The UK is “not remotely prepared” for Brexit and the process must be delayed, Nicola Sturgeon will warn in a keynote speech in the US today.
The First Minister will step up calls for a second referendum with just 53 days left until the UK is due to formally leave the European Union.
Prime Minister Theresa May insisted yesterday that Brexit will happen “on time” as she prepared to return to Brussels seeking changes to the Irish backstop, a sticking point of her EU Withdrawal Deal which has been rejected by the Commons.
But she faced a warning from the Irish deputy prime minister that “there are no credible alternative arrangements” to the proposal.
She was also stung by the announcement that Japanese car giant Nissan has axed plans to make its X-Trail 4x4 vehicle in Sunderland, citing several reasons including Brexit uncertainty.
Ms Sturgeon will launch a broadside at the turmoil engulfing Westminster over Brexit and insist that Scotland’s interests have been treated as an “afterthought” in a speech in Washington, DC today.
“The UK is not remotely prepared to leave the EU in 53 days’ time,” Ms Sturgeon will say. “The UK government should finally recognise that, and it should ask the EU to agree to put back the planned date for Brexit.”
Such a request would have to be backed up by an “achievable plan”, with Ms Sturgeon suggesting the UK government could reconsider plans to leave the single market and customs union. She will tell her audience at Georgetown University that a “better option is to hold a further referendum on EU membership”.
“The Scottish Government’s view is that this issue should be put back to the people,” the First Minister will say on the first day of a trade mission to the US and Canada.
“That no Scottish Parliament, of any political composition, would approach Brexit in the way that the UK government has helps to explain why Brexit is also relevant to the debate on Scottish independence.
“In the independence referendum in 2014, voters in Scotland were repeatedly told that if we became independent, we would have to leave the European Union. Voting to stay in the UK was portrayed as the way to protect our EU membership. That in itself raises the question of whether decisions about Scotland should continue to be taken at Westminster or whether it would be better if they were taken in Scotland. And now the ongoing chaos at Westminster and the way Scotland’s interests have been consistently ignored makes that question even more relevant.
“So I have said I will outline my thoughts on the timing of a possible independence referendum in the next few weeks, once the terms of Brexit are clearer. But, amid the chaos, confusion and uncertainty of Brexit, one thing is clearer than ever. Namely, that Scotland’s vital national interests are not properly served by relying on the Westminster system which treats Scotland as an afterthought, and that those interests can only properly be served by being an independent country.”
But writing in a weekend newspaper article, Mrs May insisted the departure date will not change and that she would “deliver Brexit on time”.
The EU Withdrawal Agreement she struck with Brussels was rejected by the Commons over the Irish backstop provision which is aimed at keeping the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic open after Brexit.
She said: “When I return to Brussels … I will be armed with a fresh mandate, new ideas and a renewed determination to agree a pragmatic solution that delivers the Brexit the British people voted for, while ensuring there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.”
Last week Mrs May secured Parliament’s backing to go back to Brussels in the hope of hammering out a fresh agreement that does not include the backstop – which is unacceptable to the DUP and Brexiteer Tories – and which will command a Commons majority.
The Prime Minister is due to report back to Parliament on 13 February, with a further series of votes by MPs expected the following day.
However, there was a was warning for Mrs May that she may be opposed by her own Eurosceptic backbenchers if the deal she gets falls short of their expectations.
European Research Group deputy chairman Steve Baker tweeted that there could be “trouble ahead” and suggested changes to the backstop may not satisfy them. “Leave-backing MPs voted to support alternative arrangements in NI [Northern Ireland] but with grave misgivings about the whole agreement,” he wrote.
It came as a senior Nissan boss blasted Brexit “uncertainty” as he confirmed the company had scrapped plans to build the X-Trail 4x4 at its Sunderland plant.
Gianluca de Ficchy, the Japanese firm’s Europe chairman, said the decision had been taken for “business reasons” affected by rules on diesel engines and reduced sales.
The announcement that the X-Trail would be built in Japan was made in a letter to staff that followed a day of political rows between Brexit supporters and opponents over the reason for one of Wearside’s largest employers going against a 2016 decision to build the car there.
In the letter, Mr de Ficchy also said: “Clearly the uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the EU is not helping companies like ours to plan for the future.”