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Theresa May 'willing to listen to options' as Scotland bids to retain EU links

Published 15/07/2016

Prime Minister Theresa May has chosen Scotland for the first visit of her premiership
Prime Minister Theresa May has chosen Scotland for the first visit of her premiership

Theresa May has said she is willing to listen to Nicola Sturgeon's options for Scotland to have a different relationship with the European Union.

However, the PM told the people of Scotland they have "had their vote" on independence and this option should not be on the table.

Mrs May met Scotland's First Minister at Bute House in Edinburgh on one of her first engagements since becoming Prime Minister earlier this week.

She said she had "an excellent meeting" with Ms Sturgeon, and looked ahead to more "constructive and positive discussions".

Ms Sturgeon said she received an assurance that the UK Government will be "open and flexible" to options in the forthcoming Brexit process.

Asked if Scotland could have a different relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK, Mrs May said: "I want to get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom out of our negotiations for the UK leaving the EU, but I'm willing to listen to options.

"I've been very clear with the First Minister today that I want the Scottish Government to be fully engaged in our discussions and our considerations, and I will listen to any options that they bring forward."

Asked if she would authorise a second independence referendum, she said: "I think the question is: should there be another referendum?

"As far as I'm concerned the Scottish people had their vote, they voted in 2014, and a very clear message came through, both the United Kingdom and the Scottish Government said they would abide by that.

"We now have the challenge though, as a United Kingdom, to ensure that we can get the best possible deal for the whole of the United Kingdom from the EU negotiations when the UK leaves the EU.

"I'm very clear that the Government I lead will be for all parts of the United Kingdom and for all people."

Speaking after the meeting, Ms Sturgeon: "I was very pleased that Theresa May said that she was absolutely willing to consider any options that the Scottish Government now bring forward to secure Scotland's relationship with the European Union, and that the process that now takes shape by the UK Government will be open and flexible and that the Scottish Government will be fully involved in that."

Mrs May said she was keen to visit Scotland so early in her tenure as Prime Minister to demonstrate how "very important" the country is to her.

"When I stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, I made clear that I believe in the United Kingdom," she said.

"I've just had an excellent meeting with the First Minister - a very constructive and positive meeting.

"We've discussed the upcoming EU negotiations and I'm very clear that I want the Scottish Government to be fully involved and I want to get the best possible deal for the whole of the United Kingdom.

"I've made an early trip to Scotland because Scotland is important to me.

"I wanted to ensure that the first visit I did was up in Scotland."

The European Commission has said it will not hold any Brexit negotiations with any part of the UK until the Prime Minister triggers the formal withdrawal process under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

The Prime Minister confirmed she had discussed the timescale for triggering Article 50 with Ms Sturgeon.

"Of course we discussed this," she said.

"I've already said that I won't be triggering Article 50 until I think that we have a UK approach and objectives.

"I think it is important that we establish that before we trigger Article 50."

Ms Sturgeon has said a second independence referendum is now "highly likely" because voters north of the border rejected Brexit in last month's vote.

Earlier on Friday, Scottish Secretary David Mundell said any deal that kept Scotland both in the UK and EU would be "fanciful".

His comments echo those of Chancellor Philip Hammond, who has appeared to rule out a different EU relationship for Scotland.

The SNP's Europe spokesman today accused the UK Government of sending out "mixed messages".

Stephen Gethins said independence may be "the easiest way to find your way into the EU" but that "there are other ways of doing it".

Mr Mundell pledged to consider the options, but warned: "I certainly don't think that it is possible for Scotland to remain within the EU and the rest of the UK to be outwith the EU. I think that is fanciful."

Former first minister Alex Salmond has predicted Mrs May will cave under pressure from Holyrood if it votes for another independence referendum.

Mr Salmond, now the SNP's foreign affairs spokesman, said another referendum would have to be held within two years of the commencement of Article 50.

And he warned Mrs May: "Don't mess with the people of Scotland."

Ms Sturgeon said she was clear with Mrs May that a second independence referendum remains on the table if she decides Scotland's European interests cannot be protected within the UK.

Speaking after the meeting, she said: "If we want to protect our relationship with the European Union then Scotland may have to consider becoming an independent member.

"If it proves not to be possible to fully protect Scotland's interests through the UK process then the Prime Minister knows that a second independence referendum is of course on the table.

"However, I've also been consistently clear that I want to examine all options for protecting Scotland's position, protecting our interests, protecting our relationship with the EU.

"That's why I've assembled a team of experts that will advise me on the options that might exist, and it was very important today to get a commitment from the Prime Minister to listen to options that the Scottish Government will bring forward."

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