Scotland politics

Holyrood call for single market focus after Brexit debate

Keith Brown
Image caption Economy Secretary Keith Brown wanted members to unanimously support his motion on the single market

The Scottish Parliament has called on the UK government to "maintain Scotland's place in the single market" as part of the Brexit negotiations.

The Scottish government had hoped to unite all of Holyrood's parties behind a call to "fully protect" Scotland's place in the single market.

However, after a chamber debate on the issue, Labour abstained and Tories and Lib Dems voted against the SNP motion.

Economy Secretary Keith Brown said the EU was a "vital" market for Scotland.

He had hoped for all parties to "show consensus" in backing single market membership and "unanimously" lobby the UK government, but in the end SNP members were backed only by Green MSPs.

Holyrood's Europe committee has called for single market access to be a key priority in the Brexit talks, although the UK government has refused to give a "running commentary" on its negotiating position.

Mr Brown's motion for the debate called for parliament to recognise the "overwhelming vote" in Scotland to remain in the EU, before calling for "Scotland's place in the single market to be fully protected".

He said the single market had provided considerable benefits for Scotland, noting that leaving could cause job losses and increase the cost of exports. The cabinet secretary also said the UK government did not have a mandate to take the country out of the single market, only the European Union.

Image caption Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said the SNP was seeking to distract attention from its "failing domestic agenda" with Brexit debates

Opposition parties submitted amendments to this motion underlining priorities of their own.

The Scottish Conservatives called attention to the vote of the UK as a whole to leave the EU, asking parliament to "support the UK government in its efforts to secure a positive trading relationship with the EU".

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser pointed out that this was Holyrood's 11th Brexit debate, asking if the SNP was scheduling so many similar debates to distract attention from its "failing domestic agenda".

He added that Scotland's exports to the rest of the UK are four times the level of exports to the EU, noting that "access to the UK single market should not be at risk".

'Economic vandalism'

This position was echoed by Labour's Jackie Baillie, who submitted an amendment saying parliament should "recognise the importance of Scotland's place in the UK single market".

Referring to the figure cited by Mr Fraser, she said "tearing Scotland out of the UK" would be "an act of economic vandalism at least four times greater than Brexit".

She said it was "vital" to get the best deal for Scotland, but said it was more realistic to aim for access to the single market rather than full membership.

Image caption Labour's Jackie Baillie and Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie also put forward amendments

The Scottish Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, put forward an amendment calling for a referendum on the final terms of the deal negotiated between the UK government and the EU.

Leader Willie Rennie said MSPs should recognise that "voting for a departure is not the same as voting for a destination", accusing the Conservative UK government of seeking a "blank cheque Brexit" by pursuing exit from the EU at all costs.

Scottish government Brexit minister Mike Russell said opposition parties had an "obsession with independence", saying their positions had "absolutely nothing to do with Europe".

In the final votes each of the amendments was rejected in turn, winning support only from the parties putting them forward.

Mr Brown's motion then passed by 65 votes to 32, with 20 abstentions.

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