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The leader of the Scottish Conservatives has warned against special treatment for Northern Ireland on Brexit, saying any “regulatory alignment” needed to avoid a hard border should be extended to the whole of the UK.
In her first public statement on the abortive divorce deal between London and Brussels, Ruth Davidson said UK voters had not voted for the country to be “divided by different deals for different home nations”.
Ms Davidson added to the pressure on Theresa May, UK prime minister, to step back from a UK-EU draft deal made public on Monday that referred to maintaining post-Brexit “regulatory alignment” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The Scottish Tory leader, who has in the past argued that Britain should remain in the EU single market, appeared to throw her weight behind those who still want to minimise post-Brexit divergence from the EU single market for the whole UK.
“No government of the Conservative and Unionist party should countenance any deal that compromises the political, economic or constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom,” Ms Davidson said.
“If regulatory alignment in a number of specific areas is the requirement for a frictionless border, then the prime minister should conclude this must be on a UK-wide basis.”
While all sides agreed that there should be no return to the Irish border of the past, it was in nobody’s interest to jeopardise the UK’s own internal market, she said.
Many Scottish Tories are concerned that agreeing separate treatment for Northern Ireland would strengthen the hand of the pro-independence Scottish National party.
Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister, on Monday seized on initial reports of the UK’s compromise with Ireland to revive her push for special treatment for Scotland as well.
Ms Sturgeon’s Scottish government has repeatedly called on the UK to allow Scotland, which last year voted strongly to remain in the EU, to retain full access to the European single market.
The first minister last year set out detailed proposals for how Scotland might stay in the EU single market even after a “hard” Brexit.
But Ms Sturgeon has made clear she hopes for a “soft Brexit” for the whole UK.
“This could be the moment for opposition and soft Brexit/remain Tories to force a different, less damaging approach — keep the UK in the single market and customs union,” the first minister tweeted on Tuesday.
The calls for the closest possible economic ties with the EU’s single market were echoed by Anna Soubry, an English Conservative MP who has long advocated the softest possible form of Brexit.
“If regulatory alignment is good enough for #NIreland then it’s good enough for the entire UK so let’s embrace it & keep UK together”, she said on Twitter.