Scotland politics

Scottish Tories defend customs union vote

Tellers in House of Commons Image copyright PA
Image caption The government has won a number of close votes over Brexit in the Commons this week

A Scottish Tory MP has insisted his party acted in the national interest by opposing a bid to potentially keep the UK in a customs union after Brexit.

The government saw off a bid on Tuesday to create a customs union with the EU in the event of a "no deal" Brexit.

The Commons vote saw all 13 Scottish Tory MPs side with the government.

This was despite the majority of them - and the party's Scottish leader Ruth Davidson - backing Remain ahead of the EU referendum.

The amendment to the trade bill was defeated by only six votes after twelve pro-Europe Conservatives - none of whom represent Scottish constituencies - rebelled against their party by supporting the amendment.

The government's total was boosted by the support of four Labour MPs.

The amendment stated that if a free trade area had not been negotiated with the EU by 21 January, ministers must instead start discussions on joining a customs union, which allows for tariff-free trading between members with a common tariff set for imports from the rest of the world.

Labour and the SNP back the idea of remaining in a customs union with the EU after Brexit - but the government says this would mean the UK is unable to strike its own international trade deals.

The SNP has said the result of the vote shows the Scottish Conservative group at Westminster has had "no discernible impact" on the biggest debate over the country's future since the Second World War.

But Conservative MP Andrew Bowie said he and his colleagues had voted "in the national interest to deliver on the government's plan for a pragmatic Brexit, which is what the government is committed to delivering".

Image copyright House of Commons
Image caption Mr Bowie (left) backs the prime minister's Brexit plan, but his colleague Ross Thomson says it needs significant changes

Pro-Brexit Scottish Conservative MP Ross Thomson told BBC Scotland on Tuesday that the plan drawn up by Prime Minister Theresa May and her cabinet at Chequers earlier this month did not respect the result of the EU referendum and needed major changes.

Mr Bowie told the Good Morning Scotland programme that he disagreed with his colleaugue's assessment, insisting: "I think it respects the result, it respects the democratic will of the British people in which they voted to leave the European Union.

"But it does so in a pragmatic and business-friendly way that will protect jobs, protect investment and protect the economy and move this country forward in a way that is best for the British people, including Scotland.

"We are democrats. we respect the will of the British people. the British people voted as a whole to leave the European Union and it is incumbent on us to deliver on that vote".

The Conservatives continue to be deeply divided over Brexit, with leading Tory remainer Anna Soubry claiming that hardline Brexiteers headed by Jacob Rees-Mogg are now running the country rather than the prime minister.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Some pro-Remain MPs have claimed that hardline Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg is now effectively running the country

Ms Soubry has called for a government of national unity to deal with Brexit, which would include "Plaid Cymru, the SNP and other sensible, pragmatic people who believe in putting this country's interests first and foremost".

Mr Bowie said the Conservatives were having a "full and frank discussion with each other and of course we have disagreements, as people would expect elected members of parliament to do".

But he denied that Mrs May's position was now untenable, and said the prime minister remained in control of the country and her own party.

After last year's general election, Ms Davidson claimed her new MPs would form a powerful bloc at Westminster that would be able to "stand up for Scotland".

'Almighty mess'

Mr Bowie would not be drawn on how much of a say Ms Davidson has over how her MPs vote, but said: "We are proud and full members of the United Kingdom Conservative party.

"We happen to represent Scottish constituencies and we stand up and work in the interests of our constituents and in the interests of Scotland."

On Tuesday, his colleague Mr Thomson laughed after being asked whether he cleared his actions in advance with Ms Davidson, before saying: "I don't clear anything with anybody, thank you".

SNP MP Stephen Gethins called on the Conservatives to "reach out" to other parties over Brexit rather than "appealing to their hard right".

He added: "We have a responsibility to find a way through what is an almighty mess.

"But at the moment you have the Tories in hock to the hard right of their party, the hardest of hard Brexiteers, and the only other people they listen to are the DUP."

Mr Gethins also said "not one" Scottish Conservative MP had joined efforts to find compromise, but had instead "found themselves trooping through the lobby with the hard right of the Conservative Party time after time."

The SNP's leader at Westminster, Ian Blackford, used prime minister's questions to urge Mrs May to extend Article 50 - which would effectively delay the UK's departure from the EU beyond 29 March of next year.

Mrs May simply replied "no" to Mr Blackford's request.