Scotland’s Brexit Minister has opened the door to working with Michael Gove after the Leave campaign leader backed SNP plans for Holyrood controls over immigration.
Mike Russell, who was appointed by Nicola Sturgeon to handle the UK’s exit from the European Union for the Scottish Government, argued there is “no reason” why political opponents cannot back his government’s plans for single market membership and extensive devolution.
It follows an exchange in the House of Commons between Stephen Gethins, the SNP’s Europe spokesman, and Mr Gove.
The former Lord Chancellor can be seen nodding when North East Fife MP Mr Gethins asks: “Why not give Scotland — it needs the powers — some of the responsibility for immigration?”
Hansard, the unimpeachable record of Parliamentary exchanges, noted that Mr Gove “indicated assent” towards the statement.
Mr Russell said: “I agree with Michael Gove on very little so to refer once again to the season of goodwill it is nice to know we might have one area of agreement. Of course I think it would be a sensible step forward.
“The paper deals in some detail with the issues of devolution of further powers. Migration is a key one in this area so if it is backed by Michael Gove I am more than willing to have a conversation with him about it.”
The Courier asked Mr Gove how he thought Scotland and the UK would benefit from the devolution of immigration and if he had any concerns people arriving in Scotland then moving to already highly populated parts of the UK.
He replied: “I am sure the First Minister and Prime Minister will develop policy in the interests of the whole United Kingdom.”
Mr Gethins said: “One of the few commitments made by the leaders of the campaign to leave the EU was when Mr Gove said that Scotland should have power over immigration.
“This would mean that we could have a policy that best suited Scotland’s needs not least our economic priorities and provide a boost to our Universities and food and drink sector among others.”
Meanwhile, Mr Russell claimed there is “nothing” in the 50-page Scottish Government document which either Labour or, perhaps surprisingly, the Conservatives should not be able to back.
Critics have said the document is unachievable and is only a smokescreen for a second independence referendum.
The SNP MSP was scathing about such claims, however.
He said: “There is no reason why Labour should not back these proposals, none whatsoever.
“They meet the big criteria they set in terms of membership of the single market. It is consistent both with what they have said in the Scottish Parliament and what Labour has said in the UK Parliament.
“It would be useful for everybody if we were able to work together and that door remains open and I say that again very clearly.
“I think there are ways in which we could make a good fist of taking this forward and I am very happy to have those discussions.”
Mr Russell added: “There is nothing in this paper that is difficult for the Tories to back except they have swung from this position of saying we must stay in, completely across to being born-again Brexiteers.
“That is only because they are pandering to two masters. One is Tory voters who voted to leave. I respect their position but they are in a minority, and the second one is the UK Government.
“There will be the opportunity, having digested their Christmas pudding or whatever, to reflect upon what comes next. I think they should reflect upon whether they can make a difference to Scotland by supporting us.”
For the full, exclusive, interview with Mike Russell six months on from Britain’s Brexit vote, see Friday’s Courier.