UK should stay in single market and customs union - Sturgeon

Brexit agenda: Scottish first minister talks up closer Scotland-Ireland ties on Dublin visit

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon told business leaders in Dublin that the UK should remain in the single market and customs union after Brexit.

In a wide-ranging speech at the beginning of a two-day trip to Ireland on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon spoke of the need for closer ties between Scotland and Ireland politically and economically, and said the UK must move beyond the "vagueness" of its approach to leaving the EU.

On arrival Ms Sturgeon met with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, where they discussed the ramifications of Brexit for both countries.

The leaders reiterated their support for the work of the British Irish Council (BIC) and for building stronger economic ties.


At a keynote speech before the annual Dublin Chamber dinner on Thursday evening, Ms Sturgeon cautioned: “Brexit will undoubtedly cause Ireland difficulties in the years ahead, just as it will cause difficulties for Scotland.”

She reminded her 1,500-strong audience that Scotland had not chosen to leave the EU – 62 per cent of its population voted to remain, and the country was very comfortable with the idea of “overlapping identities”.

‘Absolutely at home’

"In Scotland, and this is contrary to a point that the prime minister [Theresa May] made in Florence two weeks ago, many people in recent decades have felt absolutely at home in Europe, " she said.

“The fact that the UK government is committed to leaving the EU means that Scotland, like Ireland and the north of Ireland, now faces that dilemma which is not of our choosing. We want to remain a full member of the EU, but we face right now being taken out against our will.”

Ms Sturgeon spoke for a little over half an hour in an often light-hearted speech that poked fun at Theresa May’s coughing fit during the Conservative party conference, and at the unprecedented Irish and Scottish public support for the English football team whose performances in World Cup qualifiers had the ability to affect their own prospects.

She took a moment to pay tribute to the late Liam Cosgrave, a "giant of Irish politics" whose lifetime had spanned that of the Irish State.

But the bulk of her address focused squarely on Brexit and its potential to cause both countries harm.

Common sense

She said despite the UK government’s resolve to leave the EU, it should not put ideology ahead of practical common sense, and instead opt to remain a member of both the single market and customs union, something that would represent an “obvious compromise”.

Leaving the single market, she continued, would be deeply damaging to Scottish business, and to “who we are and our place in the world”.

While welcoming some of what Ms May had to say in her Florence speech two weeks ago, the Scottish leader said the plans lacked detail. And focusing on the rights of EU citizens in particular, she said, the problem was a “moral” one.

“I feel very, very strongly that people who have make our country Scotland their home, then they are welcome there, and we thank them for their contribution. So that is a moral issue,” she said.

There was a need too to consider the reasons behind the outcome of the 2016 referendum, something that would be analysed for generations.

“The fear of immigration, often the distortions around the immigration debate, certainly played a big part,” she said. “But it does seem very likely that one of the big reasons underlying the vote to leave the EU was economic inequality – inequality that feeds a sense of disillusionment and disenfranchisement.”

Extolling the benefits of economic and other ties between the two countries – Ireland is now Scotland’s sixth largest export market – Ms Sturgeon appealed for a further strengthening of ties.

“These connections bring real benefits to people in both Scotland and Ireland.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times