‘Tory civil war over Brexit poses risk to Scot­land’s econ­omy’

LEADER COM­MENT

Sunday Herald - - TORY CONFERENCE SPECIAL - BY AN­DREW WHI­TAKER

TORY squab­bling over Brexit is plac­ing jobs and in­comes in “grave peril”, Scot­land’s Europe Min­is­ter has said. Mike Rus­sell is­sued the warn­ing af­ter Ruth David­son and Boris John­son bit­terly clashed ahead of the Tory con­fer­ence.

Rus­sell said the party’s civil war over Europe would de­stroy the prospect of a smooth Brexit tran­si­tion deal. The SNP min­is­ter said the in­ternecine Tory war­fare was caus­ing grow­ing eco­nomic un­cer­tainty. He said Tory Brexit plans were in “dis­ar­ray” af­ter “this lat­est bout of in­fight­ing” be­tween David­son and John­son. John­son in­sisted that any post-with­drawal tran­si­tion pe­riod must not last “a sec­ond more” than two years.

How­ever, Scot­tish Tory leader David­son called for “se­ri­ous peo­ple” to take charge of Brexit in a thinly-veiled at­tack on the For­eign Sec­re­tary.

David­son is to ad­dress the Tory con­fer­ence in Manch­ester to­day and she warned that “over-op­ti­mism” about the fu­ture of Bri­tain out­side the EU “sells peo­ple short”.

John­son set out “four red lines” for Theresa May over Europe in a dra­matic in­ter­ven­tion on the eve of the con­fer­ence. Us­ing in­creas­ingly hy­ber­bolic lan­guage, John­son said that Brexit will be “great” and “un­stop­pable”.

The For­eign Sec­re­tary said any tran­si­tion pe­riod af­ter Bri­tain leaves the EU should not last more than two years. He in­sisted the UK must refuse to ac­cept new EU rules dur­ing that pe­riod. John­son also said there must be no pay­ments for ac­cess to the sin­gle mar­ket af­ter the end of the tran­si­tion pe­riod.

He added that the UK must not agree to shadow EU rules to gain ac­cess to the trad­ing bloc.

How­ever, Rus­sell, Scot­land’s Min­is­ter for UK Ne­go­ti­a­tions on Europe, said the Tory Govern­ment’s “lack of clar­ity” on Brexit was dam­ag­ing busi­ness con­fi­dence. He warned this was plac­ing jobs and in­comes at risk.

Rus­sell said: “The Tories are clearly in dis­ar­ray which means that Brexit is in dis­ar­ray and it is dif­fi­cult to see where they go from here.

“This lat­est bout of Tory squab­bling on Brexit demon­strates two things. First, they still do not know what they want from Brexit and now we have the UK’s For­eign Sec­re­tary want­ing some­thing as a red line which is sim­ply im­pos­si­ble to achieve. In­deed, his con­di­tions would in ef­fect scup­per the prospect of any tran­si­tion.

“Se­condly, if they carry on like this, no-one will trust them. EU mem­ber states can­not be ex­pected to take them se­ri­ously in the ne­go­ti­a­tions when ev­ery week a new po­si­tion emerges and a new spat is ig­nited.

“The con­tin­ued un­cer­tainty and lack of clar­ity on the terms and po­ten­tial im­pact of Brexit is dam­ag­ing con­fi­dence in our eco­nomic prospects – and it puts all that mat­ters to Scot­land, in­clud­ing peo­ple’s jobs, busi­nesses and in­comes, in grave peril.”

John­son said that Brexit is “go­ing to be great and we need to be­lieve in our­selves and be­lieve we can do it”.

The For­eign Sec­re­tary added: “It is un­stop­pable.”

John­son’s in­ter­ven­tion will fuel spec­u­la­tion of a chal­lenge to Theresa May who will be seek­ing to re­assert her au­thor­ity as she goes into her first party con­fer­ence since she lost her govern­ment’s ma­jor­ity in the Gen­eral Elec­tion.

How­ever, David­son took aim at those set­ting out what she sees as an un­re­al­is­tic prospec­tus.

In an eve of con­fer­ence in­ter­view, she said: “I think op­ti­mism, pos­i­tiv­ity is good. I think over-op­ti­mism and not recog­nis­ing that there are prac­ti­cal re­al­i­ties that have to be faced, that have to be worked through and that com­plex­ity is not some­thing you just skip over, that you ac­tu­ally have to work through, I think sells peo­ple short.”

David­son de­nied that the com­ment was di­rected at John­son.

How­ever, when asked about John­son’s up­beat mes­sage, David­son said: “I don’t take is­sue with op­ti­mism. I am quite of­ten ac­cused of hav­ing a kind-of, sort-of have-a-go el­e­ment about my­self as well.

“But there is the idea that this is quite hard and it needs se­ri­ous peo­ple to do a lot of leg­work and scan the de­tail to make sure we do get to a place where it will all be OK. It doesn’t just hap­pen by ac­ci­dent, it re­quires a lot of hard work and it re­quires ap­pli­ca­tion.”

Mean­while, Labour’s shadow Brexit sec­re­tary Keir Starmer has chal­lenged Scot­land’s 13 Tory MPs to back his amend­ments to key Brexit leg­is­la­tion and help pro­tect de­vo­lu­tion. PAGE 38

For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son

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