The SNP ended a brief pause in Scotland’s constitutional debate last night, pledging to hold a second independence referendum if the UK government pushes ahead with Brexit without consent from Holyrood.
On the eve of a visit to Downing Street by Nicola Sturgeon, the Nationalists appeared to break with recent policy to shelve demands for a referendum until after Brexit by issuing a new threat to call indyref2.
The comments will turn up the temperature ahead of the first face-to-face meeting between the First Minister and Theresa May for eight months, as the leaders bid to break a deadlock over new powers for Scotland after Brexit.
During a Westminster Hall debate, SNP frontbencher Tommy Sheppard told fellow Scottish MPs: “There are only two ways that this can go from here.
“One is that the United Kingdom government will come to an agreement with the Scottish Government and that the Brexit process will go through with the consent of the Scottish Parliament. The other option is that the UK government will ignore the representations of Scotland, overrule them and proceed regardless.
“In those latter circumstances, I tell you here today that the mandate from 2016 is still there, and it will be executed, because we will give the people of Scotland a right to decide.”
The UK government has repeatedly said it will not discuss a second independence referendum until Brexit is completed. At the SNP’s conference last month, Ms Sturgeon called on independence campaigners to be patient, and in June she said the Scottish Government would “redouble our efforts” to influence the UK’s Brexit deal after admitting there was insufficient support for a second referendum.
Conservative MP Luke Graham said: “It’s enormously disappointing that, just weeks after the SNP conference, when they said they were looking past independence, the second referendum isn’t off the table, it’s just on pause.
“This just proves that every vote for the SNP is a vote for another independence referendum.”
Mr Sheppard’s comments threaten to overshadow today’s meeting in Downing Street, the first between Ms Sturgeon and Mrs May since March. The First Minister will hold talks at Number 10 this afternoon despite claims over the summer that she would be “banned” from face-to-face meetings with Mrs May.
Talks between Scottish and UK officials are continuing in a bid to avoid a constitutional crisis over the Withdrawal Bill. The SNP claims plans to hold on to control of 111 EU responsibilities at Westminster before devolving some of them represents a “power grab”.
A senior UK government source said: “Everyone is hoping for constructive talks.”
In a recent interview, the First Minister gave an awkward account of their last meeting, saying the Prime Minister was a “difficult” character who insisted on “reading from a script” in private talks.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister will be seeking clarity on a range of issues at this meeting with the Prime Minister, including Brexit and the impact on Scotland of the EU Withdrawal Bill.
“She will also set out the Scottish Government’s expectations of the UK Budget, as well as discussing the introduction of Universal Credit and the effect it has had.”
Meanwhile, a government pledge to set out the UK’s Brexit deal in primary legislation was dismissed as a “sham” after MPs were warned they will send the country crashing out of the EU without a deal if they vote against it.
In a major concession ahead of fresh Westminster debate on the legislation today, Brexit Secretary David Davis told MPs last night that they would get to scrutinise the final EU exit deal “line by line” and vote on it before 29 March 2019.
However, he angered MPs on both sides of the Commons by saying there would be no legislation and no vote if talks in Brussels fail to produce an agreement, and warned that parliament could only choose between the government’s deal and no deal at all.
Conservative MP Anna Soubry claimed ministers were “preparing for no-deal”, while the Labour MP Chris Leslie said the concession was a “sham” and “totally worthless”.