SCOTTISH Brexit Secretary Michael Russell has hinted that the SNP Government will call a second referendum on independence if Theresa May’s “unacceptable” Brexit deal passes through the House of Commons.

Speaking after a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee, Russell said it was “an emergency for all the nations in in these islands to stop this deal”.

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“This deal is a disastrous deal,” he said. “Mr Mundell knows the damage this will do to Scotland – it’s beyond belief and in those circumstances the first thing to do is to stop this deal. It is not this deal or nothing – that’s nonsense that is being sold vigorously by some of the people in that meeting.”

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He added: “If the unacceptable deal goes through – and I never predict these things – there will be substantial economic damage and then I’m happy to say we will have to say to the people of Scotland ‘make your choice’.”

Russell’s comments came ahead of Nicola Sturgeon’s meetings with the Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn later today, to discuss the UK Government’s Brexit agreement.

Speaking ahead of the meetings, Sturgeon said it was “incumbent on all of us who oppose that false choice” of May’s Brexit deal or crashing out of Europe with no-deal “to propose a workable alternative”.

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She added: “Continued, permanent single market and customs union membership for the whole of the UK is such an alternative.

“The case for that is not only becoming more urgent, it is also becoming more realistic with every day that passes, given the clear parliamentary opposition to the Prime Minister’s proposal and to a no-deal outcome – and I will today be making the strongest possible case for cross-party support for that option.”

May, meanwhile, was able to breath a sigh of relief after an attempt by Brexiteer Tory backbenchers to force a leadership contest seemed to fizzle out. For the last week, members of the European Research Group (ERG) of MPs have suggested a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister is imminent.

But yesterday, former Brexit minister and ERG vice-chair Steve Baker admitted that some of the people who promised to send a letter to Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, calling for the challenge, may not have told him the truth.

He told The Sun: “If everyone does what they’ve told me, the line will be crossed by a big margin on Monday evening. However, it has become very very clear that not everyone does what they’ve said they’re going to do.”

Reportedly, there are 12 MPs who have said they’ll submit a no-confidence letter who haven’t yet. That includes some in the 2017 intake.

The ERG insisted the no-confidence vote was still coming, and that it was a question of when – not if.

Nick Boles, a pro-EU backbencher, launched an attack on Jacob Rees-Mogg, the head of the ERG, and on Boris Johnson. “Do my colleagues not understand how normal people react when they see a group of middle aged men, led by two plummy-toned Old Etonians, trying to bully a conscientious and determined woman out of her job?” he tweeted.

Meanwhile, in his Daily Telegraph column, Johnson described the agreement as a “585-page fig leaf” and added it “does nothing to cover the embarrassment of our total defeat”.

Calling for the scrapping of the Northern Ireland backstop, he added: “We should massively accelerate our preparations to exit on World Trade Organisation terms, with a new Secretary of State responsible for all the cross-government work.

“There would, of course, be some disruption in that outcome, but by no means as much as sometimes predicted. And it is our failure to make proper preparations that has so gravely weakened our negotiations.”

May took her Brexit plan to the CBI conference in a bid to win the confidence of business leaders.

In her keynote speech, she said politicians must remember they are talking about people’s “lives and livelihoods” – not “political theory”. She added: “Jobs depend on us getting this right.”

But Brexit-supporting businessman Roger Kendrick challenged the Prime Minister over her plans, which he said would restrict the ability to strike trade deals with countries outside the EU, telling May: “Think again about the economics of the whole thing.”