- Exclusive: Scotland’s Brexit minister tells Business Insider that the UK appears likely to leave the EU without a deal.
- Michael Russell MSP said that Theresa May faces the choice of leaving without a deal or pushing a deal through parliament with votes from opposition parties, which would risk splitting the Conservative party in two.
- He said: “That’s the choice [May] has. She either doesn’t get a deal because she won’t move, or she cuts her party in half – or cuts a substantial part of her party off from her – and she tries to get a deal through with the support of the opposition parties.”
LONDON – A no deal Brexit is now the most likely outcome of Theresa May’s negotiations with Brussels, Scotland’s minister responsible for Brexit has told Business Insider.
“The issue now is how we avoid a no deal Brexit, but it does appear to be the most likely outcome,” Michael Russell, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, and whose ministerial brief includes Scotland’s Brexit preparations, told BI in an interview this week.
“Where we are now boils down to an inability to find a way both to have the backstop and to have an agreement which will get the support of the Tory party and the government,” he said.
“That appears to be where the impasse is. So far, no form of words has been found to bridge that gap and indeed the prime minister’s proposals […] simply rehash points that have been rejected by the EU.”
Russell said that both Downing Street and the EU’s attempts to “de-dramatise” the contentious Irish backstop are doomed to fail. That would leave May with a choice between leaving the EU without a deal or courting sufficient votes of opposition parties to push through a deal without the support of Conservative and Democratic Unionist Party MPs.
Of those two options, Russell claimed, a no deal Brexit appears more likely, because the alternative of accepting the EU’s preferred backstop proposals would risk splitting the Conservative party in two. It would also be opposed by the DUP, the Northern Irish party whose votes she relies on for a working parliamentary majority, he said.
That’s the choice Theresa May has. She either doesn’t get a deal because she won’t move, or she cuts her party in half.
“The choice she has is pretty clear now,” Russell said.
“The choice is not to have a deal with the EU because she won’t shift on the issue of the backstop, or to shift on the issue of the backstop and accept that she will split the Conservative party and lose the support of the DUP.”
He added: “Can she make that up with support from other parties? That’s the choice she has. She either doesn’t get a deal because she won’t move, or she cuts her party in half – or cuts a substantial part of her party off from her – and she tries to get a deal through with the support of the opposition parties,” he said.
The Scottish Nationalist Party that governs Scotland has vowed to vote against May’s Brexit deal in Westminster unless it guarantees membership of the single market and customs union, which remains highly unlikely given it would breach the prime minister’s strict red lines and provoke outrage among Tory MPs. However, Downing Street has in recent weeks started to make overtures to moderate Labour MPs in the hope they could be forced to support her deal if the alternative is no deal.
All roads lead to the backstop
The Irish backstop, an insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, has emerged as the biggest barrier to the UK and EU striking an exit deal in Brussels. The EU’s proposed backstop would effectively keep Northern Ireland within the EU single market and customs union for an infinite amount of time.
You can smooth the backstop so it doesn’t appear to be important. But there remains a gap and I don’t think there are words that can taper over it.
But this backstop measure would also create the need for new checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, which the prime minister and many of her Tory colleagues have vowed to oppose because on the grounds it would risk undermining the integrity of the UK.
Attempts by negotiators in recent weeks to find a middle ground, or to dress up the backstop differently so it appears more palatable to Tory MPs, have failed, with May publicly doubling down on her opposition to the backstop as a means of placating restless Conservative MPs. But May will be unable to bridge the gap between her public opposition to a backstop and the EU’s insistence on a backstop forming part of a divorce deal, Russell said.
“There’s a lot of discussion going on about whether there are words that can taper over this gap.
“You can smooth the backstop so it doesn’t appear to be important. But there remains a gap and I don’t think there are words that can taper over it. The backstop either comes into place or it doesn’t.”
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