British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday (16 March) rejected a call by the Scottish government for a second referendum on independence before Britain leaves the EU, but did not rule out a vote entirely.
“I say now is not the time,” she said, arguing that all of Britain’s energies should be put into the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Monday that she wanted a fresh vote on leaving Britain, saying Scotland did not want the “hard Brexit” that May’s Conservative government is pursuing.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader suggested the referendum could take place between autumn 2018 and spring 2019 – before Britain is expected to leave the EU.
Sturgeon will seek approval in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh for a new vote next Wednesday, but London has the right to block the request.
“Right now we should be working together, not pulling apart,” May said in a televised interview.
“We should be working together to get that right deal for Scotland, that right deal for the UK. As I say, that’s my job as prime minister and so for that reason I say to the SNP: now is not the time.”
But she refused repeated questions about when the right time for a new referendum might be, leaving the door open for a vote further in the future.
May had previously said there was no appetite for a second referendum less than three years after Scots voted by 55% to 45% to reject independence, in September 2014.
The SNP government was re-elected last year with a manifesto stating that it could call a second vote if there was a significant change in the country’s circumstances – such as Brexit.
The majority of Scotland voted to stay in the European Union last June, but Britain as a whole voted by 52% to leave.