A Brexit deal giving special status to Northern Ireland could have put the entire future of the UK in jeopardy, the Scottish Conservative leader has claimed.
Ruth Davidson said such a set-up could have “unravelled the entire United Kingdom”, telling how she had told the prime minister the 13 Scottish Tory MPs at Westminster would not be able to support it.
She made the comments as Theresa May continued her attempts to break the deadlock in Brexit talks after a proposed deal was botched because of problems over the Irish border.
Hopes of agreement on the key issue were dashed on Monday when the Democratic Unionist Party – which props up the minority Conservative government – made clear it would not accept any arrangement which saw Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of the UK.
Keeping Northern Ireland in the single market is seen as being crucial in preventing the return of a hard border with the Republic – something UK ministers have pledged to avoid.
Arrangements on regulatory alignment had been proposed which would have seen the two neighbouring countries following the same rules on trade, allowing goods continue to move freely across the border with no checks.
But the DUP insisted such a deal was “clearly unacceptable” as party leaders made clear they would not countenance Northern Ireland having a different deal from the rest of the UK.
Ms Davidson, writing in the Scotsman, also said Scottish Tories could not support this.
She stated: “A markedly separate deal for Northern Ireland – perhaps with membership of the single market – could have unravelled the entire United Kingdom; indeed, the alacrity with which Nicola Sturgeon spotted a political opportunity on Tuesday only served to demonstrate as much.
“That is why I made clear to the Prime Minister yesterday that neither I nor the 13 Scottish Conservative MPs at Westminster could support such an arrangement.”
Keeping the internal market within the United Kingdom on a level playing field was crucial to Scotland, Ms Davidson argued.
The Tory leader said: “My view is therefore that, whatever happens with Brexit, we should do nothing that damages the integrity of the one union that really does keep Scotland in business.
“Protecting our border-free access with our biggest market – the rest of the UK – is a fairly significant one. We should do nothing to imperil that.”
He said the “reason that Theresa May is not proposing it is because she cannot get it past Boris Johnson and Liam Fox and a number of other extremists” who had campaigned for taking Britain out of the European Union.
Mr Russell told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland: “The Brexiteer extremists are driving this and they are actually driving us over a cliff.”
“We have to find the right solution. There’s a lot of that support for that solution in Scotland and Wales in Northern Ireland and indeed in the UK, apparently even in the UK Cabinet, to stay in the single market and the customs union for all of us; that’s the right solution and we need to see a Prime Minister that’s prepared to lead on that solution, not one that, in the words of one European leader today, is afraid of her own shadow.”