Belfast Telegraph

Time running out for Brexit compromise, warns Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon has said she will judge whether Scotland's voice is going to be heard in the Brexit process before Article 50 is triggered, warning that "time is running out" to reach a compromise with the UK Government.

She said she needs to see "tangible evidence" that UK ministers will take forward the Scottish Government's proposals for a differentiated deal on European single market membership and a review of the devolution settlement.

The First Minister's comments will give rise to speculation that she could announce a second referendum on independence as early as March.

Consideration of the SNP administration's proposals for the Brexit process are to "intensify" between now and the triggering of Article 50, following a meeting between the Prime Minister and devolved leaders in Cardiff on Monday.

Speaking after the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations talks, Ms Sturgeon said she "remained to be convinced" that her Government's proposals are being taken seriously.

She added: "I came here today determined to find some grounds for compromise, some way of trying to square the circle of the UK-wide vote to leave and the Scottish vote to remain, but I also came with a very direct message to the UK Government, that so far the compromise or the attempts at compromise have come only from the Scottish Government.

"There has been no willingness to meet in the middle on the part of the UK Government.

" In terms of me getting a sense of whether Scotland is going to be listened to at all, that period between now and triggering of Article 50 is absolutely crucial.

"The next few weeks are not going to resolve every issue of Brexit, but in terms of me being able to judge whether Scotland's voice is going to be heard at all in this process... the next few weeks are very important."

Asked if such a timescale could see her announce another vote on independence by March, she added: "I'll do what needs to be done to protect Scotland's position. We are running out of time for this process. It can't go on indefinitely and it won't go on indefinitely.

"This is one of the last key opportunities for me to make clear to the Prime Minister that I have to see some movement on her part, and over the next few weeks she has got the opportunity to demonstrate whether that movement is going to be forthcoming."

Scottish Secretary David Mundell confirmed "inter-governmental discussions" on proposals brought forward by the devolved administrations would be intensified.

"The question is not about can there be differentiation (for Scotland), the question is whether Scotland would benefit from differentiation, and that's what really has got to be at the heart of these intense discussions," he said.

"Is it necessary to have a separate deal for Scotland, is the wish for a separate deal for Scotland driven by ideology or is it really based on economic fact and Scotland's future needs?

"That is what we need to have a full and frank discussion about in the weeks ahead."

Leaders in Wales and Northern Ireland also pressed Theresa May for a greater role in the Brexit negotiations.

A spokesman for Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones said the position of the UK Government and the Welsh administration is "not identical but not irreconcilable at this stage".

It has also published its own proposals for the Brexit process, with demands for full single market access.

Speaking after the talks, Sinn Fein's health minister and new Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said: "I told Prime Minister May that the Government at Westminster should respect the vote of the people in the north and that we should be designated special status within the EU.

"It is regrettable that the Democratic Unionist Party continue to stand with the Tory party on Brexit against the democratically- expressed wishes of the cross-community majority in the north who voted to remain, and against the best interest of our economy, public services and powersharing institutions."

DUP leader Arlene Foster, who was Northern Ireland's first minister until recently, was also at the talks.

Mrs May previously made it clear the devolved administrations will not be given a decisive role in the process of leaving the EU.

She left the Cardiff meeting bound for Dublin for talks with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Mr Kenny has called for the current "seamless border" between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to be maintained post-Brexit.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Jones said "the right things were being said" and the discussions had been useful.

He added: "It is hugely important that we now see the hard work that's been put in by the Welsh Government, by the Scottish Government, that that work is reflected in the UK Government's negotiating position."

He said everyone in the meeting agreed they want the "fullest possible access to the single market" and nobody was arguing in favour of tariffs.

The meeting happened weeks after Northern Ireland's powersharing executive collapsed amid a scandal over a green energy heating scheme.

The region is facing a snap election in March, with major doubts over whether a new powersharing administration can be put together on the other side of the poll.

Mrs Foster revealed Monday's JMC had been scheduled to take place in Belfast, before the recent political crisis intervened.

"We are disappointed and I in particular am disappointed that we haven't been able to host the Prime Minister in Belfast, but I did indicate to her at the meeting that we hoped she would be able to be hosted in Belfast in the not too distant future in relation to a JMC plenary," she told the BBC.

"I certainly hope that is the case because our focus is about getting the institutions back up and running again to provide that stability that people want to see in Northern Ireland - not least because then we have a voice in relation to the Brexit negotiation."


From Belfast Telegraph