Scotland politics

Ruth Davidson warns against 'divisive Brexit'

ruth davidson
Image caption Ruth Davidson was speaking to the Institute of Directors in London

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives has called on the UK to avoid a "divisive Brexit" and to heal the divisions left by the referendum.

Ruth Davidson said the UK remained one of the world's great liberal democracies.

But she said that reputation was being tested - with the world watching to see how the country conducts itself in the future.

Ms Davidson campaigned for a Remain vote ahead of June's EU referendum.

But in a speech to business figures at the Institute of Directors in London, she called on both Leave and Remain supporters to treat each other with respect.

'Nasty vision'

And she warned against giving way to a "nasty vision of a backward-looking, introspective Britain", and said the country should instead "choose the path of openness and engagement".

Ms Davidson said: "Our decision to leave the European Union hasn't determined which path we'll take. That's a decision we'll make as a nation and one indicator is how we carry ourselves as we proceed in the months ahead.

"To ensure we choose the path of openness and engagement, above all, I believe we must do all we can to avoid an unnecessarily divisive Brexit.

"That starts with coming back together and healing the divisions here at home that the referendum campaign has caused."

Ms Davidson said the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 should act as a warning that "keeping these divisions open doesn't end well".

'Make a plea'

She added: "So I'd like to make a plea. Remainers need to accept that Leavers are not racist for having concerns about the EU and our system of immigration.

"And - for Leavers -it's time to follow the lead of people like Dan Hannan who point out that the views of the 48% of people across the UK who backed Remain must be heard.

"Voicing concerns about Brexit isn't "remoaning"; there are genuine issues that need to be discussed. This process of listening is utterly vital."

Ms Davidson also attacked UKIP for "rubbing Europe's noses" in the result, warning that an "arrogant" attitude to the UK's European partners would only end up damaging the country's chances of negotiating a good deal.

And she said the EU nations should accept that people in Britain "do not go to sleep under a European Union duvet" - and should seek to accommodate the UK's chosen course.

Ms Davidson was delivering the annual Rhondda lecture, given last year by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

'Highly hypocritical'

A Scottish government spokesman described Ms Davidson's call for a more respectful EU debate as "welcome but highly hypocritical".

He added: "It is the Tories who are turning their backs on our European partners, who are refusing to guarantee that EU citizens can remain in the UK, who stood back as judges were attacked and who are completely disrespecting the vote of the people of Scotland.

"If Ms Davidson was serious about maintaining good relations with the EU, she would be demanding that the UK government seek to remain in the single market - as she was doing just a few months ago - instead of enthusiastically signing up to the hard-right Tory Brexit which her colleagues in Westminster are now pursuing."