along, couldn't run a piss up in a brewery bunch of jokers there are running the government at the most critical time in a generation for the country."

Ireland's deputy prime minister Simon Coveney insisted Dublin would not budge from its position on the border.

"We have been moving forward on the basis of good faith. We believe the British Government has also been.

"There have been very difficult negotiations, we recognise these are very difficult political issues to manage for the British Prime Minister and we want to give her the time and the space to do that.

"But we don't want to give the impression the Irish government is going to reverse away from the deal we felt we had in place and agreed yesterday.

"Of course, if there are presentational issues they want to work with, we will look at that."

Speaker John Bercow has granted Labour an urgent question about the progress in the Brexit talks. It is expected to begin shortly after 12.30pm in the Commons.

Welcoming Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to Downing Street, Mrs May said: "Our talks with the European Union have made a lot of progress.

"There are still a couple of issues we need to work on.

"But we'll be reconvening in Brussels later this week as we look ahead to the December European Council.

"But I know in everything we do we want to ensure, particularly, that we recognise the needs of Spanish citizens here in the UK , and UK citizens living in Spain."

Mr Rajoy said he was convinced that trade talks would begin "soon".

He said: "It is not easy for anyone in these negotiations. Everybody has a very difficult role to play.

"But I would like the public to know very clearly that both Prime Minister May and the UK Government are doing a sterling job, fantastic job.

"Also, the speech that was delivered by Mrs May in Florence was a very important speech, and I am personally convinced that the second stage of negotiations will begin soon.

"And as soon as that is under way, Spain would like to preserve the excellent relations we have with Britain."