LONDON — Any bespoke Brexit deal for Northern Ireland that allows close alignment with EU rules should be replicated in Scotland, a senior Scottish National Party MP said today.
Responding to reports that the U.K. and the EU have agreed that Northern Ireland will maintain regulatory alignment with the Republic of Ireland — and therefore with EU single market and customs union rules — Stephen Gethins, the SNP’s foreign affairs and Europe spokesman in Westminster, told POLITICO that, if such a deal were done, there would be “no reason” the government should not consider “similar arrangements for Scotland.”
While no deal has yet been formally confirmed, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is meeting European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels this afternoon, amid signs of a breakthrough in talks aimed at avoiding a “hard border” on the island of Ireland.
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is due to make a statement at 2.30 p.m. local time, following reports the two sides have agreed a text that commits to continued regulatory alignment between the North and the Republic.
Gethins said the SNP would need to “explore the full details of any agreement,” but added, “It is worthwhile noting that the Scottish government compromise [a policy document published in December] would have allowed for a bespoke deal for Scotland in the same way that one could be done for Northern Ireland.”
“Given the jobs that rely on the single market, customs union and a relationship with Europe, if there is to be a deal done for Northern Ireland there is no reason we can’t look at having similar arrangements for Scotland.”
The Scottish government has long called for the U.K. and Scotland to maintain its place in the single market and the customs union. Scottish voters overwhelmingly rejected Brexit, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who leads the SNP government in Edinburgh, has said that they should not be taken out of the single market and customs union against their will.
A renewed push by the Scottish government to achieve a bespoke Brexit arrangement would cause a headache for May, who earlier this year rejected Sturgeon’s call for a second referendum on Scottish independence, saying now was “not the time.” Since the general election, Sturgeon has said she will hold off a decision on the timing of a second vote until the terms of Brexit are clearer, and has renewed calls in recent days for the U.K. as a whole to remain in the single market and the customs union.
Sturgeon said on Twitter on Monday: “If one part of U.K. can retain regulatory alignment with EU and effectively stay in the single market (which is the right solution for Northern Ireland) there is surely no good practical reason why others can’t.”