Theresa May has said she will listen to proposals for Scotland to have a different relationship with the EU than elsewhere in the UK after meeting Nicola Sturgeon.
On Mrs May’s first official visit to Scotland as Prime Minister, both leaders described their meeting as constructive but clashed on the prospect of Scotland holding a second independence referendum. The new PM said she wanted the Scottish Government to be “fully engaged” with the Brexit negotiations and said that the Article 50 process for withdrawing from the EU would not take place until a UK-wide approach was agreed.
Mrs May met Ms Sturgeon at her official Edinburgh residence, Bute House.
Last month’s vote for the UK to leave the EU has led to the First Minister claiming another independence referendum is “highly likely” given a majority voted to Remain north of the Border. Ms Sturgeon has also said she would see if there are ways Scotland can maintain its relationship with the EU while staying in the UK.
Asked if Scotland could have a different relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK, Mrs May said: “I want to get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom out of our negotiations for the UK leaving the EU, but I’m willing to listen to options. I’ve been very clear with the First Minister today that I want the Scottish Government to be fully engaged in our discussions and our considerations, and I will listen to any options that they bring forward.”
Earlier, however, Scottish Secretary David Mundell poured scorn on the idea of Scotland remaining in the the UK and EU, saying such a notion was “fanciful”.
Mrs May said EU withdrawal would not occur until there was a UK-wide approach.
She said: “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.”
On the subject of a second independence referendum, the Prime Minister indicated that she would not go down that route. She said: “I think the question is: should there be another referendum?
“As far as I’m concerned the Scottish people had their vote, they voted in 2014, and a very clear message came through, both the United Kingdom and the Scottish Government said they would abide by that.
“We now have the challenge though, as a United Kingdom, to ensure that we can get the best possible deal for the whole of the United Kingdom from the EU negotiations when the UK leaves the EU.
“I’m very clear that the government I lead will be for all parts of the United Kingdom and for all people.”
Mrs May added that she had “an excellent meeting” with Ms Sturgeon, and looked ahead to more “constructive and positive discussions”.
Ms Sturgeon said she received an assurance that the UK Government will be “open and flexible” to options in the forthcoming Brexit process.
Speaking after the meeting, Ms Sturgeon said: “I was very pleased that Theresa May said that she was absolutely willing to consider any options that the Scottish Government now bring forward to secure Scotland’s relationship with the European Union, and that the process that now takes shape by the UK government will be open and flexible and that the Scottish Government will be fully involved in that.
“These negotiations have yet to take shape and the UK government don’t yet know exactly how they will proceed from here, but there is an agreement that Scottish Government officials will be very closely involved in discussions to give shape to this process and will be involved in that process.
“Crucially, and this is the most important point from my point of view, is that that process will be open to considering options that the Scottish Government brings forward.”
But the First Minister differed from Mrs May on the possibility of a second referendum, saying she would do all she could to protect Scotland’s interests, with options including another independence vote.
“I’ve said previously that if we want to protect our relationship with the European Union then Scotland may have to consider becoming an independent member,” she said. “If it proves not to be possible to fully protect Scotland’s interests through the UK process then the Prime Minister knows that a second independence referendum is of course on the table.
“However, I’ve also been consistently clear that I want to examine all options for protecting Scotland’s position, protecting our interests, protecting our relationship with the EU.”