24th Oct 2016

British unity shaken by talk of 'hard Brexit'

Leaders of both Scotland and Northern Ireland have suggested they would seek a special deal with the EU, as they fear that the UK's tough negotiating stance on quitting the bloc could hurt their interests.

Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said it is "highly likely" that Scotland will break away from the UK in the near future.

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"I have never doubted that Scotland will one day become an independent country and I believe it today more strongly than I ever have before," she told her pro-independence Scottish National Party on Sunday (17 October).

The ruling SNP will present a bill for a referendum on independence this week to the Scottish parliament, that would be pursued if all other options fail.

Sturgeon said she would explore all possibilities to prevent Scotland, which voted to remain in the EU on the 23 June referendum, being pulled out of the EU.

"We will propose new powers to help keep Scotland in the single market even if the UK leaves," Sturgeon said.

"I don't believe there is a mandate to take the UK out of the single market and I don't believe there is a majority in parliament."

She said her first approach would be finding a good trade deal for the whole of UK and avoid hard Brexit.

"But if the Tory government rejects these efforts, if it insists on taking Scotland down a path that hurts our economy, costs jobs, lowers our living standards and damages our reputation as an open, welcoming, diverse country, then be in no doubt ... Scotland must have the ability to choose a better future, and I will make sure that Scotland gets that chance," she told party members in Glasgow.

She did not mince words to describe the UK's foreign secretary and secretary of trade.

"Let me be crystal clear about this, Scotland cannot trust the likes of Boris Johnson and Liam Fox to represent us" she said.

'Special case'

Northern Irish leaders have also been alarmed by UK prime minister Theresa May's promise to prioritise control over migration over retaining access to the EU's single market.

Deputy first minister Martin McGuinness told the Guardian newspaper that Northern Ireland should push the EU to grant it associate or even membership status to avoid the “devastating” consequences of Brexit.

Northern Ireland voted in favour of staying in the bloc.

The Sinn Fein member's main concerns are access to the single market, trade, borders with Ireland and maintaining peace.

He said leaders in Dublin and Belfast need to work together to make the case for "special rules" for Northern Ireland. He said a common position could be formulated in the next weeks.

“Theresa May says ‘Brexit means Brexit’, but so far as we are concerned Brexit means disaster for the people of Ireland," said McGuinness.

There is concern that Brexit could destabilise the 1998 peace agreement in the province with the possible reintroduction of immigration and customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“Whenever the government promise there will be no return to the borders of the past, they don’t make it clear there will be no borders. The borders of the past conjures up the idea of British soldiers, checkpoints, queues of cars a mile long," McGuinness argued.

"May says she is negotiating on behalf of the United Kingdom, but there is absolutely nothing united about a so-called United Kingdom. We don’t agree. We see our future in Europe. Scotland sees its future in Europe."

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