Scotland politics

Ruth Davidson calls for single market access

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Media captionRuth Davidson says she wants the "largest amount of access to the single market" after Brexit

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives has said she wants the UK to have the "largest amount of access" to the single market after Brexit.

Ruth Davidson was speaking the day after the prime minister said the UK could not hold on to "bits" of the EU.

The Brexit debate has largely focused on whether placing controls on the movement of EU citizens will mean the UK has to leave the single market.

But Ms Davidson said free trade was more important to her than immigration.

Ms Davidson was a vocal supporter of the Remain campaign ahead of June's referendum, which saw the UK vote to leave the EU by 52% to 48%, while Scottish voters backed remain by 62% to 38%.

Brexit talks with the EU are expected to begin as early as April - with opposition parties criticising the UK government about a "lack of clarity" over what it hopes to achieve.

Prime Minister Theresa May said at the weekend that she would give more details in the coming weeks, while emphasising: "We will be able to have control of our borders, control of our laws."

Mrs May added: "But of course we still want the best possible deal for us, companies to be able to trade, UK companies to be able to trade in and operate within the European Union and also European companies to be able to trade with the UK and operate within the UK."

No 'running commentary'

Speaking on the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme, Ms Davidson said the government was right to take time to listen to people's hopes and concerns about Brexit without giving a "running commentary on every single meeting that you have, and what everybody said".

When asked what the best possible deal would be, Ms Davidson said it would be for the whole of the UK to "have the most amount of free trade within the EU that it is possible" and an "an ability outside of the EU to be able to negotiate trade deals with other countries".

She also said that the single market was not a "binary choice" between being in or not, with different levels of access possible, and that she wanted the "largest amount of access" to the single market.

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Image caption Scotland was one of the few UK areas to vote in favour of remaining in the EU

Ms Davidson said she was "heartened to hear the prime minister say that she wants UK businesses to have the greatest deal of access and ability to operate within the single market".

And while she said it was important to acknowledge the concerns people have about immigration, she did not regard it as something that was more important than free trade.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has suggested that a so-called soft Brexit - where the UK retains access to the single market - would see the prospect of Scottish independence "put aside" in the short term.

She told the BBC: "We've put forward very detailed plans about how we avoid a hard Brexit and the reason it's important to avoid a hard Brexit, let's not forget, is because that will have a devastating impact on our economy and on jobs. So I'm in a sense willing to put aside my preferred option of independence in the EU to see if we can explore a consensus and compromise option."

'Exacerbate differences'

Ms Sturgeon has also said she felt Mrs May has "no plan" for leaving the EU, and said the prime minister was prioritising "appeasing right-wing Brexiteers" over the UK's national interests.

But Ms Davidson said the SNP was desperately trying to "whip up extra support for independence that hasn't materialised" by "trying to exacerbate any differences between the UK government's position and the SNP's position".

She added: "Actually, I just don't think that there is a huge amount there, when both the UK government and the Scottish government are saying they want the whole UK, and Scotland as part of the UK, to have the best trading deals around the world including within the EU."

The Tory leader also suggested that her party may rule out coalitions with the SNP following May's local government elections, saying: "I can't imagine there's going to be terribly much appetite to empower the SNP."

Scottish Labour have also questioned Ms Sturgeon's position over Brexit, with leader Kezia Dugdale telling Good Morning Scotland that "good faith is fast becoming blind faith" over the first minister's plans.

She said she "absolutely" supported Scotland's "ability to have access to the single market", but argued that Ms Sturgeon had failed to produce "real evidence" of how this could happen if the rest of the UK leaves.

The Greens have claimed that the rights of Scottish people can only be protected if Scotland is an "independent nation within the EU". Meanwhile the Scottish Lib Dems have argued against a second independence referendum, but have called for a vote on the final Brexit deal.