Nicola Sturgeon said it was time for Scotland to become “an independent, European nation” after a trade deal was sealed with Brussels, and accused Boris Johnson of “cultural vandalism” for pulling out of the Erasmus student programme.
The SNP First Minister reiterated that Brexit was happening “against Scotland’s will” after the UK reached agreement over a historic post-Brexit deal with the EU on Christmas eve, four-and-a-half years after 62 per cent of Scots backed remain in the 2016 referendum.
Her party is set to head into next year’s Holyrood elections seeking a fresh mandate for a new independence vote, and senior figures in the SNP had confirmed the nationalists would have opposed any trade agreement, no matter what was in it.
However, there remain unanswered questions whether an independent Scotland would be allowed to join the EU with the SNP’s existing policy of retaining the pound after leaving the UK, while membership of the bloc would also mean relinquishing control of major policy areas such as fisheries.
What this deal takes away from you Nicola is having laws imposed upon the Scottish Parliament by Brussels and any chance of making a credible economic case for independence. Your contempt for more than a million Scots who voted for independence from Europe is breathtaking.
— Michael Forsyth (@lord_forsyth) December 24, 2020
Independence would also raise the prospect of a hard border at Berwick upon Tweed and potentially mean erecting trade barriers with England, by far Scotland’s largest export market.
Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, described the deal as “great news for Scotland’s businesses” and claimed it would open up “huge opportunities” for Scottish firms all over the world.
He said: “We have an agreement on fisheries which will ensure that our fishermen, and our coastal communities, will flourish outside of the EU’s unfair Common Fisheries Policy. The UK will once more be a sovereign coastal state.
“The deal protects famous Scottish products such as whisky, Arbroath Smokies and Orkney cheddar.”
However, Ms Sturgeon described the news that exports of seed potatoes would not be included in the trade deal as “disastrous” for Scottish farmers, with the sector worth around £122m per year.
She said: “Before the spin starts, it’s worth remembering that Brexit is happening against Scotland’s will. And there is no deal that will ever make up for what Brexit takes away from us. It’s time to chart our own future as an independent, European nation.
“There will be lots of focus – rightly – on the economic costs of Brexit. But ending UK participation in Erasmus – an initiative that has expanded opportunities and horizons for so many young people – is cultural vandalism by the UK government.”
The Prime Minister said leaving the Erasmus scheme, which organises student exchanges across the continent, was a “tough decision” but described it as “very expensive”.
He said it would be replaced with a “Turing scheme” – named after the mathematician Alan Turing – which will allow UK students to go to universities around the world.
Mark Drakeford, the Welsh Labour First Minister, said the deal was a “difficult” one for his country but offered a more measured reaction than Ms Sturgeon.
Any deal is better than no deal. We need to see the full details but this is not the deal we would have negotiated. Welsh businesses will still face significant barriers to trade in 2021 and we will stand ready to help them.https://t.co/jQjz2jjya9
— Mark Drakeford (@fmwales) December 24, 2020
He said it was “not the deal we were promised” but “provides a platform to which we can return to argue for improvements in the future”.
He added: “So it’s a deal, but it’s a thin deal, a deal that we were promised would be better but this deal is better than no deal at all.”
Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, said the Stormont Executive would pay particular attention to the security aspects of the deal in its scrutiny of it.
She added: “Given the government’s Northern Ireland Protocol, a sensible trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union was always the most favourable outcome for Northern Ireland.
“Moving forward, we will continue to work to seize the opportunities and address the challenges which arise from the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.”