Scottish Parliament votes for independence referendum

Nicola Sturgeon’s call backed as Conservatives rule out second vote until after Brexit

The Scottish Parliament has backed Nicola Sturgeon's call for a second independence referendum, with 69 votes in favour and 59 against. But Theresa May's government in Westminster said it would block the vote from taking place until after Britain leaves the European Union.

Ms Sturgeon's Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Scottish Greens backed a second referendum, which the first minister says should be held between Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019. The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats voted against the proposal.

Scotland cannot hold a binding independence vote without Westminster's approval and Scottish secretary David Mundell said the Conservative government would not consider the proposal until after Brexit is complete.

“We won’t be entering into any negotiations at all until the Brexit process is complete. Now is the time for the Scottish government to come together with the UK government, work together to get the best possible deal for the UK, and that will mean for Scotland, as we leave the EU,” he told the BBC.


Transitional arrangements

Until now, Ms May has said that "now is not the time" for a second referendum in Scotland but Mr Mundell suggested that an independence vote might have to wait until Britain had emerged from any transitional arrangements with the EU after Brexit.

“It will be a journey that will involve the negotiations with the EU, it may be a journey that involves transitional measures, it may be a journey that will involve significant implementation. It is not appropriate to have a referendum while people do not know what the future relationship between the UK and the EU is. And they won’t know that until the Brexit process is complete,” he said.

Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that Scotland should be able to choose between what could be a hard Brexit and independence. She said she hoped the British government would respect the Scottish Parliament's decision, promising to enter negotiations in good faith and willing to compromise.

“However, if it chooses not to do so I will return to the parliament following the Easter recess to set out the steps that the Scottish government will take to progress the will of Parliament,” she said.

United Ireland

Earlier, the Times reported that British ministers have concluded that Northern Ireland could rejoin the EU after Brexit if it leaves the United Kingdom to become part of a united Ireland.

In a letter to SDLP MP Mark Durkan, Brexit secretary David Davis said the position of Northern Ireland would be analogous to that of East Germany, which automatically became part of the EU after German reunification in 1990.

“If a majority of the people of Northern Ireland were ever to vote to become part of a united Ireland the UK government will honour its commitment to enable that to happen,” Mr Davis wrote.

“In that event, Northern Ireland would be in a position of becoming part of an existing EU member state, rather than seeking to join the EU as a new independent state.”

The Taoiseach has been pressing the EU to acknowledge at the start of Brexit negotiations that Northern Ireland would not have to apply for EU membership if it became part of a united Ireland.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times