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Holyrood may not get more powers after Brexit, PM warns as she hails Union

Theresa May has warned the Scottish Government that control over policy areas such as fishing and agriculture might not come to Holyrood in the wake of Brexit.

The Prime Minister said while no powers will be taken away from Scottish ministers as a result of the decision to leave the European Union, responsibilities that transfer back to Britain from Brussels "must sit at the right level to ensure our United Kingdom can operate effectively".

She used her speech to the Scottish Conservative conference in Glasgow to make clear her support for the Union, insisting it is "not simply a constitutional artefact".

Mrs May declared: "The United Kingdom we cherish is not a thing of the past, but a Union vital to our prosperity and security, today and in the future."

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been demanding substantial new powers are transferred to Holyrood following Brexit.

SNP ministers are also seeking a separate deal for Scotland which could see the country remain in the European single market even after the UK leaves - with Ms Sturgeon having warned the Tories that failure to achieve this could spark a second independence referendum.

Mrs May made clear: "I am determined to ensure that as we leave the EU, we do so as one United Kingdom, which prospers outside the EU as one United Kingdom.

"That means achieving a deal with the EU which works for all parts of the UK - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - and for the UK as a whole."

On the issue of where powers should rest after Brexit, the Prime Minister said: "As we bring powers and control back to the United Kingdom, we must ensure the right powers sit at the right level to ensure our United Kingdom can operate effectively and in the interests of all of its citizens, including people in Scotland.

"In short, we must avoid any unintended consequences for the coherence and integrity of a devolved United Kingdom as a result of our leaving the EU."

She said the UK must not become a " looser and weaker Union", adding: " We cannot allow our United Kingdom to drift apart.

"Our aim will be to achieve the most effective arrangements to maintain and strengthen the United Kingdom, while also respecting the devolution settlements, and we will work constructively with the devolved administrations on that basis."

While her speech did not mention the prospect of a second Scottish independence referendum, Mrs May did mount a sustained attack on both the SNP and its core policy.

She accused Ms Sturgeon's SNP Government of treating politics "as if it were a game", and pursuing policies "not in the best interests of Scotland but in the political interests of the SNP".

She accused nationalists of "neglect and mismanagement" of education, "abysmal failure" on farm payments, "starving the health service", and replacing stamp duty with a tax which costs home buyers more but brings in less revenue than expected.

"Politics is not a game and government is not a platform from which to pursue constitutional obsessions," Mrs May said.

"It is about taking the serious decisions to improve people's lives. A tunnel-vision nationalism, which focuses only on independence at any cost, sells Scotland short.

"We all know that the SNP will never stop twisting the truth and distorting reality in their effort to denigrate our United Kingdom and further their obsession of independence.

"It is their single purpose in political life.

"We need to be equally determined to ensure that the truth about our United Kingdom is heard loudly and clearly."

SNP depute leader Angus Robertson said: " This was an ironic, hypocritical and surreal speech from Theresa May, who before the EU referendum supported a campaign warning that leaving Europe would be a disaster, but is now determined to pull us over the cliff-edge of an economically catastrophic hard Brexit.

" Theresa May is guilty of mind-boggling hypocrisy - it is her Government's constitutional obsession with a hard Brexit which is directly threatening Scottish jobs and livelihoods.

"In those circumstances, we have a duty to stand up for Scotland and to have a plan in place to protect our vital national interests.

"The Prime Minister's claim the UK is a family of nations rings especially hollow, when the Scottish Government's genuine offer of compromise has been repeatedly rebuffed and ignored."

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: "The Prime Minister has undermined the Union at every turn since entering Downing Street.

"With her dangerous pursuit of a hard Brexit that threatens to harm our economy, Theresa May has created the deep divisions in our society that the SNP thrives upon."

Former SNP leader Alex Salmond branded Mrs May's speech a "power grab".

He told BBC News: "She's actually proposing that if Brexit goes ahead the powers that should come back to Scotland on fishing, farming and a range other issues - she's going to retain them at Westminster, because she likes the look of the Scottish economic zone.

"That's a fundamental attack on the very principle and foundation in statute of the Scottish Parliament of 1999, which said specifically that anything that wasn't reserved to Westminster should be run in Scotland. This is Prime Minister who is attacking the very foundations of the Scottish Parliament, and she'll do it to her cost."

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