EDINBURGH (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday (July 15) that the government would not trigger Article 50, the formal trigger of divorce talks with the European Union, until a “UK approach” had been agreed.
May, speaking after a meeting with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who has been looking at ways to keep Scotland in the bloc, said she wanted to get the best deal for the whole country.
“I’m willing to listen to options and I’ve been very clear with the first minister today that I want the Scottish government to be fully engaged in our discussions,” May, who succeeded David Cameron as PM on Wednesday, told broadcasters.
“I have already said that I won’t be triggering Article 50 until I think that we have a UK approach and objectives for negotiations – I think it is important that we establish that before we trigger Article 50.”
May's decision to visit Sturgeon on her own turf less than 48 hours after taking office underlines her determination to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom after the Brexit vote revived the issue of independence.
Scotland voted by 62-38 per cent to stay in the European Union in the June 23 referendum while the United Kingdom as a whole voted 52-48 per cent to leave the bloc.
Sturgeon says Scots must not be dragged out of the EU against their will and she will explore all options for preventing that from happening, including a second referendum on independence from the rest of the United Kingdom.
She said after meeting May on Friday that if Scots wanted to vote in a second referendum on whether to stay part of the United Kingdom, the British government would be wrong to block it.
"I work on the basis that trying to block a referendum, if there’s a clear sense that that’s what people in Scotland want, would be completely the wrong thing to do,” Sturgeon told Sky news.
May told broadcasters before her trip that Scots had had their chance to vote for independence in 2014.
"I believe with all my heart in the United Kingdom - the precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland," May said in a statement. "This visit to Scotland is my first as prime minister and I'm coming here to show my commitment to preserving this special union that has endured for centuries."
David Mundell, May's minister for Scotland, said there should be no second referendum on independence.
"I don't see any mood in Scotland to have a second independence referendum," he told BBC radio.
Scots rejected independence by 55-45 per cent in a referendum in 2014, but since then, Sturgeon's Scottish National Party has gone from strength to strength, winning 56 of Scotland's 59 seats in the British parliament in the 2015 election.
May's Conservative Party, unpopular in Scotland for decades, holds only one of those 59 seats, although it has recently improved its standing, coming second to the SNP in the Scottish parliamentary election in May.
It is now the official opposition to the SNP in Edinburgh, having beaten the once dominant Labour Party into third place.