The SNP believes the UK government has opened the door to Scotland remaining in the European single market after appearing to offer significant concessions over the Irish border, party sources have told BuzzFeed News.
On Monday, Irish news broadcaster RTÉ reported that the UK government had conceded there would be “continued regulatory alignment” on the island or Ireland, implying Northern Ireland will retain significant elements of the customs union and the European single market.
Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon has been calling for Scotland to remain in the single market since December last year but the proposal was rejected by the UK government, with Scotland secretary David Mundell saying it was unnecessary.
Senior SNP sources now believe the UK government's apparent concession to Northern Ireland has reignited their case for Scotland remaining in the single market and customs union even if other parts of the UK leave.
Sturgeon tweeted: "If one part of UK can retain regulatory alignment with EU and effectively stay in the single market (which is the right solution for Northern Ireland) there is surely no good practical reason why others can’t."
In a later statement, the first minister said she welcomed the agreement between the Irish and UK governments that there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland, but stressed that Scotland must get the same concessions as Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations.
“While I welcome the proposed commitment for Ireland and Northern Ireland – and while the particular circumstances in Scotland are distinct and separate from those in Ireland – today’s developments show very clearly that if one part of UK can retain regulatory alignment with the EU and effectively stay in the single market, there is no good practical reason why others cannot do the same," said Sturgeon.
“Indeed, any special status for Northern Ireland would make a similar solution for Scotland even more vital. For Scotland to find itself outside the single market, while Northern Ireland effectively stays in would place us at a double disadvantage when it comes to jobs and investment."
Sturgeon also raised the prospect of a second referendum on independence should her demands not be met, saying: “Today’s developments demonstrate in the clearest possible way, through the role played by the Irish Government at the top table in Europe, the importance of being independent when it comes to defending your vital national interests."
Several senior SNP sources told BuzzFeed News that the UK government's concessions on Monday had made it impossible for Theresa May to deny Scotland a differentiated deal, and that it's given them the opportunity to demand that Scotland retains the same benefits as Northern Ireland.
"It’s increasingly hard for the British government to argue that a hard border is not required in Ireland where one part of the island would be in the EU and the other not – whereas a hard border would be required in Britain were Scotland to have a different relationship with the EU than England and Wales," SNP MP Tommy Sheppard told BuzzFeed News.
He added: "Of course the simplest way to square all these circles would be for the UK to simply stay in the customs union."
Drew Hendry MP said: "The Scottish people have the right to have our jobs, economy and place in the single market protected. To retain special arrangements for NI whilst denying Scotland the same would be inexcusable."
SNP MP Angus MacNeil told BuzzFeed News: "Yes, [it's] completely impossible [to deny Scotland the same deal as Northern Ireland]. Why should Scotland have a terrible deal and Ireland a good deal?"
A senior SNP source who didn't want to be named said: "What this demonstrates – and the Brexiteers shouldn’t be stubbornly blind to it – is the benefits of the whole of the UK staying within the single market. But if the cabinet hardliners won’t have it, then a special deal for Ireland should leave the gate wide open for the compromise offered by the Scottish government."
The source added: “There’s clearly a way, we just need to find the will – and hopefully that’s something that can command backing from across the politics divide in Scotland, including from Ruth Davidson’s Tories.”
Scottish Conservative leader Davidson has not commented on Monday's developments, but one of her MPs, Stephen Kerr, said Sturgeon's statements on Ireland were "misleading and opportunistic".
Asked by BuzzFeed News if the Northern Ireland concession makes it more difficult for the UK government to deny the case for a differentiated deal for Scotland, Mundell, the Scotland secretary, simply replied: "No."