Scotland politics

Sturgeon hits out at May's Brexit 'cloud of secrecy'

Sturgeon and May
Image caption Theresa May has pledged to consult the Scottish government over Brexit

Nicola Sturgeon has hit out at the UK government for maintaining a "cloud of secrecy" around its plans for the Brexit negotiations.

PM Theresa May refused to give a "running commentary" on the talks when pressed by the SNP's Angus Robertson on membership of the single market.

Mrs May said her government would not "reveal our hand prematurely" over the UK's negotiating position over Brexit.

The first minister said "there must be greater transparency" from Westminster.

Mr Robertson, leader of the SNP at Westminster and a candidate to be the party's deputy leader, accused Mrs May and her ministers of "waffle" for repeatedly insisting that "Brexit means Brexit".

'Running commentary'

During the weekly session of prime minister's questions, he pressed Mrs May to say whether she would argue for the UK to remain part of the single market post-Brexit.

She replied that she would seek "the right deal" on trade in goods and services, but added: "We will not take decisions until we are ready, we will not reveal our hand prematurely and we will not provide a running commentary on every twist and turn of the negotiations."

In a later statement at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that she was "concerned" by this approach.

Image caption Ms May clashed with SNP MP Angus Robertson during her weekly question session at Westminster

The first minister said: "I accept that while negotiations are under way there are aspects of that which have to be done behind closed doors. But I do not think it is acceptable to have a cloud of secrecy hanging over the UK government's negotiating position.

"I don't think it's acceptable to have a prime minister who is unable or unwilling to answer the simple question of whether we should remain in the single market or not.

"The UK government I suspect right now I think is using phraseology like that to mask the fact that it doesn't yet have a clue what it is seeking to achieve let alone what its chances are of achieving that are.

"But before we get too much further into this, there must be greater transparency from the UK government so people from across the UK can judge whether or not what the UK is trying to achieve meets our national interests or not."

Image caption Ms Sturgeon said it was not acceptable to have a "cloud of secrecy" over the negotiating position

Ms Sturgeon, who also said she did not believe that the prime minister had a "mandate" to take the UK out of the single market, proposed setting up a series of debates at Holyrood on the impact of Brexit.

She invited opposition leaders to bring forward topics for the Scottish government to raise in the talks, saying she would not accept Holyrood being "window dressing in a talking shop" over the negotiations; "we expect our engagement to be meaningful".

Responding to Ms Sturgeon's comments, a UK government spokesperson reiterated Theresa May's view that it would "not be right to provide a running commentary or reveal our hand prematurely."

The spokesperson added: "The Department for Exiting the European Union is leading the UK's negotiations to leave the European Union and establish the future relationship between the EU and the UK.

The government has committed to working very closely with parliament, devolved administrations and a wide range of other interested parties on this approach."

'Self-defeating'

During the Holyrood debate, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said she was concerned about Ms Sturgeon's talk of a second independence referendum.

She said: "The first minister declares that independence will be considered if it is the best or only way to protect our membership of the EU. Can the first minister honestly tell the chamber under what circumstances and on what issue she has ever concluded that it isn't the best option for Scotland?"

Fellow Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw accused the first minister of making a "belligerent" and "self-defeating" statement.

Ms Sturgeon replied that she sought to act in the interests of all the people of Scotland, and said it was her job to be belligerent in doing so.

Image caption Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson each questioned Ms Sturgeon on her position

Labour's Kezia Dugdale voiced backing for the first minister, but questioned whether Ms Sturgeon was seeking membership of the single market or of the European Union as a whole.

Ms Sturgeon said her preferred outcome remained full EU membership.

She added: "I've said all along that I will examine all options to protect Scotland's interests. There's no doubt that what I see as the best option is to retain our membership of the European Union, and I will be working to seek to do that. But I'll also be working along the way to seek to protect all of the aspects of EU membership that we possible can.

"That's what I mean by not ruling out any options - because if it does turn out that the only way to protect our membership of the EU is to consider, and I stress consider, whether we should be an independent country, then I don't think it's right to take that option away from the people of Scotland."

Amid speculation that UK Labour Jeremy Corbyn may not support staying in the single market, Ms Dugdale later wrote to Ms Sturgeon underlining that "Scottish Labour is an autonomous party", saying she would "continue to support" the first minister's "efforts to maintain Scotland's relationship with Europe".

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