‘Now is not the time’: May rejects call for Scottish referendum

Prime minister doesn’t rule out second referendum but says vote must happen after Brexit

British prime minister Theresa May said  ‘right now we should be working together, not pulling apart.’ Photograph: PA

British prime minister Theresa May said ‘right now we should be working together, not pulling apart.’ Photograph: PA


British prime minister Theresa May has said “now is not the time,” for a second Scottish independence referendum, while the government puts “all its energies” in to negotiating Brexit.

Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stunned Downing Street on Monday by announcing she would seek to call a vote before Britain leaves the European Union, and suggested it should be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.

Ms May gave her formal response in a television interview, in which she did completely not rule out a referendum in the future; but rejected Ms Sturgeon’s timing, and suggested if a vote was held it would it would have to take place after Brexit.

Ms Sturgeon responded by calling the prime minister’s decision undemocratic and “proof positive that the Tories fear the verdict of the Scottish people”.

With article 50, which starts the two-year process for leaving the EU, due to be triggered by the end of this month, Ms May said the UK should be “working together, not pulling apart”.

Right now we should be working together, not pulling apart. And so, for that reason, I say to the SNP, now is not the time

“As we embark on the process of negotiating a new relationship with the European Union, I’m going to be fighting for every person, every family, every business across the whole of the United Kingdom. That’s my focus, and I think it should be the focus of us all,” she said.

“When the SNP government say that it’s the time to start talking about a new independence referendum, I say that just at this point, all our energies should be focused on our negotiations with the European Union about our future relationship.”

Right deal

Efforts should be focused on “ensuring we get that right deal for the UK and the right deal for Scotland in our negotiations with the European Union”, Ms May said.

“That’s my job as prime minister. Right now we should be working together, not pulling apart,” she continued, adding: “And so, for that reason, I say to the SNP, now is not the time.”

Asked whether this meant she was ruling out any independence referendum before a 2020 general election, Ms May did not clarify this, saying only: “I’m responding to the proposal that’s been put forward by the first minister. I say now is not the time.”

She argued: “To look at the issue at this time would be unfair, because people wouldn’t have the necessary information to make such a crucial decision.”

Asked when might be the right time for a referendum, Ms May replied: “Now is not the time for the reasons I have said.”

In a series of tweets, Ms Sturgeon said Ms May seemed to be trying to stop Scots having a voice on their future before Brexit happened.

The Scottish government was not proposing an immediate referendum but “when the terms of Brexit clear and before it is too late to choose an alternative path”, she wrote, saying action was needed now to ensure that timetable.

On Monday, Ms Sturgeon said she would ask the Scottish parliament to back a formal request to the government for a new referendum to be held, between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of 2019.

The SNP argues that its timetable would allow the Scottish people, who voted to remain in the EU, to make their own decision about the future. But Downing Street believes Ms Sturgeon is an opportunist, seeking to capitalise on the destabilising impact of the Brexit talks.

The Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, said Ms Sturgeon’s planned timetable would be too soon for voters to know the outlines of the deal.

Referendum cannot happen

“The Scottish Conservatives reject the proposals set out by the first minister on Monday. A referendum cannot happen when the people of Scotland have not been given the opportunity to see how our new relationship with the European Union is working.

“And it should not take place when there is no clear political or public consent for it to happen. Our country does not want to go back to the divisions and uncertainty of the last few years.”

Speaking in Holyrood at first minister’s questions earlier, Ms Sturgeon said: “I will be arguing for this country to be in charge of its own finances and it’s own future, to build a stronger society and a stronger economy.”

She also rejected attacks by the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, on the potential economic and public spending costs of independence, with a GBP9bn projected deficit for 2019.

May’s decision to reject Sturgeon’s timetable also puts the UK government and Tories on a direct collision course with the Scottish parliament, which is expected to vote very narrowly in favour of Sturgeon’s demands next week.

The Guardian