The SNP economy secretary has said he would be willing to make use of Brexit and get rid of EU-based rules if businesses demanded it.

Despite the Scottish Government’s aim of staying aligned with EU rules to make rejoining the bloc easier after independence, Neil Gray said he would be pragmatic, not ideological.

He said he would be willing to diverge from EU regulations, rather than seek to mirror them, if it would clearly be beneficial to the Scottish economy.

“I’m always non-ideological. I’m always pragmatic,” he said, despite the SNP's vehement opposition to Brexit.

The Scottish Tories welcomed Mr Gray's remarks, but said the real test would be whether he followed "warm words" with action. 

Mr Gray, who ran Humza Yousaf’s SNP leadership campaign and is seen as one of the First Minister’s closest allies, made the comments in an interview with the Herald.

In April, Mr Yousaf announced a “reset” of the Scottish Government’s relationship with business, tacitly acknowledging it had deteriorated under Nicola Sturgeon.

As part of the new approach, Mr Gray has been co-chairing a New Deal for Business Group that includes a series of business leaders and has already made 78 recommendations.

One of its main focuses has been the burden of regulation that affects business, and whether the early involvement of business in future policy-making can allow the Government to achieve more of its objectives without resorting to red tape.

Mr Gray has said he is willing to “review, roll back or even scrap some plans”.

Speaking to the Herald, Mr Gray said he wanted the private sector to let him know what would make a key difference to it and identify regulation that was “no longer required or providing more of a burden than was appreciated”.

Scottish Government policy is to maintain alignment “where possible and practical with EU legislation, standards, policies and programmes” to help an independent Scotland rejoin. 

However the New Deal for Business Group has warned that business feels the Government is making too much policy based on “political ideology” instead of “data and insight”.

Mr Gray said he was prepared to deviate from EU alignment if there was a strong case for it. 

Asked what he would do if businesses asked him to take advantage of Brexit to remove regulation, he said: “There is a Government objective to remain aligned to the EU and I think there is a good economic and business reason for that. 

“We see our future in the European Union and the biggest anti-growth measure that has happened over recent decades hasn’t been Covid, it’s been Brexit.

“So there is a strategic importance in remaining aligned. 

“But as I say, I’m pragmatic. If there is clear evidence that an element of divergence is beneficial then we would look at that and we would consider it.

“But I think there is an underlying principle there that I think business and economic stakeholders understand why it’s important to remain aligned.”

Mr Gray also sought to reassure business that the New Deal for business, which is expected to take two years to put its initial plans into effect, was not a one-off, box-ticking exercise.

He said: “The Permanent Secretary and my director-general for the economy, have been in [meetings] alongside the dedicated officials that are responsible for the day-to-day management of this. They are cognisant of the fact that this is a shift in the mindset of the machinery of government. 

“That is something that comes from the First Minister and the Permanent Secretary down.” 

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “Neil Gray’s newly discovered ‘pragmatic’ approach is an interesting reversal of the SNP’s previous insistence on remaining aligned with EU rules.

“It’s easy to produce warm words about listening to business and removing regulations, but the real test will be whether he actually does anything to support Scottish firms.

“Growth is essential to recover from the financial black hole the nationalists have created. “But Neil Gray has a long way to go yet to reset his party’s attitude to Scottish businesses – especially while the SNP remain in coalition with the anti-growth Greens.”