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Tory leader Ruth Davidson highlights Brexit ‘opportunities'

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson makes a speech at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London, where she said the UK must remain a "beacon" for liberal, democratic values in the wake of the vote to leave the EU. Picture by Daniel Leal-Olivas, Press Association
Catriona Webster, Press Association

RUTH Davidson has urged all political parties to consider the potential opportunities of leaving the EU as she announced a new expert group to advise her on Brexit.

The Scottish Conservative leader said the Scottish Government had "got it wrong" in its response to the Leave vote as she announced a rival panel to that set up by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

It includes Gavin Hewitt, the former chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association and ex-UK ambassador to Belgium, Finland and Croatia, as well as Sir Iain McMillan, the former director of CBI Scotland.

The panel will also feature three Scottish Conservative politicians - Adam Tomkins MSP, Alexander Stewart MSP and Ian Duncan MEP.

Ms Davidson said what had appeared to be an "unstoppable bandwagon" for Scottish independence in June had been "parked in a lay-by" by the SNP in the face of referendum fatigue.

In a speech at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London, Ms Davidson said: "The First Minister tried to use the vote to create a bow wave surge for independence. It hasn't worked, but I don't think the SNP will stop trying.

"And sadly, in our judgement, the push for separation will continue to be the main priority for the SNP government as we head into Brexit discussions - and not the best interests of Scotland and the United Kingdom."

Ms Davidson said the panel would report on how Brexit could deliver for Scotland and the rest of the UK.

"We believe that Scotland's interests are not served by constantly trying to pick apart the United Kingdom," she said.

"We believe that Scotland's best interests are served by ensuring the strength and durability of the entire United Kingdom of which we are a key part."

The Tory leader also defended the UK Government against "unfair" criticism as she compared the process of leaving the EU to the setting up of the Scottish Parliament.

She said: "It is of course entirely understandable to want clarity and certainty. But I believe it is right that the Prime Minister does not limit her options ahead of any negotiations.

"And I also believe that we have to accept that we are at the start of what will inevitably be a lengthy process.

"A good parallel is with the Scottish parliament. When it was first set up in 1999, it became a cliche to declare that this was a 'process not an event'.

"The point was - while power was being transferred from London to Edinburgh in the form of a Bill, devolution would take time and would evolve.

"And indeed it has: later this year, we will adopt tax and welfare powers than were never even conceived when devolution was first proposed.

"The legal framework is one thing. The change in political culture is another. I believe the same thing will be true of Brexit."

Ms Davidson said politicians such as herself who had backed Remain had a duty to seek out opportunities for Scotland in areas such as fishing or farming.

She said: "We are starting a conversation with the EU where we should take our time in order to negotiate a bundle of bespoke agreements which are tailored to our national interest - and which, crucially, should also suit our neighbours across Europe too.

"My hope is that taking this route will ensure that the deals we strike will meet the unique requirements of the United Kingdom - including Scotland."

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