‘Downing Street says the PM is set to rebuff calls for a flexible Brexit, which would allow parts of the UK to have their own arrangement,’ said the BBC radio news this morning. Not quite. This notion has been rejected in Europe, where the idea of doing some kind of separate deal with Scotland or any constituent part of the UK was never a deal. The ‘options’ that the SNP talk about do not exist as far as the EU is concerned: it is a giant bluff. It’s far from clear why she is asking Theresa May for something that the EU has already rejected.
Even if Theresa May backed Nicola Sturgeon’s absurd plan to keep Scotland in the EU customs union while the rest of the UK left (thereby ensuring tariffs between English and Scottish trade) this would be rejected out of hand in Brussels and for a simple reason. The EU deals with and recognises nation states: it never cuts deals, of any kind, with one part of another country. And for a very good reason. To play Sturgeon’s game would be to stoke secessionist tension elsewhere in Europe. As the Spanish put it: ‘It is clear that if Britain leaves the EU, it leaves in its entirety. If Britain leaves, Scotland and Gibraltar leave as well’. Its Prime Minister said that ‘Spain opposes any negotiation by anyone other than the government of (the) United Kingdom. I am extremely against it, the treaties are extremely against it and I believe everyone is extremely against it. If the United Kingdom leaves… Scotland leaves.’ France agrees. Francois Hollande has said that: ‘The negotiations will be conducted with the United Kingdom, not with a part of the United Kingdom’.
So the EU cannot and will not do any kind of deal with any part of a former member state. Even if the Germans agreed to this, the Spanish would veto it. Sturgeon is asking the impossible. That’s not to say her tactic is pointless. The aim is to present a Scottish demand that cruel England turns down and thereby revive the case for separation.
As for the Prime Minister, she sought to address any confusion about this earlier this month when she pointed out that: ‘Because we voted in the referendum as one United Kingdom, we will negotiate as one United Kingdom, and we will leave the European Union as one United Kingdom.’
So why is this even an issue? Because so much of the London media hasn’t worked out that it is being gamed by the SNP – and encouraged to take unworkable propositions seriously. The nationalists exist to advance a fake narrative of Scotland vs the UK. Sturgeon sees in Brexit a chance to play her favourite game.
Now, about 38.0 per cent of Scotland voted for Brexit; 52.5 per cent of England did so. A difference of 14.5 per cent. Significant, certainly, but hardly irreconcilable. Sturgeon’s game is now to airbrush out the two-in-five Scots who voted for Brexit. In the FT today, she uses two devices to do this. One is to say Scotland voted ‘overwhelmingly’ for Brexit – I’m not quite sure I’d use the O-word to describe a two-fifths vs. three-fifths split. And her next trick is to say that ‘every single part of Scotland voted to remain in Europe’ – a verbal formula which conceals that a million Scots voted to leave the EU.
As for her threat of another independence referendum? The polls show support has not changed much from 45 per cent; she’d need it to be as high as 60 per cent to risk another referendum. Theresa May is in a delicate position: she needs to be respectful of Scottish opinion as she is Prime Minister of five million Scots . But the SNPs claim for a separate Euro deal is bluster and ought to treated as such.