Nicola Sturgeon grilled by Justin Webb over border plans
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Earlier this week, the First Minister conceded an independent Scotland would likely need a trade border with England. She insisted she would do what she could to “keep trade flowing easily across the border” but warned challenges would arise for cross-border businesses “because of the absurdity of Brexit and the Tory Brexit obsession”. But the plan from Ms Sturgeon has come under brutal attack just days before the crunch Scottish election, where she is pushing for an SNP majority that she hopes will take Scotland closer to holding another independence referendum.
During a tense interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday morning, the First Minister was repeatedly grilled over how she would stop Scotland from being hammered by being forced to impose a border with England.
Ms Sturgeon raged: “This is the frankness that certain sections of the media will seek to stir up trouble on.
“I am not denying that we would need to confront and resolve the issues of being in the European Union for the border between Scotland and England.
“If we do that in a way that allows businesses to keep trading, because businesses are already paying the price of having a border because of Brexit, we open up the European Union again.
“That is massively important for Scottish businesses, and also makes Scotland more attractive again in terms of inward investment to secure that access to the single market.”
In an interview with The Irish Times, the First Minister also suggested Scotland could have a similar relationship with the EU and Britain as Northern Ireland.
She said: “In terms of goods and services, if we are an independent country within the European Union, of course, we have to comply with the rules and regulations
“But what we’ve got to understand is that Brexit has created border issues, and our businesses right now are paying the price for that. What we’ve got to decide is how best we arrange all of these things for maximum advantage.
“The Northern Ireland protocol, if there are easements there, yes, I think that does offer some template.”
But several opposition politicians have argued the province was an exceptional case due to The Troubles, and has been dominated by secretariat frustrations and border restrictions since the protocol was introduced.
Labour Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray said: “The First Minister’s comments simply beggar belief and demonstrate the bizarre positions that Nicola Sturgeon is forced to adopt in a vain attempt to mask the economic threat caused by Scottish separation.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael, who is also the party’s election campaign chair in Scotland, added: “The polite term for this would be delusional.”
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The latest backlash towards Ms Sturgeon comes after her independence plot was once again torn apart when the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) warned it would be forced to move its headquarters from Edinburgh to London in the event of a split with the UK.
RBS was founded in Scotland’s nearly 300 years ago in 1727 and is considered a crucial part of the country’s economic hub.
But Alison Rose, chief executive of parent company NatWest Group, warned while the banking giant remains “neutral” on Scottish independence, its balance sheet would be “too big for an independent Scottish economy”.
She told the Herald newspaper: “As you know, we are neutral on the issue of Scottish independence – it is something for the Scottish people to decide.
“We have been very clear, and it is recognised by senior nationalists, that in the event that there was independence in Scotland, our balance sheet would be too big for an independent Scottish economy, and we would move our registered headquarters… to London.”
The shock admission sparked a furious backlash towards Ms Sturgeon from her political rivals.
Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Murdo Fraser warned the move “starkly confirms the very real consequences for Scottish jobs and business if Nicola Sturgeon ever gets her way”.
He added: “For the historic Royal Bank of Scotland to be forced to leave Scotland in the event of the break-up of Britain would be devastating.
“Sturgeon has confirmed she will hold another damaging and divisive referendum if the SNP get a majority which is why it has never been more important to back the Scottish Conservatives as the only party with the strength to stop her.”
Liberal Democrat treasury spokesperson and Edinburgh West MP Christine Jardine warned losing the HQ of RBS would have a significant impact on employment throughout Scotland and would make the country less attractive for big firms to base themselves.
She said: “When it comes to business in Scotland, RBS is one of the crown jewels as well as a major source of employment in my constituency and across the country.
“These comments make clear that an independent Scotland would be less appealing for major firms to make their home here.
“The past year has been terrible for businesses so frankly, I’m appalled that the SNP want to pile the chaos of independence on top of the disruption caused by Brexit and the pandemic.”
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