EDINBURGH (AFP) – Just a day before Britain kick-starts Brexit proceedings, the Scottish parliament is on Tuesday expected to dismiss Prime Minister Theresa May’s overtures and back calls for a fresh independence referendum.
Lawmakers in Edinburgh are due to vote on Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon’s bid for a new referendum, despite the prime minister’s last-minute appeals.
The Scottish vote had been scheduled for last Wednesday but was postponed after the terror attack near the British parliament in London, the same day, in which four people were killed and dozens more injured.
The attack has not, however, put the brakes on Britain’s EU divorce, with May vowing to stick to her timetable of invoking Article 50 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty on Wednesday and thus triggering two years of Brexit negotiations.
The Brexit vote last year has spurred the independence campaign of Sturgeon, head of the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP), who argues that Scotland is being forced out of the European bloc against its will.
Both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, but they were outnumbered by voters in England and Wales who backed Brexit.
– UK an ‘unstoppable force’ –
Sturgeon and May met in Scotland on Monday, with the prime minister reiterating that “now is not the time” for a referendum and describing the four nations of the United Kingdom as an “unstoppable force”.
The SNP leader has suggested an independence vote should be held by spring 2019 at the latest — before Britain leaves the EU — although after winning the backing of Scottish parliament she needs approval from London for a referendum to take place.
Rejecting such a request would be politically risky for May, whose government is also trying to prevent the collapse of the power-sharing arrangement which governs Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland executive collapsed in January following a dispute between the two main parties, the Democratic Unionist Party and Irish nationalists Sinn Fein, which failed to reach a new power-sharing deal by a 1500 GMT Monday deadline.
The British government has extended the talks and, if a resolution is not reached, fresh elections could be called or London could resume direct rule over Northern Ireland.
The fate of the province is one of the priorities set by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. “We will not stand for anything that weakens dialogue and peace in Northern Ireland,” he wrote in the Financial Times on Monday.
– ‘Pulling together’ –
Despite May’s assertion that she will seek the best Brexit deal for all of Britain — including Scotland — she has failed to convince the SNP which has warned of the negative consequences of leaving the EU.
The economic uncertainty of Scotland outside the United Kingdom was a factor in voters rejecting independence in a 2014 referendum, but the SNP claims breaking away from the European single market would cost Scotland tens of thousands of jobs.
Scotland’s economic hand was strengthened on Monday when exploration firm Hurricane Energy announced the “largest undeveloped discovery” of oil in British waters, located west of the Scottish Shetland Islands.
But May also won a financial boost, with Qatar committing to invest £5 billion ($6.23 billion, 5.8 billion euros) in the UK economy within five years.
The announcement will allay fears of investors abandoning Britain when it leaves the EU and the European single market, which May has said is a necessary step to control immigration.
Both May and Sturgeon said they were not ready to compromise and the rift is unlikely to end before Article 50 is triggered.
The prime minister made a plea for unity ahead of Britain’s historic EU departure.
“Now is the time when we should be pulling together, not hanging apart. Pulling together to make sure we get the best possible deal for the whole of the UK,” she told reporters.