Theresa May has signalled that the UK is to leave the European Union’s single market in a so-called “hard Brexit” that could prompt a fresh Scottish independence referendum.
The Prime Minister insisted she would not try to “keep bits of membership” when she was asked about the prospect of remaining in the single market, and instead made it clear that the UK would end the current “free movement” arrangement with the rest of the EU.
Her comments came after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned she was “not bluffing” about staging a second Scottish independence referendum under such a scenario because of the impact it could have on the economy north of the Border.
The First Minister had suggested last week that a second Scottish referendum could be shelved if the UK’s single market status could be protected and a “softer” departure from the EU is secured.
But Mrs May indicated yesterday that she would prioritise tough new immigration controls after the UK’s Brussels departure.
“We are leaving, we are coming out, we are not going to be a member of the EU any longer,” she told Sky News.
“We will have control of our borders, control of our laws, but we still want the best possible deal for UK companies to trade with and operate within the European Union and also European companies to trade with and operate within the UK.
“We mustn’t think about this as somehow we’re coming out of membership but we want to keep bits of membership.
“What we must say is what is the right relationship for a United Kingdom that is no longer a member of the European Union. The best possible deal for the UK will also be a good deal for the EU.”
The Prime Minister made it clear that the UK would be able to “set rules” for people coming into the UK from other EU members states, unlike the current free movement arrangement.
But EU leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel, have made it clear that the UK will not be able to secure access to the single market while also demanding full control of the UK’s borders.
Independent research has indicated that up to 80,000 jobs and billions of pounds could be lost to the Scottish economy if the country is forced out of the single market.
Ms Sturgeon has stated this is a red line issue for her in the Brexit negotiations and she is ready to move to hold a second independence referendum if Scotland loses its membership.
And she warned yesterday that she was “not bluffing” about the prospect of a second referendum being staged.
The First Minister said UK government leaders would “be making a big mistake if they think that I’m in any way bluffing” because leaving the European Union created a “fundamental question” for Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon said: “If we’re going to be ignored, if our voice has been completely cast aside, our interests cast aside, then that can happen on anything.
“And we have to ask ourselves in Scotland, are we happy to have the direction of our country the kind of country we want to be determined by a right-wing Conservative government perhaps for the next 20 years, or do we want to take control of our own future?
“And that’s the case that in those circumstances I think it would be right for Scotland to have the opportunity to decide.”
Commenting on Ms Sturgeon’s interview yesterday on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “This is yet another attempt by the SNP to sow division and uncertainty, at a time when the country needs to pull together more than ever.
“On Friday the First Minister hinted that she was backing away from another vote, yet today she is again threatening to impose a second independence referendum on the people of Scotland.
“Nicola Sturgeon could provide much needed clarity on Scotland’s future by ruling out another independence referendum altogether.
“With a growing crisis in our NHS and a shameful gap between the richest and the rest in our schools, the challenges facing Scotland are too great for the SNP government to be distracted by another referendum.
“With power returning from Brussels, it is now clear that we need a People’s Constitutional Convention and a new Act of Union to reform where power lies across the whole of our country, and to save the Union from the threat of the SNP and the Tories who risk pulling it apart.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “This week we’ve seen Nicola Sturgeon say that she was going to take a referendum off the table, only for her and Alex Salmond to put it back on the table again today. The SNP are where they’ve always been - trying desperately to use Brexit as a means of whipping up support for independence.”