A plenary meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) was held on Monday 30th January in Cardiff, and was chaired by the Prime Minister, Theresa May.

The JMC, which meets to allow members of the UK Government and the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to discuss matters of importance, covered the UK’s exit from the EU, trade and investment opportunities. The discussions brought to the fore the different positions which the UK and devolved administrations have taken as regards “Brexit”. The communiqué issued after the meeting notes that “consideration of the proposals of the devolved administrations is an ongoing process” and that in “work will need to be intensified ahead of triggering Article 50 and continued at the same pace thereafter”.

It has been reported that the UK Government has indicated that its preference might be a hard or “clean” Brexit, but that other administrations, particularly the Scottish Government, might favour a “soft” Brexit.

What is the Scottish Government’s position?

In December 2016, the Scottish Government produced a paper known as “Scotland’s Place in Europe”. The text of the paper can be found here. In summary, the Scottish Government’s position is as follows:-

  • The Scottish Government is “determined to maintain Scotland’s current position in the European Single Market”.
  • Whilst the Scottish Government’s preference is for Scotland to become a full member of the European Union (EU) as an independent country, it states that it seeks to find common ground with the UK Government around a solution which would protect Scotland’s place in the European Single Market from within the UK, after Brexit.
  • The powers of the Scottish Parliament must be fundamentally revisited.
  • Although the rest of the UK might not retain full membership of the European Single Market through the European Economic Area (EEA), and the European Customs Union, the UK Government should support Scotland remaining within the European Single Market.
  • The Scottish Government states that there are examples of different deals for different countries, such as Denmark and the Channel Islands, on Single Market access. The Scottish Government proposes an integrated solution for Scotland which ensures continued membership of the European Single Market and collaboration with EU partners on certain aspects, known as the “Norway Model”.
  • The Norway Model would allow Scotland to continue to trade in both goods and services within the European Single Market. It would also mean that Scottish residents would retain the right to travel, live, work and study in other EU and EEA countries “with the same social, economic, health and consumer protections that EU Citizens would continue to enjoy in Scotland”.
  • It is recognised that, in order to facilitate the above, Scotland would need to make financial contributions to the administrative and operational expenditure of the EU, in the same way as other European Free Trade Area (EFTA)/EEA countries do.

There have been arguments both in support and against the Scottish Government’s proposals. It has been pointed out, for example, that membership of EFTA is open to “any state” but that Scotland is not a state for these purposes; the EFTA Treaty would, therefore, need to be amended to amend the definition. The admission of Scotland to the EEA would also require the approval of 27 EU Member States and the current EEA/EFTA states. The likelihood of such approval being given is not guaranteed, and might depend on certain EU Member States’ governments’ attitudes to secessionist movements in their own countries.

The UK Government has said that it will consider all proposals put forward by the devolved administrations before finalising the UK Government’s negotiating strategy and aims for exiting the EU. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Scottish Government’s aims can be incorporated, given the apparent clear blue water between its position and that of the UK Government.