Scotland politics

Sturgeon: single market membership 'least worst' Brexit option

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Media captionNicola Sturgeon says membership of the single market is the 'least worst option' for business

Nicola Sturgeon has told a summit of the British-Irish Council in Cardiff that remaining in the single market is the UK's "least worst" Brexit option.

The first minister said staying inside the common market after leaving the EU would be best for every part of the UK.

Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones, hosting the summit, also backed "full and unfettered" single market access.

But he cast doubt on whether Scotland could secure a separate deal if the rest of the UK left.

Mr Jones said he thought individual deals for any of the home nations were unworkable.

Also in attendance at the summit were figures from the UK government and the devolved nations as well as Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, with whom Ms Sturgeon held a bilateral meeting.

'Least worst outcome'

Ms Sturgeon she said she and Mr Jones had a similar position on the UK's place in the single market.

She said: "There should be an approach that is about staying inside the single market, because I think that is the best outcome, or rather the least worst outcome, for businesses and whole other range of interests in the UK and in every nation in the UK.

"Both Scotland and Wales have spoken loud and clear - single market status is simply the only way to protect the economy not only of Scotland and Wales respectively, but the UK as a whole. Anything else risks us falling off a hard-Brexit cliff edge, and we are united in our call to ensure the UK Government does all it can to ensure that happens."

Speaking for the UK government Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said he would look at all options for a UK-wide Brexit deal.

Ms Sturgeon and Mr Jones both agreed with Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness when he said Prime Minister Theresa May should have attended the Cardiff summit personally.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Carwyn Jones and Nicola Sturgeon met at a summit of the British-Irish Council in Cardiff

Mr Jones earlier told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that he wanted the UK government to push for "full and unfettered" access to the European single market.

However, the Labour politician said he could not foresee any separate arrangements being made to ensure any of the home nations had individual access.

The Welsh first minister told the programme: "Well, I don't think a separate arrangement works if I'm honest with you. I don't see how there can be separate market access arrangements for the different nations within the UK that share the same land mass."

His comments come after it emerged earlier this week that Alex Salmond had held informal talks at the European Free Trade Association.

His successor Nicola Sturgeon has said she is exploring ways of keeping Scotland within the European single market even if the UK government withdraws.

Flow of goods

But Mr Jones said: "It's a matter for the Scottish government who they talk to, of course, but I can't see how it would work.

"For example, if Scotland had separate market access arrangements, that would mean possibly different customs arrangements, that would mean there would be customs posts on the border. There's no other way to deal with that.

"If you're Greenland and you're a long way away from the European land mass, it's easier. But otherwise, how do you control the flow of goods that are traded at different terms on the same island?"

Image caption Carwyn Jones said he did not think separate access to the European Single Market would work for any of the home nations
Image copyright British Irish Council
Image caption Representatives of the UK and Irish governments and the devolved administrations were in Cardiff for the summit

Scotland's External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop, who also attended the summit, insisted there was agreement with Carwyn Jones over the importance of retaining access to the single market following Brexit negotiations.

She told Good Morning Scotland the main aim of the meeting was to ensure the UK government did not pursue a so-called "hard Brexit".

She also acknowledged that she had met numerous foreign officials in recent weeks in order to further Scotland's case.

It follows claims in Friday's Daily Telegraph that Spain would oppose any plan for Scotland to retain single market access.

Ms Hyslop said: "I've met the Spanish ambassador twice in the last two weeks, I've met most of the ambassadors and a number of ministers in UK capitals as well.

"Nobody is negotiating just now. The UK isn't negotiating because they don't have a position. The EU are not negotiating because the UK doesn't have a position.

"What we are doing is making sure that people understand Scotland's perspective and there's a lot of understanding of the fact that 62% of Scots voted to remain and we want to be part of that European market."

The Scottish team attending the talks in Cardiff also included Ms Sturgeon's Brexit minister Mike Russell and Early Years Minister Mark McDonald.

It was the third summit for the normally biannual group in 2016, after an emergency session also hosted in Wales following the EU referendum.

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