Scotland's Brexit minister urges government to rule out 'no deal' outcome
Scotland's Brexit minister has called on the British government to rule out a "no deal" outcome as the latest round of withdrawal negotiations with the European Union starts.
Michael Russell said failing to negotiate a deal with the EU would be unthinkable and urged the government to commit to remaining in the European single market and customs union.
He said: "Today the UK government must make clear, without delay, that no deal is not only a bad outcome, it is an unthinkable outcome.
"More and more people across business and in our communities are expressing their concern at the damage being done to our economy and public services.
"This is no time for brinkmanship. By ruling out a 'no deal' outcome at least some of that damage can be limited.
"In just eight weeks the 27 EU member states will consider whether there has been 'sufficient progress' in the negotiations.
"The clock is ticking, yet we are running out of time to ensure we have transitional and longer term arrangements to protect, as much as possible, the interests of Scotland, the UK and the EU.
"It took far too long – a full year – for the UK government to finally agree that a transitional period was required at all.
"We strongly believe the best long-term option, short of EU membership, is to remain in the European single market and customs union.
"This is essential for Scotland's economy.
"A commitment from the UK government to achieving that would enable negotiators to move on to other important measures, such as co-operation on justice and security, and collaboration on science and innovation."
He also pressed the UK government to reconvene the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations in order to "fully engage with devolved administrations".
His comments come as the Scottish Chambers of Commerce has teamed up with its British and German counterparts to call for UK and EU negotiators to put a clear focus on "our shared economic interests" as the third round of Brexit talks begins in Brussels.
A UK government spokesperson said: "Our negotiations with the EU have shown that both sides recognise the need to secure an ambitious deal that works for both the EU and the United Kingdom.
"As European leaders have said many times, membership of the EU means accepting the 'four freedoms' of goods, capital, services and people, therefore we will be leaving the single market as we depart.
"Instead, we will be pursuing a bold and ambitious trade agreement with the EU, to allow the freest possible trade in goods and services.
"We are working closely with the devolved administrations to make sure their views are being reflected as we seek to achieve a deal that works for the whole of the UK. We will continue this engagement through bilateral meetings as part of the EU exit process."