PLANS to protect winter supplies of food, medicines and medical equipment to the Scottish population are to be stepped up on Monday by ministers in Edinburgh following the failure of a breakthrough in the talks between the UK and the EU to reach a trade deal, The National can reveal.

Michael Russell, the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs, will give a statement to Holyrood on Tuesday setting out the details of the work being done to mitigate any disruption to goods in the coming week, ahead of the UK leaving the European single market on December 31.

With less than a month before the UK leaves the European single market, it is not yet known on what basis it will trade with the EU.

Russell held discussions with the UK Government yesterday on contingency preparations under way across the four nations as talks to reach an agreement in London resulted in little, if any, progress.

Speaking afterwards to The National, Russell said the Government are working with supermarkets, businesses and banks to try and ease any disruption.

“I would reassure people that everything we can do we are doing right across government,” he said.

“John Swinney and I are working very closely in the resilience side with all the Brexit issues and the arrangements we are making. I am going to make a statement to Parliament on Tuesday about this.

“We are standing up the arrangements. During December there will be a progressive standing up of various arrangements.”

“The first thing that will be stood up is ‘Score’, that is the Scottish Government’s resilience unit, that will be up and operating on Monday and over a period of time. I will lay this out on Tuesday, the whole system will swing into operation.”

But he stressed with the triple risk of Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic and possible harsh weather ahead in the coming weeks and months, it was not going to be an “easy time”.

He said: “It’s a ridiculous situation. We are 26 days from it all happening and we have no idea whether a deal will happen or not. It could happen this afternoon or next week or not happen.

“We may have a No-Deal by accident. We could have a negotiator who just cannot close the deal. But the word deal itself is difficult because it implies something that is done and finished and good. It is not. If there is a deal it will be very poor indeed.

“It’s not going to be business as usual on January 1. It is really really important that people understand that. We will do everything we can to mitigate the damage but this is not going to be an easy time.

“We are in the midst of winter, we are in the midst of a pandemic and we are adding a whole range of unknowns that have never happened before into the mix.”

He added: “Arrangements are being made across these islands on category one goods, on medicines, medical devices, veterinary medicines are important and we will do our very best to make them work but there are lots of other things, exports if you look at my own constituency for instance the exporting of shellfish it’s a complete nightmare.”

Asked about food supplies, he said: “The UK Government admits that prices will rise.

“They are putting a brave face on the issue of food supplies and saying there will be no shortages but they are also saying some goods may not be available.

“The people who are most vulnerable in these circumstances, there are two sets of people both in Scotland, those who are socially disadvantaged and those who are at the end of the supply chain, and the supply chains finish in Scotland.

“The risk is higher and we know this from survey work and the more remote you are the risk is higher and the more socially disadvantaged you are the risk is higher.

“We are aware of that, that is factored into the work we are doing.

“We will do everything we can to make sure we look after the situation and things continue but we shouldn’t be in this position. And nothing can be completely guaranteed.”

He continued: “I want people to know this is happening and they should have confidence but ... it is a really volatile situation.”

A spokesman for the Prime Minister told reporters yesterday: “Time is in very short supply and we are at a very difficult point in the talks.”

Meanwhile, Brexit talks have been paused by negotiators.

In a joint statement, EU negotiator, Michel Barnier and his UK

counterpart, Lord Frost, said they had suspended discussions due to “significant divergences on level playing field, governance and fisheries”.

Commenting on the statement, Russell described the decision to suspend talks now as “reckless”, saying it will “will cost jobs and hit the economy hard at the worst possible time”.