Sturgeon gives May deadline to sort Scotland Brexit compromise

Time is running out for the Joint Ministerial Committee of UK, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish leaders, pictured here in Cardiff on 30 January, to come up with a Brexit compromise which satisfies the devolved administrations. [Downing Street]

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had given Theresa May until March to come up with a compromise plan for Scotland and Brexit, after the pair met in Cardiff on Monday (30 January).

The British prime minister has set March as her own deadline for triggering Article 50, beginning two-years of negotiations to extract the UK from the 28-member bloc, after 41 years of membership.

However, Scotland, which voted in the June 2016 referendum to remain in the EU, has still to “have its voice listened to”, according to Sturgeon, whose Scottish National Party runs a minority administration in Edinburgh.

After the meeting – a so-called Joint Ministerial Council in the Welsh capital – with the Labour First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, Sturgeon, and Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein, as well as Brexit Minister David Davies, and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, Sturgeon complained that so far only Scotland had been prepared to compromise to “square the circle”.

Now under pressure to call a second referendum on Scottish independence in the wake of an unwanted Brexit, Sturgeon said: “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.”

UK parliament must approve triggering Article 50, Supreme Court rules

The UK Parliament must vote to authorise triggering Article 50, the British Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday (24 January), in a landmark verdict and a blow to Theresa May’s government.

Sturgeon’s SNP holds its spring conference in March, a possible date for announcing such an independence bid.

However, one opinion poll today put support for independence down to 43%, with the status quo on 51%. The 2014 referendum on independence was lost 45%-55%.

Northern Ireland faces elections, raising fresh uncertainty over Brexit talks

Northern Ireland’s deputy leader, Martin McGuinness, resigned on Monday (9 January), a move likely to further complicate Britain’s process to leave the European Union.

May now travels to Dublin, for a meeting with Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny. In a further twist, an opionion poll in Ireland today showed 56% support for a referendum on the final Brexit deal.

Ireland has a legal right to referendums on major EU treaties, and has previously thrown a spanner in the works, with an initial ‘no’ vote on the Nice Treaty, for example.

Wales, represtented by Jones at the meeting, is in a more difficult position. It voted for ‘Leave’ at the referendum, despite being the recipient of major EU regional funding over the past four decades.

Jones told reporters the meeting was “useful”, but added: “there is a lot of work to do. We want to play a full part in the process. It’s all about jobs at the end of the day, making sure we protect jobs and our economy.

“We don’t know what the UK government’s view is in detail on so many things. The right things were said in there, we need to see delivery.”

Asked directly if she was considering triggering a second Scottish independence referendum in March, Sturgeon was equivocal.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

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