No-deal Brexit must be ruled out to avoid disaster: Holyrood minister

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Scottish Brexit Secretary Mike Russell has revealed some of the “regrettable” preparations being made for a possible no-deal exit from the EU, as he urged UK ministers to rule out such a scenario “now and forever”.

He told MSPs the Scottish Government is now starting to make decisions on matters such as “medicines, on clinical and consumable stockpiling, emergency transportation”.

A public information campaign is also in the “final phase of development”, he added, with the Government’s resilience committee meeting weekly.

Mr Russell said: “All of this activity has become a significant focus of our resources and efforts – as it has to be for a responsible Government – however it remains something the UK could and should choose to remove as a risk today.”

While he said such actions are part of “responsible” preparations being made by Holyrood ministers, he added the Scottish Government still believes the “best outcome” would be to remain in the European Union.

He said there needs to be a second referendum on EU membership “to break the logjam that has now paralysed politics at Westminster”.

Making a statement to MSPs the day after the House of Commons voted against Theresa May’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement by a massive majority, Mr Russell said the PM had endured “not just a defeat” but a “rout”.

He said: “In a normal political world with normal, accountable, self-aware politicians, the scale of this defeat would have led to the immediate resignation of, if not the government, then at least the leader of that government.

“But instead the Prime Minister behaves as if this is all somebody else’s fault.”

In the wake of the vote, he added: “There are actions we believe the UK Government should take immediately to stave off complete disaster.”

As well as calling on UK ministers to explicitly rule out a no-deal Brexit, he said they must extend the Article 50 timetable for negotiations, and also legislate for a second EU referendum.

If Mrs May does not do this when she returns to the Commons with her “plan B”, he suggested a Bill could be brought by a “Parliament controlled by its members”.

Mr Russell pledged: “I am ready to make the case for Europe passionately and proudly in a second EU referendum, and to contrast it with the Prime Minister’s deal which will only leave this country and its people impoverished.

“In all the chaos and uncertainty there is in Westminster now, there is also an opportunity to shine a light through it, and persuade the country of a better, brighter alternative.”

He reminded Holyrood the SNP had won the 2016 Holyrood election on a manifesto which included the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum if there was a significant material change in circumstances from the 2014 vote – when Scots opted by 55% to 45% to stay in the UK.

“We’re ready for and indeed would relish a general election fought on the issue of Brexit and Scotland’s future,” Mr Russell said.

But if that does not happen he said the Scottish Government would “immediately step up our support for a second EU referendum”.

He added: “The Scottish Government is clear that the best outcome is to remain in the EU, a second referendum with Remain on the ballot paper is an opportunity for that to happen, and for the wishes of the people of Scotland to be respected.”

But Scottish Conservative constitutional spokesman Adam Tomkins said Mr Russell’s statement was “yet another reminder that for the SNP, Brexit is not about our future relations with Europe – for them Brexit like everything else is all about independence”.

He also stressed he does not support a no-deal Brexit, but said the “cold hard truth” is that those who voted against the PM – including SNP MPs – had “made a no-deal Brexit all the more likely”.

He questioned if the SNP would “play a constructive role in cross-party talks” or instead “retreat to the familiar playground politics of playing to the Nationalist gallery and bang on only about independence”.

Scottish Labour Brexit spokesman Neil Findlay said Mrs May should have resigned after Tuesday night’s defeat, as he called for a general election to take place across the UK.

He said the vote in the Commons was “an abject humiliation” for the Prime Minister which leaves her “without a shred of credibility”.

The Labour MSP added: “If the Prime Minister had an ounce of self-awareness she would have resigned immediately… this deal is dead.”

Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie said the Brexit chaos at Westminster could act as an “advertisement” for independence.

He told MSPs: “For those of us who believe in Scotland’s future as an independent member of the European family on our terms and in our right, we could hardly wish for a better advertisement for our cause than the shambolic, absurd theatricality we have seen at Westminster.”

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