In my first speech as Prime Minister I spoke of the precious bound between the nations of the UK. Two days later, I was in Edinburgh to meet First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
It was important that we met. I wanted to demonstrate my promise to govern in the interests of the whole UK. I also wanted to share my belief that the UK and Scottish governments must work together if we are to succeed building a stronger economy and a fairer society with even greater opportunities for all.
That imperative is more important than ever as we prepare to begin our negotiations to leave the EU.
Today, ministers from the UK government will sit down with ministers from the Scottish government and the other devolved administrations in the latest of a series of Joint Ministerial Committee meetings convened specially to plan our departure from the EU.
It offers a first chance to discuss proposals that have been put forward by the Scottish government.
From the start I’ve been determined that the Scottish government and the other devolved administrations should be fully engaged in the process and my commitment to that remains absolute.
I welcome the Scottish government’s paper. Today we shall seek to understand more about their proposals and press on with the process of sharing information and views, and we will continue to do so in a series of further meetings before our formal negotiations with the EU begin.
As I said on Tuesday, we won’t agree on everything.
There remains a fundamental difference between the UK government and the current Scottish government: the Conservative and Unionist government I lead believes in our union of nations and people and wants it to be a success in the future. The SNP government wants to bring that union to an end.
While I respect the views of all those in Scotland who wanted the UK to remain in the EU, I do not believe that their votes represent a wish to separate Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom or re-run the independence referendum.
I hope it is clear that our comprehensive plan for Brexit addresses issues and concerns that have been raised in Scotland as well as across the rest of the UK.
We are leaving the European Union but we are not leaving Europe. Our vote to leave the European Union was no rejection of the values we share with our European friends. The decision to leave the EU represents no desire to become more distant to our European neighbours. We will remain strong allies. I want our membership of the EU to be replaced by a strategic partnership, which should include an ambitious free trade agreement and many other kinds of co-operation.
For example, we are making a specific commitment, as we translate the body of European law into our domestic regulations, to ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained.
Indeed, under my leadership we will not only protect existing rights set out in European legislation, we will build on them by ensuring workers’ voices are heard by the boards of publicly-listed companies.
It is part of my determination to create a fairer Britain.
Fairness also demands we deal with another issue as soon as possible. I cannot be clearer: we want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Scotland and the rights of Scots in other member states as quickly as we can.
I am ready to strike such a deal right now and many EU leaders agree. But I want no one to be in any doubt that it remains an important priority to resolve this – because it is the right and fair thing to do.
Scotland is a powerhouse for academic research. Our great Scottish universities have not only played an influential role shaping the country’s history, they are key to Scotland’s future too.
In this, we want to play to one of Scotland’s and the UK’s great strengths. We want the new Global Britain to be among the best places in the world for cutting-edge science and innovation. So we will welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science and technology programmes.
From space exploration to clean energy and medical technologies – to name but a few of the fields in which Scotland excels – we want to be at the forefront of global innovation.
As for Scotland’s businesses, like those across the whole UK they want maximum access to the EU single market. That is why we will pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the EU.
That doesn’t mean membership of the single market but it does mean the freest possible trade in goods and services between the UK and EU states. We want to take in elements of current single market arrangements in certain areas – in, for example, the freedom to provide financial services, an important sector in the Scottish economy.
To prevent a disruptive ‘cliff-edge’ for business when we leave the EU, we will do everything we can to phase in new arrangements as we develop our new partnership with the 27 member states. A phased approach might be taken towards immigration controls, customs systems, criminal justice or the legal and regulatory framework for financial services. Our objective is to achieve a smooth, orderly Brexit.
Scotland’s businesses have been very clear about something else. They have placed paramount importance on protecting and developing our UK single market.
This should come as no surprise. We know from the Scottish government’s own figures that Scotland’s trade with the UK is worth 4 times Scotland’s exports to the EU.
As we work with the Scottish government and the other devolved administrations to deliver a Brexit that works for the whole of the UK, our guiding principle must be to ensure that no barriers to living and doing business within our own Union are created. That is vital for Scotland and it is a desire, I believe, that is shared by the Scottish government.
In achieving this, we must work very carefully to ensure that when powers are repatriated from Brussels to the UK, the right powers are returned to Westminster and the right powers are devolved to Holyrood. Only by getting that right can we guarantee to maintain the necessary common standards and frameworks that will not only drive business at home but equip Britain for its future as an open trading nation capable of striking the best trade deals around the world.
We will not agree on everything as our dialogue with the Scottish government progresses but our plans for Brexit provide the common ground upon which we can build the foundations of a Team UK approach to leaving the EU.
As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I take seriously my responsibility to ensure that our union can enjoy a prosperous and secure future. At this momentous time, it is more important than ever that we face that future together, recognising the bonds that unite us, combining our strengths and driven by our shared interest making the UK a successful, open trading nation in the years and decades ahead.