Out of the fry­ing pan ...

Af­ter the most bruis­ing week of Mrs May’s premier­ship as she fights for her Brexit deal and her job, she might just think that the worst is over. She’s wrong

The Herald on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Paul Hutcheon

THE Prime Min­is­ter’s Brexit plan has suf­fered an­other blow af­ter Scot­tish Tory MPs ei­ther with­held their sup­port for her draft agree­ment, or re­jected it out­right.

Mod­er­ate MP John La­mont, an ally of party leader Ruth David­son, said he had a “num­ber of con­cerns” about the pro­pos­als. Paul Master­ton, a ris­ing star in Scot­tish Tory cir­cles, wrote that he is cur­rently “not in a po­si­tion” to back the much-crit­i­cised blueprint.

And David Duguid, who rep­re­sents Banff and Buchan, wrote yes­ter­day that EU de­mands for con­tin­ued ac­cess to Scot­tish wa­ters for f i sheries are “un­ac­cept­able”.

May has en­dured the most bruis­ing week of her premier­ship af­ter fi­nally un­veil­ing a pro­vi­sional agree­ment on the UK leav­ing the Euro­pean Union.

Much of the con­cern cen­tres on the “back­stop” pro­vi­sion, which would be in­voked if no so­lu­tion is agreed on avoid­ing a hard bor­der be­tween Ire­land and North­ern Ire­land. The so-called in­sur­ance pol­icy would re­sult in the UK and the EU en­ter­ing into a cus­toms part­ner­ship which could not be ended uni­lat­er­ally by Bri­tain. Many of May’s col­leagues fear this pro­vi­sion could keep the UK and the EU in a cus­toms ar­range­ment in­def­i­nitely and block any prospect of free trade deals with other coun­tries.

A clutch of min­is­ters quit her Gov­ern­ment last week in protest over the draft agree­ment and she is fac­ing the prospect of a “no con­fi­dence” bal­lot within days.

How­ever, Scot­tish MPs have ad­di­tional con­cerns about the draft, on top of the back­stop fear, in­clud­ing whether North­ern Ire­land will be more aligned to the EU than the rest of the UK.

Sources fear such an out­come would an­tag­o­nise vot­ers in Scot­land and pro­vide po­lit­i­cal am­mu­ni­tion to the SNP.

I’m go­ing to look at the de­tail closely be­fore com­ing to a fi­nal de­ci­sion about how I will vote in the deal when it comes to the House of Com­mons

Scot­tish Tory MPs are also sen­si­tive about the con­se­quences of the agree­ment on fish­eries. The UK is set to leave the Com­mon Fish­eries Pol­icy by the end of 2020 and be­come an in­de­pen­dent coastal state, but some fig­ures in the Scot­tish party fear this com­mit­ment is be­ing wa­tered down.

In a let­ter signed by ev­ery Scot­tish Tory MP last week, ahead of May pub­lish­ing the terms of the deal, the par­lia­men­tar­i­ans wrote to the Prime Min­is­ter: “You have made wel­come state­ments through­out the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions that leav­ing the EU will mean leav­ing the Com­mon Fish­eries Pol­icy and ne­go­ti­at­ing as an in­de­pen­dent coastal state from De­cem­ber 2020.

“You said in your con­fer­ence speech that any­thing less would be a ‘be­trayal of Scot­land’ and we com­pletely agree. This has raised ex­pec­ta­tions in the fish­ing in­dus­try that Brexit will lead to com­plete con­trol and full sovereignty over do­mes­tic wa­ters that we must de­liver on.”

David Mun­dell, the Sec­re­tary of State for Scot­land and the most se­nior MP north of the bor­der, even­tu­ally backed Mrs May af­ter a bruis­ing Cabi­net meet- ing on Wed­nes­day. How­ever, although the Prime Min­is­ter’s trou­bles in­side her par­lia­men­tary group are mainly com­ing from the right-wing Euro­pean Re­search Group, which wants to dump the draft deal, moder­ates in Scot­land are also luke­warm about the pack­age.

Mr La­mont, who was a Tory MSP be­fore be­com­ing the MP for Ber­wick­shire, Roxburgh and Selkirk at the last gen­eral elec­tion, ex­pressed scep­ti­cism.

Speak­ing in Eye­mouth, a fish­ing vil­lage, he said: “I’ve got a num­ber of con­cerns. I’m go­ing to look at the de­tail closely be­fore com­ing to a fi­nal de­ci­sion about how I will vote in the deal when it comes to the House of Com­mons.”

Mr Master­ton, elected as the MP for East Ren­frew­shire last year, wrote on a blog: “De­cid­ing whether or not to sup­port this deal will, short of a de­ci­sion on whether to go to war, be the big­gest de­ci­sion MPs will make. I will not be rushed, bounced, or forced into reach­ing a po­si­tion. To do so would be ir­re­spon­si­ble and do you a dis­ser­vice. You de­serve a de­ci­sion of this mag­ni­tude to be prop­erly thought through. “I have read the doc­u­ments care­fully and have a num­ber

of con­cerns. These re­late pri­mar­ily to the North­ern Ire­land back­stop (which both the UK and EU hope not to have to use), and as­pects of the fu­ture re­la­tion­ship frame­work where there is a real lack of de­tail.”

