EDINBURGH (Reuters) – Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon said on Sunday there was a “golden opportunity” to argue for Britain to remain in the European single market after Brexit, as no-one had yet demonstrated the benefit of loosening trade ties with the EU.
Sturgeon, whose nationalist SNP runs the devolved Scottish government, said there was no alternative to EU membership that could deliver the same economic benefits. She said Prime Minister Theresa May must defend whatever trade option the UK government chose to pursue with hard evidence, damaging the economy as little as possible.
“There is zero credible evidence to suggest leaving the Single Market will bring any benefit to our economy. Indeed, as our analysis will show – the harder the Brexit, the worse will be the outcome,” Sturgeon said ahead of the publication of a study of the economic impact of Brexit on Scotland, commissioned by her government.
May is preparing for the start of talks about Britain’s trade relationship with the EU once it is no longer a member.
Agreeing a united stance has been made harder by infighting in May’s cabinet and Conservative Party over their vision for the new relationship with the EU, while the biggest opposition party, Labour, is also split on the best way forward.
“It will be a fundamental dereliction of duty as prime minister if Theresa May continues to pursue her ‘red lines’ without providing information on their impact, and publicly discussing the options available,” Sturgeon said.
Sturgeon’s party says continued single market membership would be the option that best reflects the fact that a majority of Scots vote in the 2016 referendum to stay in the EU.
That result put Scotland, together with Northern Ireland, at odds with Wales and England, which voted to leave, and the relationship between Britain’s four nations has been under increased strain since.
May has indicated that ending freedom of movement of workers between Britain and the EU is a priority when Britain leaves. Scotland, however, has argued for continued freedom of movement to boost its aging population and support its food and drink industry and rural life.
“(Those defending Brexit) have completely failed to explain how their approach could even remotely come close to replacing the enormous lost trade and investment,” Sturgeon said.
“That means there is now a golden opportunity for those moderate voices who are making the case for Scotland and the UK to remain in the single market.”
The British government said it was still seeking a one-size-fits-all Brexit that would suit all parts of the UK.
“Rather than trying to undermine the result of a democratic referendum, we urge the Scottish government to work with us to ensure, as we leave the EU, we protect the UK’s vital internal market,” a government spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary; Editing by Kevin Liffey