The Irish Government should not change its negotiating stance on Brexit, Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said, as she threw her support behind Taoiseach Leo Varadkar over the backstop.
Speaking to The Irish Times in Washington DC, Ms Sturgeon said she did not believe the Government needed to be more flexible around its demands for a backstop, the insurance policy to avoid a hard border in Ireland, amid calls from London for Ireland to compromise on its demands.
“I think Leo has been very, very clear from day one. His position has been very consistent and his position has been backed wholeheartedly by the European Union. I don’t think he could have been clearer about the reasons for the position he has taken.”
She continued: “Generally the issues affecting the island of Ireland have been completely sidelined in the whole debate, since before the referendum even happened, and now you have a whole host of mainly conservative politicians in the UK that think that Ireland should somehow take second place.”
Her remarks came ahead of a visit by Tánaiste Simon Coveney to the US this week during which he is due to meet key Irish-American figures on Capitol Hill amid growing concern about the direction of Brexit. Congressman Brendan Boyle introduced a resolution to Congress last week opposing the re-imposition of a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Ms Sturgeon used a speech at Georgetown University in Washington on Monday to reiterate her call for a second referendum on EU membership.
Describing the single market as a “great modern success story” which allows independent nations to take advantage of a market of 500 million people, she said: “to leave this successful developing market place makes no economic sense whatsoever.”
She noted that Scotland’s exports to the European Union increased by 13 per cent in 2017, the last year for which figures are available – outstripping growth in exports to the rest of the United Kingdom.
But while Scotland valued the practical benefits of EU membership, she said "we also value the principles that he EU exemplifies – that nations can and should co-operate as equals for the common good."
Ms Sturgeon highlighted the fact that Scotland had voted to remain in the European Union by 62 per cent to 38 per cent, claiming that it was now leaving the European Union “against our democratically expressed will”.
“The United Kingdom is not a unitary state; it is made up of four nations. Yet two parts of the UK – Scotland and Northern Ireland – voted to remain in the EU.”
She said that the UK government “could have led discussions with the devolved nations and others about how to leave the EU” but instead the Scottish voice “had been ignored”.
“Our interests have been sidelined. It is increasingly difficult, it is really impossible . . . the idea of the UK as an equal partnership of nations,” she said, accusing Theresa May’s government of taking “the most damaging approach” to Brexit.
She said that Scotland had always had a positive relationship with the European Union.
“These European connections have never really been particularly controversial in Scotland. Scotland has a very proud European tradition. We see ourselves as a European country . . . by and large we don’t see membership of the European Union as a threat to our own national sovereignty. On the contrary we see that membership as a way for independent countries to come together to work together collectively.”
Ms Sturgeon said that she will reveal her thoughts on the timing of a second Scottish independence referendum in the coming weeks, claiming that Brexit had strengthened the case for Scottish independence.
“The questions about the future of the UK, and whether the UK . . . can meet the interests of its component parts is more alive than it has ever been,” she said, arguing that Brexit will lead to a greater centralisation rather than devolution of power in Britain. “I think Scotland will become an independent country in the not too distant future.”
She also called on British prime minister to rule out a no-deal departure from the European Union, calling the withdrawal negotiations “torturous”.
“When the course you’ve been pursing has not led to successful outcomes in my view that should mean you change course,” she said, adding “there was nothing inevitable about the mess the Brexit process ended up in.”