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.

Comments policy

All comments posted on the site via Disqus are automatically published. Additionally comments are sent to moderators for checking and removal if necessary. We encourage open debate and real time commenting on the website. The Centre on Constitutional Change cannot be held responsible for any content posted by users. Any complaints about comments on the site should be sent to

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

Latest blogs

  • 19th February 2019

    Over the course of the UK’s preparations for withdrawing from the EU, the issue of the UK’s own internal market has emerged as an issue of concern, and one that has the potentially significant consequences for devolution. Dr Jo Hunt of Cardiff University examines the implications.

  • 12th February 2019

    CCC Fellow Professor Daniel Wincott of Cardiff University examines how Brexit processes have already reshaped territorial politics in the UK and changed its territorial constitution.

  • 7th February 2019

    The future of agriculture policy across the United Kingdom after Brexit is uncertain and risky, according to a new paper by Professor Michael Keating of the Centre on Constitutional Change. Reforms of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy over recent years have shifted the emphasis from farming to the broader concept of rural policy. As member states have gained more discretion in applying policy, the nations of the UK have also diverged, according to local conditions and preferences.

  • 4th February 2019

    In our latest report for the "Repatriation of Competences: Implications for Devolution" project, Professor Nicola McEwen and Dr Alexandra Remond examine how, in the longer term, Brexit poses significant risks for the climate and energy ambitions of the devolved nations. These include the loss of European Structural and Investment Funds targeted at climate and low carbon energy policies, from which the devolved territories have benefited disproportionately. European Investment Bank loan funding, which has financed high risk renewables projects, especially in Scotland, may also no longer be as accessible, while future access to research and innovation funding remains uncertain. The removal of the EU policy framework, which has incentivised the low carbon ambitions of the devolved nations may also result in lost opportunities.

  • 1st February 2019

    The outcome of the various Commons votes this week left certain only that the Government would either secure an amended deal and put it to a meaningful vote on Wednesday 13 February, or in the overwhelmingly likely absence of this make a further statement that day and table another amendable motion for the following day, the Groundhog Day that may lead to a ‘St Valentine’s Day Massacre’ for one side or the other. Richard Parry assesses the further two-week pause in parliamentary action on Brexit

Read More Posts