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Jones and Sturgeon urge May to think again about customs union future for UK

Credit: PA, Andrew Milligan

The First Ministers of Wales and Scotland have joined forces to urge the Prime Minister to think again about her position on Britain's future trading relationship with the European Union.

In their joint statement, Carwyn Jones and Nicola Sturgeon say the UK should remain in the EU single market and customs union.

The UK Government's official position is that Britain will leave both when it leaves the EU.

The Welsh and Scottish First Ministers have made their call ahead of a meeting of leaders and ministers from the different governments of the British Isles on Guernsey.

Ahead of the same meeting, the UK Government has promised to maintain good working relationships with devolved governments despite the 'political noise' of Brexit.

The two First Ministers say the Prime Minister should use her long-promised White Paper to commit to keeping Britain within the Single Market and Customs Union in what they call a 'Norway Plus' relationship with the EU.

The EU27 have been very clear that it is the UK Government’s red lines, set out at Lancaster House in January 2017, which mean that the only Brexit on offer is one which will deeply damage our economies and possibly jeopardise our security.

In practice, the Prime Minister’s position on issues such as customs arrangements and regulatory alignment appears increasingly difficult to reconcile with the red lines, but she cannot come clean because she is held hostage by the Brexiteers in her Cabinet and Party. This cannot continue.

We call on the UK Government in its forthcoming White Paper to commit to staying inside the Single Market and Customs Union recognising that this will require continued alignment with the EU regulatory environment.

The aim should be a ‘Norway Plus’ model on the basis that the red lines set out by the Prime Minister in her Lancaster House speech in January 2017 are not consistent with the national interest.

– Carwyn Jones and Nicola Sturgeon
Leaders at last year's British Irish Council which Carwyn Jones didn't attend Credit: PA, Steffan Rousseau

The gathering on Guernsey will be the 30th meeting of the British Irish Council which brings together the UK and Irish Governments along with Welsh and Scottish First Ministers and leaders of Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. Northern Ireland's devolved government remains suspended.

The Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, will be present while the UK Government's representative will be the Cabinet Office minister David Lidington.

Carwyn Jones and Nicola Sturgeon may be united in their opposition to the UK Government's approach to Brexit but their partnership in another area of conflict has ended.

They had been battling the effects on devolution of the Withdrawal Bill, something they both described as a 'power grab.'

But while the Welsh Government accepted a compromise and gave its grudging approval to the bill, Scottish ministers remained opposed which means its changes will be implemented despite its rejection by the Scottish parliament.

That might explain this conciliatory and Scotland-focussed statement made ahead of the meeting by David Lidington:

Our governments are gathering in Guernsey for the start of the British-Irish Council, a forum established to support the different parts of the UK, Ireland and crown dependencies to work together more closely.

Working together is exactly what people all across the UK want to see their respective governments doing. They want to see their lives being improved through joint endeavour. They don’t expect different governments - with politicians from different parties - to agree on everything. But they do expect us to keep talking - and listening - to each other, and to co-operate on the big issues that affect us all.

The UK Government, for its part, is committed to keeping up the pace, and improving the depth, of our cooperation. Whatever the inevitable political noise as we unpick the complexities of our membership of the EU, I will ensure that we maintain the depth of our ongoing engagement with the Scottish Government, including this week at the British-Irish Council in Guernsey. I hope that the Scottish Government will maintain their own side of that relationship.

By working together, we will help secure a deal that sees us leave the European Union as a more modern country where all four nations have their voices heard, but also as one United Kingdom, as the people of Scotland voted for in 2014.

– David Lidington MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster