Scotland politics

Sturgeon seeks UK 'coalition' over European single market

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Media captionNicola Sturgeon says staying in the single market is the "least worst" position for the UK as a whole

Nicola Sturgeon has offered to form a "coalition" with like-minded UK government ministers who want Britain to stay in the European single market.

The first minister told BBC Scotland she was ready to work with those who were concerned leaving the market would be economically damaging.

David Mundell said Scotland's interests would be closely pursued by the UK government in Brexit negotiations.

Theresa May has said formal EU Brexit talks will not begin until 2017.

Speaking at the weekend the prime minister warned of "difficult times" ahead as Britain leaves the European Union but said the process would not be "kicked into the long grass".

The UK as a whole voted to leave the European Union, but a majority (62%) of people living in Scotland voted to remain.

Ms Sturgeon said a second independence referendum was "highly likely" following the poll, but has promised to explore other options to safeguard Scotland's status in Europe.

The single market enables free trade in goods and services.

'Damaging' effects

In an interview with BBC Scotland's political editor, Brian Taylor, Ms Sturgeon said leaving the single market would have "long-term, deep and damaging" effects on the economy. She said she wants full membership, not just access.

The first minister said her initial objective was to strengthen the hand of those in the UK government who want a soft exit from the EU.

"Can there be a coalition across the UK that gets the UK into a more sensible position?" she said.

"I think that's worth a good try because Theresa May, she was on the Remain side, so presumably she knows the real risks of removal from the single market.

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Media captionMr Mundell says there would be no veto over the UK government's position on leaving the EU

"Let's have a try at getting the UK, not into the best position - because the best position in my view would be continued membership of the EU - but let's try and get the UK as a whole into the least worst position and that means staying in the single market."

Ms Sturgeon said she would only turn to the option of independence if that initiative failed.

She added: "That (independence) has to be an option that Scotland has to consider. Now does that mean Scotland would automatically and inevitably vote to be independent? No.

"It comes back to my message to SNP parliamentarians on Friday that we have got to make that case and win that case and that involves answering some hard questions."

Scottish Secretary, Mr Mundell, told BBC Scotland Ms Sturgeon would have an important role to play in offering ideas as part of Brexit negotiations but he stressed the UK government would take the lead.

He said: "Scotland is part of the United Kingdom. The UK government is responsible for Scotland's membership of the EU and for foreign affairs so obviously the UK government is going to take the lead in the negotiations in relation to our position in the EU.

No veto

Asked if Ms Sturgeon could expect a "veto" over any position that emerges, Mr Mundell went on: "There isn't going to be a veto for anyone in relation to the EU negotiations.

"We've got to formulate a position which represents the best interests of Scotland the best interests of the United Kingdom.

"Of course the first minister, responsible for devolved issues in Scotland, has a very, very important role."

He said the UK government was "formulating a position to implement the outcome of the referendum" and take the UK as a whole, including Scotland, out of the EU.

Meanwhile Michael Russell, the Scottish government's new minister designate for Brexit, called on the UK government to get formal negotiations under way "as soon as possible".

In an interview with BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland, he said: "We've got to get on this with process because at the present moment, we've had two, two-and-a-half months almost, with the UK government saying virtually nothing."

Asked about Mrs May's decision to rule out a point-based system for controlling EU migration, he said: "Theresa May is very strong on what she doesn't want... we need to know what the UK government does want."

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