June 12, 2017 / 7:24 PM / a month ago

British PM May should put economy first in Brexit strategy: Scottish Conservatives

Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, leaves a cabinet meeting at Downing Street in London, June 12, 2017.Stefan Wermuth

EDINBURGH/LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's government should put boosting the economy at the heart of its strategy for Brexit, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said on Monday, steering the focus away from cutting immigration.

Following a cabinet meeting at Downing Street, Davidson expressed confidence that the shape of Brexit would differ after a national election in which Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May lost her overall parliamentary majority.

Davidson's Scottish Conservatives however gained 12 more lawmakers, giving her some clout on the direction of policy in the Westminster government.

"The country has told us that they want us to be the government, behind the prime minister, but what they've said is that they want us to work with others - that's what not having a majority means," Davidson said after the meeting ended.

"But I do think there can be changes in the offer of Brexit as we go forward," she said. "What's clear is that there is going to be a real imperative on the economic impact of Brexit."

Davidson is not a Westminster lawmaker but spearheaded her party's Scottish election campaign.

She supports single market membership as part of any Brexit deal, a party source said.

She understands, however, it may not be possible to secure that as part of the Brexit negotiations, the source added.

EU leaders have repeatedly said membership of the single market is linked inextricably with the freedom of movement principle which allows workers to move around the bloc freely.

May is negotiating a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, a Northern Irish party with 10 seats, that would allow her to pass laws.

The shortfall has opened a debate about May's Brexit plans, which include leaving the EU's single market, striking a new customs deal and limiting immigration from Europe.

"We must, in my view, seek to deliver an open Brexit, not a closed one, which puts our country's economic growth first," Davidson told reporters on Friday.

May's approach to Brexit is unchanged by the election, her spokesman said on Monday. But one lawmaker said May recognized that a broader consensus needs to be built during Monday's meeting with Conservative members of parliament.

Some senior ministers and lawmakers are also seeking a Brexit strategy that takes more account of the economic impact of limiting immigration.

"What we have said is that we are going to deliver on the wishes of the British public and that was to retake control of borders and laws," May's spokesman said. "The EU has been clear that you can’t be in the single market and achieve those goals."

Separately, the minister representing Scotland in May's cabinet, David Mundell, said the final Brexit deal should be supported in Britain's parliament across the political divide.

"I don't want to see the Brexit deal going through (Britain's national parliament) the House of Commons with a majority of one, I want to see it going through the House of Commons with support across parties," Mundell told BBC Scotland.

Speaking in London, Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said supporters of a so-called hard Brexit have been left "dead in the water" by May's failure to secure a majority in last week's election.

Sturgeon's Scottish National Party won 35 of Scotland's 59 seats in Britain's 650-seat parliament in the June 8 election.

Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Louise Ireland

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