He con­tin­ued: “I now need to work through those con­cerns and un­der­stand the prac­ti­cal re­al­ity and real- world im­pli­ca­tions in a num­ber of ar­eas. So as of to­day, I am not in a po­si­tion to state that I will be sup­port­ing the deal.”

How­ever, he also wrote that leav­ing the EU with­out a deal would be a “ter­ri­ble out­come” and vot­ing against the May plan poses an “in­her­ent risk”.

Mr Duguid wrote yes­ter­day that he is con­tin­u­ing to “seek and re­ceive” as­sur­ances that the UK will leave the CFP and be­come an “in­de­pen­dent coastal state”.

He added: “EU de­mands for con­tin­ued, guar­an­teed ac­cess is UN­AC­CEPT­ABLE.”

While Mr La­mont and Mr Master­ton voted Re­main in the 2016 ref­er­en­dum, Aberdeen South MP Ross Thom­son voted for Brexit. The MP stepped up his crit­i­cism of May’s plan yes­ter­day, com­ment­ing: “The PM’s plan would cre­ate se­ri­ous new trade bar­ri­ers be­tween GB and NI. As a Union­ist first and fore­most I can never ac­cept that.”

With May strug­gling to cob­ble to­gether a par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity for the draft deal, she des­per­ately needs her Scot­tish MPs on­side.

SNP MP Stephen Gethins said: “With all wings of her party against her, it is abun­dantly clear that Theresa May has no chance of get­ting her deal through par­lia­ment – leav­ing us all in po­lit­i­cal pur­ga­tory.

“Rather than try­ing to please the Prime Min­is­ter, the Scot­tish Tories should be lis­ten­ing to their con­stituents who voted over­whelm­ingly to re­main in the EU. The best deal short of EU mem­ber­ship is to re­main in the sin­gle mar­ket and cus­toms union.

“It is es­sen­tial that we avoid both Theresa May’s hard Brexit and a No Deal sce­nario – and all op­tions must be on the ta­ble to achieve that.”

A Scot­tish Tory spokesman said: “Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive MPs know that their con­stituents will ex­pect them to scru­ti­nise this draft agree­ment in de­tail be­fore they vote, and that is ex­actly what they are do­ing.”

Mean­while, First Min­is­ter Nicola Stur­geon will tell a fo­rum in Dundee to­mor­row that Brexit in any form is likely to re­duce eco­nomic growth.

She will use her ad­dress at the Na­tional Eco­nomic Fo­rum to reit­er­ate her call for the UK to re­main part of the sin­gle mar­ket and cus­toms union.

She is ex­pected to tell del­e­gates that leav­ing the sin­gle mar­ket will do “im­mense dam­age” to jobs and liv­ing stan­dards in Scot­land.

Stur­geon will say: “The UK Gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal to even con­sider the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s de­tailed plan to keep Scot­land in the sin­gle mar­ket, while ac­cept­ing a dif­fer­en­ti­ated so­lu­tion for North­ern Ire­land, which we sup­port, po­ten­tially puts Scot­land at a com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage. But, per­haps worst of all, it leaves ev­ery­body com­pletely un­cer­tain about the shape of our longterm re­la­tion­ship with the EU.

“The seven-page po­lit­i­cal dec­la­ra­tion on the fu­ture con­tains lit­tle more than vague as­pi­ra­tions and plat­i­tudes.

“But while we can ex­pect more pages forth­com­ing on some as­pects of the fu­ture re­la­tion­ship, there will be no con­crete re­as­sur­ances.”

The gov­ern­ment’s Na­tional Eco­nomic Fo­rum is a reg­u­lar event at­tended by min­is­ters and se­nior fig­ures from busi­ness, the pub­lic sec­tor and trade unions to dis­cuss how best to grow Scot­land’s econ­omy.

Stur­geon will ad­dress del­e­gates at the Apex City Quay Ho­tel on the theme of in­no­va­tion and in­clu­sion.

She will say: “Put bluntly, long-term eco­nomic un­cer­tainty is hard-wired into the Prime Min­is­ter’s with­drawal deal.

“If the UK Gov­ern­ment in­sists on leav­ing the EU, then it should re­main in the sin­gle mar­ket and cus­toms union. That is the so­lu­tion which re­spects the out­come of the ref­er­en­dum, mit­i­gates the worst eco­nomic con­se­quences of Brexit and largely re­solves the Irish bor­der is­sue.

“If Brexit goes ahead – in any form – it is likely to re­duce eco­nomic growth.

“But that doesn’t de­value our wider ef­forts to sup­port busi­ness – in fact it makes those ef­forts all the more im­por­tant.”

Graeme Roy ‘The need for an or­derly tran­si­tion is vi­tal’

Ian Black­ford MP ‘PM has shown ut­ter con­tempt to Scot­tish peo­ple’

MP John La­mont has a “num­ber of con­cerns”

Theresa May has sur­vived the most dif­fi­cult week of her premier­ship af­ter un­veil­ing a pro­vi­sional – and con­tro­ver­sial – agree­ment on Brexit

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