May promises UK-wide strategy in talks to leave European Union

Prime Minister Theresa May meets Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at Bute House in Edinburgh.
Prime Minister Theresa May meets Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at Bute House in Edinburgh.
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THERESA MAY has moved to calm talk of a rush to trigger talks over Britain’s departure from the European Union despite her own Brexit minister claiming the process could begin by the end of the year.

The Prime Minister stressed her priority was to get the best possible deal for Britain rather than meeting particular timetable.

Following talks with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, Mrs May also hinted that she would be looking for her counterpart to sign up to the UK’s negotiation strategy before discussions with the EU get underway.

EU leaders have been pressing the UK to set out a timetable for departure talks which will begin by the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Newly-appointed Brexit Secretary David Davis argued that discussions over Britain’s negotiating strategy should be held with business, universities, unions and others “to allow triggering of Article 50 before or by the start of next year”.

The Haltemprice and Howden MP called for a “brisk but measured” approach to Britain’s departure from the EU.

But the Prime Minister, who backed Remain in the referendum campaign and has previously ruled out triggering Article 50 this year, struck a markedly different tone.

Mrs May said: “I’ve already said that I won’t be triggering Article 50 until I think that we have a UK approach and objectives.

“I think it is important that we establish that before we trigger Article 50.”

Her promise of a “UK approach” and commitment to the Scottish Government being “fully involved” in the Brexit process appeared designed to calm talk of Scotland pursuing a second independence referendum to avoid the country leaving the EU.

Mrs May was clear that the Westminster government would not be part of any attempt by Holyrood to re-open the question of Scottish independence.

The Prime Minister 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’s visit to Edinburgh was highly symbolic given it was made within days of her taking office and before she had completed her ministerial appointments.

She had stressed her commitment to the Union in her speech in Downing Street on Wednesday.

“I’ve made an early trip to Scotland because Scotland is important to me,” the Prime Minister said.

Ms Sturgeon has previously described the prospect of a second independence referendum as “highly likely” in the wake of the EU vote.

Scottish voters backed remaining in the EU by a margin of 62 per cent to 38 per cent while the UK as a whole voted to leave by a margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

Speaking after her talks with Mrs May, Ms Sturgeon avoided talk of another independence vote. She 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.”