NICOLA Sturgeon has urged pro-EU politicians across the UK to form a “coalition” to keep the UK in the single market.

Speaking to BBC Scotland, the first minister said though she did not agree with the result of the referendum she “respected” May’s mandate.

Sturgeon added that she would work with ministers in the Tory government for the “least-worst” outcome, to prevent any “long-term, deep and damaging” effects on the economy brought about by a “hard Brexit”, where the UK seeks to forge trade deals primarily outside the EU.

“Soft Brexit” where the UK remains in the single market would allow British businesses to sell goods tariff-free to 500 million EU customers, but would likely mean May’s government having to accept free movement of people, and paying substantial levies to Brussels: two positions unlikely to be welcomed by voters who backed a vote to leave.

“Can there be a coalition across the UK that gets the government into a more sensible position?” Sturgeon asked. “I think that’s worth a good try because Theresa May, she was on the Remain side, so presumably she knows the real risks of removal from the single market.

“Let’s have a try at getting the UK, not into the best position – because the best position in my view would be continued membership of the EU – but let’s try and get the UK as a whole into the least-worst position and that means staying in the single market.”

Sturgeon said a second independence referendum would be likely if the UK left the single market.

Independence, the first minister said was an option: “that Scotland has to consider. Now does that mean Scotland would automatically and inevitably vote to be independent? No.

“It comes back to my message to SNP parliamentarians on Friday that we have got to make that case and win that case and that involves answering some hard questions.”

Scottish Labour Europe spokesman Lewis Macdonald said this marked a change in position for the SNP: “Labour welcomes the First minister’s commitment to working with other political parties. It is clear that remaining in the single market is vital for the economic interests of all parts of the UK as all of the devolved administrations in the UK have said.

“However, this is a definite shifting of the goalposts from the First Minister, who initially said that maintaining our full membership of the EU would be the only acceptable outcome, now it is only about access to the single market.”

The North East Scotland MSP added: “The people of Scotland deserve to know why the First Minister is changing her tune.

“That is why the SNP Government should release all documentation relating to their discussions with the EU about Scotland’s continued membership, along with any legal advice they have commissioned.”

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said Sturgeon will have a “very important role” but the UK Government will lead on EU negotiations.

He told BBC Scotland: “The UK Government is responsible for Scotland’s membership of the EU and for foreign affairs, so obviously the UK Government is going to take the lead in the negotiations in relation to our position in the EU.

“We’ve got to formulate a position which represents the best interests of Scotland, the best interests of the UK. Of course the first minister, responsible for devolved issues in Scotland, has a very, very important role.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the First Minister was trying to form “a coalition with Conservatives in London.”

“Does the First Minister really expect us to believe that she can reach agreement with Tories in London when she has trashed the agreement we reached in Scotland over Brexit?” he said, adding: “An obsession with independence makes her incapable of reaching a constructive agreement with anybody.”

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