Scottish Government To 'Intensify' Calls For Second Brexit Referendum

16 January 2019, 12:00 | Updated: 16 January 2019, 12:02

Nicola Sturgeon

The Scottish Government will be "intensifying" its calls for a second European referendum in the wake of the Commons Brexit vote, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The Scottish First Minister headed to London after MPs overwhelmingly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's proposed Withdrawal Agreement in the historic Commons vote.

Ms Sturgeon has challenged Mrs May to convene "urgent" talks with the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales in a bid to resolve the Brexit impasse.

The SNP leader said Mrs May had "clearly failed to bring the country together" in support of her proposed deal, and she demanded the PM must now "change course" and "genuinely involve" all regions of the UK in Brexit plans.

She called for a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) - which brings together the heads of the devolved administrations with the UK Government - to take place, insisting such talks "must be more than window dressing".

The First Minister said: "Urgent and meaningful discussions are needed in the next days to agree a way forward which can command a majority in the House of Commons, and which has the confidence and support of the devolved administrations."

However Conservatives accused Ms Sturgeon of using the Commons vote defeat to push for a second independence referendum after she tweeted: "It is becoming increasingly clear that Scotland's wider interests will only be protected with independence."

Ms Sturgeon spoke to Mrs May following Tuesday night's historic defeat in the Commons - the biggest Government defeat on a meaningful vote for at least a century.

She tweeted that while she had had talks with the PM, it was "not obvious that she has any real idea what to do next".

Ms Sturgeon added it was "not at all clear she (Mrs May) is open to any fundamental change of thinking in her proposed cross party talks".

In a letter to Mrs May, she repeated her call for the looming March 29 Brexit deadline to be extended as she pledged her administration will be stepping up efforts in support of a second European referendum.

The First Minister was clear: "The Scottish Government believes that the best way of resolving the current impasse is to negotiate an extension to the Article 50 period and hold a second EU referendum.

"Given the rejection of your deal we will now be intensifying work towards the achievement of that aim."

She insisted the draft Brexit deal rejected by MPs would "make people poorer, damage our society and undermine the democratic decision of the people of Scotland to remain in the European Union".

Almost two-thirds of Scots voted to stay part of the EU in 2016, but Ms Sturgeon argued the Prime Minister had consistently failed to recognise this and had rejected Scottish Government pleas to remain in both the single market and customs union.

The Tory Government at Westminster has "clearly failed to bring the country together" behind Mrs May's deal, she added.

Ms Sturgeon said: "It is time to recognise that reality and change course, starting with a new approach which seeks to find a way forward by genuinely involving the four nations of the UK.

"Up until now, despite stated intentions, the UK Government has taken little or no account of the views of the people of Scotland or the position of the Scottish Government."

But Stephen Kerr, the Conservative MP for Stirling, told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland: "The SNP has been clear again this morning by Nicola Sturgeon's tweet, they are only interested in this subject for one reason and that is to bring about the second independence referendum.

"Nicola Sturgeon was up at the crack of dawn on her way to London and she took time to tweet about a second independence referendum."

Mr Kerr, who voted for the Withdrawal Agreement, added: "Whenever it looks like the SNP might be in a position where they are prepared to talk in substance about how we bring about an orderly Brexit, they change their position, because they are not interested in an orderly Brexit, what they are interested in is a chaotic Brexit."

Fellow Tory Douglas Ross, who voted against the Brexit deal, said: "The SNP don't want a good deal or a deal at all."

He claimed Scottish Nationalists "want to disrupt Brexit as much as possible and use it as a tool to enhance their chances of holding and winning a second independence referendum".