The Brexit ball is now very much in Westminster’s court

In 2014 Scots voted to remain in the United Kingdom by 55 per cent. This year they voted 62 per cent to remain in the European Union. With the UK now heading for Brexit, they cannot have both. Michael Keating discusses what happens next. This article originally appeared in The Herald.

IN 2014 Scots voted to remain in the United Kingdom by 55 per cent. This year they voted 62 per cent to remain in the European Union.

With the UK now heading for Brexit, they cannot have both. The Scottish Government’s new proposals are a way, in the First Minister’s words, to square that circle by staying at least in the European single market if not the EU itself by joining the European Economic Area.

In 70 closely argued pages, they represent the first attempt by any government in the UK to state exactly how it proposes to respond to the surprise vote in June. For its part, the UK Government has not even told us whether it wants to be inside the single market or the customs union, let alone how any deal might work out in detail.

Therein lies the main problem. The closer the UK remains to the European market, with its free movement of goods, services, capital and labour, the easier it will be for Scotland. If the UK goes for a hard Brexit, it becomes more difficult for Scotland to keep in both markets. The Scottish Government proposes to keep borders open in both directions but, whatever happens, there will be borders. This is the inevitable result of Brexit.

The border may not be physical but virtual. It will be possible to move goods around the United Kingdom with no need for inspections, as the Scottish Government proposes to remain in a customs union with the rest of the UK. Yet if Scotland is in the single market and the rest of the UK not, there may be different product standards.

As the paper concedes, where goods enter the UK, the point of sale will need to be declared so that the relevant regulations can be followed. Trade in services between Scotland and England may be restricted by non-tariff barriers if different rules apply. Free movement of labour between Scotland and the EU may remain but it will be necessary to determine who is resident in Scotland and eligible to enjoy the right..

A second set of proposals concerns the extra powers that Scotland might require. These cover devolved competences subject to European law, plus wide powers to meet single market regulations in economic and social matters. Scotland might also need power to negotiate agreements with the European Economic Area and other governments.

None of this is technically impossible but it would represent a radical transformation of the United Kingdom and require the agreement of Westminster. The Scottish Government accepts that it would need the UK Government to negotiate the deal on its behalf. With the Tories already deeply divided over its approach to Brexit, it is unlikely to welcome an additional complication unless it really thinks that the UK is in peril. The ball is now in Westminster’s side of the court.

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Michael Keating's picture
post by Michael Keating
University of Aberdeen
21st December 2016

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