UK approached Brexit talks in amateurish way, says Scottish minister

PUBLISHED: 12:01 20 December 2018 | UPDATED: 12:01 20 December 2018

Scottish constitutional relations secretary Mike Russell

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The UK Government has failed to recognise the reality of devolution in its "amateurish" approach to the Brexit negotiations, a Holyrood minister has said.

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Scottish constitutional relations secretary Mike Russell said Theresa May's failure to work effectively with leaders of the opposition parties at Westminster, as well as with the devolved governments, had created the challenges she now faces to get her Brexit deal through Parliament.

There is increasing expectation the UK could exit the EU without a deal in place, with less than 100 days remaining until it is due to leave.

Russell told MSPs: "This goes back to the way in which the UK approached these negotiations from the very beginning.

"It approached them in an amateurish, thoughtless way and it approached them also in a view, if you remember the prime minister's words, that we entered the EU as one UK and would leave as one UK.

"I've described that regularly as constitutional illiteracy - that simply is not the case. The constitution has changed since the UK joined the EU.

"There is a different constitution and that should be recognised. Devolution has taken place since then. So what the UK should have done is gone into negotiations recognising the reality of devolution.

"At a very early stage, she should have taken Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron, Nicola Sturgeon, Carwyn Jones, Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster at that time, into a room and said, 'How can we together get this to work?'.

"At no time did that take place. At no time was there anything other than, 'We do it my way and nobody else matters'.

"That is at the heart and root of the problem that we presently have. And how then anybody can talk about bringing people together when their actions at the very beginning have forced people apart, I do not know."

He said restrictions placed upon any re-negotiation of Mrs May's deal had been created by the prime minister's own red lines.

Extending Article 50 and holding another referendum on Brexit, including the option to remain, must now be set out by May, he added.

"This is the only deal because of the red lines that were set in the negotiating process - it is not, in the platonic concept, the best of all possible deals," he said.

"It is a deal that is dictated by the inputs and the inputs were the red lines, particularly the jurisdiction of the ECJ [European Court of Justice] and the end of the freedom of movement.

"I think it is beyond bizarre that anyone can claim proudly that they have ended freedom of movement, I find that my mind is blown by that concept. But that's what has driven this, the red lines.

"Because of the red lines, the prime minister is where she is and I have no idea what rabbit she believes she has to pull out of a hat - I think she may find that the rabbit has chewed its way through the hat and disappeared.

"Our preference all along has been not to get to the stage where you have an appallingly bad deal or no deal as a choice, that was the prime minister's doing, not ours.

"In the circumstances of today, faced with what we are faced with, we believe the right next move is the revocation or the suspension of Article 50 and a referendum. That is where we are today."

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