LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May told the Scottish government on Thursday (March 16)"now is not the time" for a second independence referendum, saying it would be unfair for people to vote without knowing the conclusion of Brexit talks.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called for a referendum before the end of the two years of talks set out under Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty to leave the European Union, accusing May of ignoring Scotland's demands.
But May, who would not say outright that she would block a Scottish bid to wage another referendum, said it was time to work together to win the “right deal” for Britain in the coming EU talks.
“Right now we should be working together, not pulling apart,” May told British television. “We should be working together to get that right deal for Scotland, that right deal for the UK. That’s my job as prime minister and so for that reason I say to the SNP (Scottish National Party) now is not the time.”
A source in the SNP said May should not try to set conditions on the vote. “This should be a referendum made in Scotland, with no conditions set by a (Conservative) prime minister. We have a very clear mandate beyond any doubt on this,” said the source.
The Scottish Greens, another pro-independence party, said May risked boosting support for independence if she wanted to veto a decision expected to be made by Scotland’s devolved parliament next week.
The call for a Scottish independence referendum, just 2-1/2 years after Scots voted to keep the union, has piled pressure on May, who is preparing for EU divorce talks while trying to satisfy eurosceptics in her ruling Conservative Party.
Britain’s vote to leave the bloc last June deepened geographical and social divisions in the country, with Scotland and Northern Ireland voting to stay in the bloc while England and Wales backed an exit.
Sturgeon says Scotland should have the chance to stay in the EU’s lucrative single market and keep an open-door policy to immigrants after voting to remain, and has criticised May for failing to consult the Scottish government on her strategy.
May, in turn, says her government is committed to engaging with Scotland over Brexit and wants to win a deal for the whole of Britain.
“To look at this issue at this time would be unfair because people wouldn’t have the necessary information to make such a crucial decision,” May said.
Sturgeon said on Thursday that any attempt to block a second independence referendum would be undemocratic and evidence that May fears the verdict of the Scottish people.
“The Scottish government is not proposing #scotref now... but when the terms of Brexit clear and before it is too late to choose an alternative path,” Sturgeon, who heads Edinburgh’s pro-independence devolved government, said on Twitter.
Sturgeon said that if May refuses to agree to a referendum,“this would be undemocratic” and also prove that May’s Conservatives “fear the verdict of the Scottish people.”