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Boris Johnson set a five-week deadline for talks on a free trade deal to reach an agreement or for both sides to accept there will be no deal when the current transition period ends at the end of the year. But senior Scottish figures have reacted with dismay after it was reported the Government was set to table new legislation which could override key elements of the Withdrawal Agreement which sealed the UK’s departure from the bloc in January.
Downing Street said the Government was proposing “limited clarifications” to the law to ensure ministers can preserve the gains of the Good Friday Agreement in the event of no deal.
Now the SNP led administration in Scotland are looking at their options with Europe amid fears Lord Frost and his negotiating team could walk away from talks without a deal.
Express.co.uk understands the Scottish Government could potentially seek “warmer” discussions with Brussels on their future relationship as fears of a no deal increase.
A Government source said “the will of the Scottish people needs to be respected” adding future relations with the EU were “important”.
Constitution Secretary Mike Russell MSP said the Scottish Government were taking action to prepare for this worst-case scenario.
When asked about Scotland’s relationship with Brussels, Mr Russell said that Holyrood seeks to have “productive dialogue with all those with whom we work”.
He stressed: “We are sorry that it is so hard to do so at present with a UK Government that seems to want to dominate, not discuss.
“A no deal outcome is in nobody’s interest.”
An EU official close to the negotiations said they won’t talk to Scotland until it actually wins independence from the UK.
“We are negotiating with the UK government,” the official added.
It comes as Lord Frost is due to hold another round of key negotiations in London with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, this week, as they look to find a solution to the remaining issues in order to have a deal readied for when the transition period comes to an end on December 31.
But in the shadows, Mr Russell is already leading a bid to keep Scotland linked with the EU through the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, but experts suggest will likely be shot down by Westminster.
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The Holyrood Bill could provide for continuity of provision that would otherwise be lost with Brexit and also includes provisions to ensure EU environmental principles and governance can continue in Scotland.
Part of this could see a new body called Environmental Standards Scotland set up to ensure compliance with environmental law.
Fergus Mutch, campaigner director of Eu+Me, a cross-party campaign to keep Scotland in the EU which is backed by the majority of Scotland’s political elite, said: “The Prime Minister’s determination to haul the country so dangerously close to the precipice of a No Deal is as reckless as it is deeply troubling.
“Let us be clear: under no circumstances would that be a ‘good outcome’.
“A hard Brexit means economic catastrophe before we were in a global pandemic. Now the consequences are unthinkable.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford had previously written to Boris Johnson to request an extension to the Brexit process earlier this summer.
Ms Sturgeon believes more time is required to complete negotiations and support businesses through recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Russell made clear the UK Government was now “hurtling towards a disastrous Brexit outcome in the midst of a deep recession and global pandemic.”
He added: “With talks with the EU due to resume tomorrow the UK has put itself in the position of being able to leave the transition period with one of two terrible outcomes – either a low deal or no deal. Either will, without a shadow of a doubt, hit Scottish jobs and the Scottish economy very hard.”
He stressed Scotland’s interests are “being damaged as the whole of UK governance is mired in chaos and confusion”.
He concluded: “The Scottish Government remains of the firm belief that the people of Scotland have the right to choose their own future and is determined to make that happen.”
A UK government spokesman said: “At all stages we have been clear that we want to achieve the best outcome for the whole of the UK.
“We’ll continue to work with the Devolved Administrations to look to agree a modern system for supporting businesses, jobs and trade in a way that benefits all within the Union.”
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