Sturgeon and May clash over indyref2 ahead of Brexit talks

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Nicola Sturgeon and Mike RussellImage source, EPA
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Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Brexit Secretary Michael Russell entering Dowing Street

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Prime Minister Theresa May have met for talks in London after clashing over a second Scottish independence vote.

The Downing Street summit was part of what Mrs May called an "enhanced role" for the Scottish government in Brexit.

But before the talks, she told MPs that "the last thing we want is a second independence referendum".

Ms Sturgeon hit back, saying that the prime minister was "running scared from the verdict of the Scottish people".

The row mirrors the divide between the two leaders over Brexit, with Ms Sturgeon urging Mrs May to consider a fresh referendum on EU membership - something the prime minister opposes.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March, with or without a deal, under current legislation.

The UK government is casting around to find a Brexit deal which could win a parliamentary majority after Mrs May's blueprint was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs.

Various rival plans have been put forward, ranging from tweaks to the existing withdrawal agreement to holding a new referendum which could potentially see Brexit called off.

MPs will vote again on 29 January, although Mrs May has so far given few details about how her deal might be changed ahead of this.

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Ms Sturgeon said the PM was unwilling to "compromise"

Speaking after her meeting in Downing Street, Ms Sturgeon said Mrs May had shown "no sign of compromise" on her Brexit red lines.

She said: "It seems to me her priority is trying to win support from the DUP and the hardline Brexiteers in her own party rather than genuinely trying to compromise to bring others on side.

"It seems to me she's putting all of her eggs in the basket of trying to win over the DUP and the ERG (European Research Group) - playing to the right-wing hardline Brexiteers which, unless something fundamental changes that I can't see right now, is destined to fail.

"It's also taking the entire country and Scotland in particular down the wrong road, one that's going to be devastating for our economy and, particularly around free movement, deeply damaging to Scotland's population and therefore our economy in the long-term."

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Theresa May told MPs that "the last thing we want is a second independence referendum"

Mrs May has said she is "committed to giving the devolved administrations an enhanced role" in the next phase of talks, "respecting their competence and vital interests in those negotiations".

Following the Downing Street talks, a spokesman said the Scottish and Welsh first ministers had been invited to attend a Cabinet sub-committee on preparing for Brexit.

However, the prime minister has also rejected the idea of having another referendum on Brexit, saying the parliament's duty was to "implement the decision of the first one".

And during weekly questions at Westminster, she was urged by Scottish Tory MP Stephen Kerr to rule out any agreement with the Scottish government for a fresh Scottish independence referendum.

Mrs May said: "Scotland held a referendum in 2014. It was legal, fair and decisive, and the people clearly voted for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

"More than that, at the last general election, the people of Scotland again sent a very clear message that they do not want a second divisive referendum, but the SNP sadly is out of touch with the people of Scotland and has not yet heard that message.

"The last thing we want is a second independence referendum. The United Kingdom should be pulling together, and should not be being driven apart."

Image source, AFP
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Nicola Sturgeon insists the SNP has a "cast-iron" mandate for another independence vote

Hitting back shortly before arriving at Downing Street, Ms Sturgeon said that "what Scotland needs is much more important than what the prime minister wants".

She said: "Theresa May fears she would lose an independence referendum and is clearly running scared of the verdict of the Scottish people - who must be sick and tired of being told what the prime minister wants.

"The mandate to give the people of Scotland a choice over their future is cast-iron. A majority of MSPs and Scottish MPs returned at the last two general elections support holding an independence referendum in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves.

"The SNP believe that the people of Scotland should be in charge of their own future - not live at the whim and diktat of a hardline, inflexible Tory unionist cabal."