Theresa May flatly dismissed Nicola Sturgeon’s incendiary demands for a fresh independence referendum today as the leaders held talks.
After the tense talks broke up, Miss Sturgeon said the meeting was ‘business like’ but ‘cordial’. She claimed the PM had failed to offer any assurances about powers being transferred to Scotland after Brexit.
The SNP leader said the meeting with Mrs May confirmed her view the terms of Brexit would be clear within 18 to 24 months and repeated her demand for a re-run of the 2014 referendum.
While a beaming Miss Sturgeon left by the front exit of the hotel afterwards, Mrs May slipped out by the back door for an immediate return to London.
Just days before Brexit is formally triggered, the PM and the First Minister held a crucial showdown in Glasgow’s Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Despite slightly awkward smiles for the sole photographer allowed in for the start of the hour-long meeting, the sparks are thought to have flown in private after a bitter slanging match over recent weeks.
Unusually there was no on-camera handshake – a routine pleasantry at most encounters between dignitaries.
Miss Sturgeon is furious that her Brexit demands – including staying in the single market – have been ignored in Westminster.
Speaking after the meeting, she said: ‘It was a business like meeting. I wished the Prime Minister well for the negotiations that will kick off when she triggers Article 50 on Wednesday.
‘I indicated the Scottish Government’s desire to be constructive and play a part in getting what is in everybody’s interests – the best possible deal for the UK.’
‘I had been under the impression we may be about to get some kind of offer from UK government around powers for the Scottish Government but nothing of that nature emerged.’
‘What was interesting though… was she is very clear the terms of Brexit, both the exit terms and the details of the future relationship on the trading between the UK and the EU will be clear before the UK exits.’
‘I put to her that will be in 18 months to two years, she said yes that was her expectation – of course that is the timescale I think the people of Scotland should have their ability make an informed choice.’
But immediately before the talks Mrs May made clear she is still determined that a referendum will not be held before our divorce from Brussels is complete.
In a speech to civil servants in East Kilbride, the premier said the UK was an ‘unstoppable force’ in the world and Brexit would make it ‘stronger’.
Miss Sturgeon triggered a huge constitutional row a fortnight ago by demanding a fresh referendum on breaking away from the UK as early as Autumn next year.
Mrs May has insisted ‘now is not the time’ for an independence vote, and made clear the Westminster government will ignore any requests for one at least until Brexit is completed in March 2019.
She has accused Miss Sturgeon of ‘playing politics’ with the country’s future and today insisted her position has not changed.
The Prime Minister and First Minister both arrived at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Glasgow for their talks this afternoon as Mrs May completed as the final stop on her pre-Article 50 tour.
But the SNP chief has accused the PM of ‘untenable’ behaviour and ‘running scared’ of the electorate.
In a speech to civil servants at the Department for International Development in East Kilbride, Mrs May pledged that she will ‘never allow our Union to become looser and weaker, or our people to drift apart’.
‘We stand on the threshold of a significant moment for Britain as we begin the negotiations that will lead us towards a new partnership with Europe,’ she said.
‘And I want to make it absolutely clear as we move through this process that this is not – in any sense – the moment that Britain steps back from the world.
‘Indeed, we are going to take this opportunity to forge a more Global Britain. The closest friend and ally with Europe, but also a country that looks beyond Europe to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike.
‘That is why the Plan for Britain I have set-out – a plan to get the right deal for Britain abroad as well as a better deal for ordinary, working people at home – has as its heart one over-arching goal: to build a more united nation. Because I believe when we work together, there is no limit to what we can do.’
There is a strict process that needs to be followed to hold a binding referendum:
The First Minister must first get the consent of the Scottish Parliament. While she does not have an overall majority, this will be straightforward.
In 2014, this was followed by a written agreement between London and Edinburgh known as the ‘Edinburgh Agreement’, setting the terms for the referendum taking place.
Westminster must then give permission as constitutional reform is not devolved to Scotland. This means a ‘section 30’ order must be agreed in Parliament under the Scotland Act.
If powers are passed to Holyrood, the Scottish Parliament will pass a law setting out the rules of the referendum – including the date, question and franchise.
The Premier continued: ‘Because, as you prove every day through the work you do and as some of the most vulnerable people in some of the most desperate conditions around the world can attest, this United Kingdom and the values at its heart is one of the greatest forces for good in the world today.
‘When we work together and set our sights on a task, we really are an unstoppable force.’
Mrs May hinted that Brexit could mean more powers being passed to devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
‘A more united nation means working actively to bring people and communities together by promoting policies which support integration and social cohesion.
‘In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that means fully respecting, and indeed strengthening, the devolution settlements. But never allowing our Union to become looser and weaker, or our people to drift apart.
‘So in those policy areas where the UK Government holds responsibility, I am determined that we will put the interests of the Union – both the parts and the whole – at the heart of our decision-making.
‘So as Britain leaves the European Union, and we forge a new role for ourselves in the world, the strength and stability of our Union will become even more important.’
Mrs May repeated her rejection of Miss Sturgeon’s call for a referendum to be held between Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019.
‘My position isn’t going to change, which is that now is not the time to be talking about a second independence referendum,’ she told reporters.
The talks between Mrs May and Miss Sturgeon this afternoon will be their last before Britain passes the point of no return in its EU divorce.