Scottish independence ignites Brexit debate
By Eszter Zalan
The war of words between British prime minister Theresa May and Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon escalated further on Tuesday (14 March) following Scotland's call for an independence referendum before Brexit.
In a speech to the House of Commons, May insisted that "the new relationship with the EU that we negotiate will work for the whole of the United Kingdom", suggesting that Scotland would have to exit the EU as well as the single market.
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She said she has been listening to the Scottish government's proposals, but once again accused the Scottish government of playing politics and creating "uncertainty and division".
She claimed that most people in Scotland do not want a second referendum and argued that "the most important single market for Scotland is the single market of the United Kingdom".
The ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) said in December that it was ready to choose independence from the UK to avoid the "devastating" consequences of leaving the single market.
Sturgeon called on Monday for a second referendum in the autumn of 2018 or spring 2019, before Brexit negotiations end - in a move that caught Downing Street 10 off guard.
May said on Tuesday that remaining a member of the single market would amount to staying in the EU, because then the UK would have to accept freedom of movement and the rule of the European Court of Justice.
During a debate with MPs, May refused to say if she would allow Scotland to hold a second independence referendum, but referred to the one in 2014.
Angus Robertson, the SNP leader in Westminster, said in the debate: "We are a European country, and we will stay a European country."
After MPs and Lords in the UK parliament cleared all of the legal obstacles for May's government to pursue a hard Brexit, Sturgeon appears to be the only one who poses a challenge to May's EU exit strategy.
For the British leader, the prospect of a Scottish referendum poses a real dilemma: if she follows through with the promise of a hard Brexit to please eurosceptics, she might lose Scotland.
Just before May spoke in parliament on Tuesday, the Scottish government agreed to bring the referendum issue to the Scottish parliament next week, with a vote likely taking place next Wednesday (22 March).
In a complex process, the parliament can mandate the Scottish government to begin talks with the British government on the terms of a so-called Section 30 order, enabling the Scottish parliament to legislate for the referendum.
“It should be up to the Scottish Parliament to determine the referendum’s timing, franchise and the question," Sturgeon said on Tuesday, adding that the referendum must be "made in Scotland", and not be subject to any "Downing Street diktat".
"The Scottish government has a cast-iron democratic mandate for an independence referendum, and the vote must take place within a time-frame to allow an informed choice to be made, when the terms of Brexit are clear but before the UK leaves the European Union or shortly afterwards," Sturgeon argued.
May confirmed in her speech that she would invoke Article 50, the EU clause for the exit process, at the end of the month.
"I will return to this House before the end of this month to notify when I have formally triggered Article 50 and begun the process through which the United Kingdom will leave the European Union," she told MPs.
The prime minister called triggering Article 50 a "defining moment" for the UK.
"We will be a strong, self-governing Global Britain with control once again over our borders and our laws," she added.
During the debate May said she disliked the term "divorce", which is sometimes used for the exit talks. She argued that when people divorce, their relationship is often not good. She noted that she would like a good relationship with the EU after Britain leaves.