Nicola Sturgeon has declared it is “game on” for campaigners hoping to keep the UK in the single market and the customs union after Brexit, after the Cabinet signed up to plans which could keep the UK closely tied to Brussels.
After a day of intensive discussions at Chequers, Theresa May managed to secure the agreement of her top ministerial team to proposals setting out the country’s future relationship with the European Union.
The plans, which still have to be assessed by the 27 other nations of the EU, would result in the creation of a UK-EU free trade area for goods, with a “common rulebook”.
Meanwhile a new “facilitated customs arrangement” would remove the need for checks and controls by treating the UK and EU as if they were a “combined customs territory”.
Ms Sturgeon, who has been vocal in calling for the UK to remain part of both the European customs union and single market, said the plan had “more realism in it than we’ve seen before from UK government” – although she added “that’s not saying much”.
But she raised concerns about its “sheer complexities”, and said there could still be “massive unresolved questions about acceptability to EU”, adding that the plan “still reads like cherry picking”.
However, she stressed: “Perhaps key point is this – if this becomes the UK starting point in negotiations, it is surely game on for those who would prefer to see a full single market/customs union outcome.”
The First Minister made the points in a series of tweets, also noting that it “still remains to be seen if PM can hold her dysfunctional party together on it”.
Leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has already warned he will have to wait to see “have the red lines been turned pink”, as he claimed the proposals could be worse than a no-deal Brexit.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 he said: “As with eggs: An egg that is very softly boiled isn’t boiled at all. A very soft Brexit means that we haven’t left, we are simply a rule-taker. That is not something that this country voted for, it is not what the Prime Minister promised.”
However, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the newly outlined Brexit plan would deliver for Scotland in three key areas.
She said: “The proposals agreed at Chequers are welcome and provide clarity as the UK government moves to the next round of negotiations with the EU.
“For Scotland, they deliver in three key areas – providing Scottish business with frictionless access to the EU market; withdrawing the Scottish fishing industry from the hated Common Fisheries Policy and, by ensuring no border in the Irish Sea, bolstering Scotland’s biggest and most important market, the UK internal market.”
Ms Davidson added: “There are further commitments to upholding shared high standards in goods, agriculture and the environment, which are to be welcomed.”
The Tory hit out at Ms Sturgeon’s SNP, claiming Scottish nationalists had “used the Brexit referendum as a pretext for pulling our country apart”.
Ms Davidson insisted: “Now is the time to put differences aside. The UK is leaving the EU. On the table is a pragmatic set of proposals that go a long way to addressing the concerns of those worried about the economic impacts of a ‘hard’ Brexit.
“An admission from the SNP that such fears have been largely addressed would help reassure Scotland’s business, agri-foods and fishing communities.”
But Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard hit out at the Conservatives, saying: “This sticking plaster solution, which has taken two years to reach, simply underlines how shambolic the Tories’ handling of Brexit has been.
“Previous allegedly unanimous positions in Theresa May’s government have quickly fallen apart – and there is no reason to think this will be any different.”
However Scottish Secretary David Mundell urged everyone to back the deal.
He said: “The UK Government has a clear position to achieve a deal with the EU which is in the best interests of Scotland and the whole of the UK.
“I urge the Scottish Government to get behind our proposals as we negotiate to ensure the future prosperity and security for people right across the UK.”