First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon said Monday that the U.K. governments position on leaving the EU customs union and single market is “unsustainable.”
In an interview with POLITICOs Ryan Heath in Brussels, Sturgeon urged British citizens not to give up on the possibility of preserving the U.K.s membership of both.
Noting that a common response is that the government has ruled out continuing membership in the customs union and single market, Sturgeon said: “But the governments position is unsustainable.”
“I dont think anybody who is in favor of this at home should be giving up on the customs union and single market options,” she said.
Sturgeon also said she was concerned about the potential competitive advantage that Northern Ireland could gain over Scotland from the EUs so-called “backstop” that would keep Northern Ireland in the EU customs union as a way of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May agreed in principle in December to a backstop for Ireland, but has disputed the EUs interpretation, which she has said is unacceptable.
Sturgeon, in the POLITICO interview, said that Scotland would have a problem with Northern Ireland being allowed to stay in the customs union and having better access to the EU single market. She said that the prospect of such a scenario only highlighted that the U.K. governments current position is untenable.
“If there is a situation where … Northern Ireland has a different relationship with the single market, of course that raises issues for Scotland,” she said, adding, thats why “I think the only credible and sustainable option for the U.K. here is to remain in a customs union.”
The first minister said it was hard to engage the Westminster government because civil servants are so preoccupied by Brexit. “The Whitehall machine is consumed by Brexit almost to the exclusion of everything else,” she said. “I dont think thats healthy for governance generally.”
She said the government was not listening to a range of opinions on what kind of Brexit they should try to negotiate. “They are not really listening to anybody except the mad Brexiteers,” she said, naming Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Environment Secretary Michael Gove and backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.