May Says Cross-U.K. Stance Needed Before Article 50 Triggered

When Should the Brexit Process Actually Begin?
  • Prime minister wants Scotland ‘fully engaged’ in Brexit plan
  • May speaks in Edinburgh during first official visit as premier

Prime Minister Theresa May signaled she’ll take a slow approach to extracting Britain from the European Union, saying she won’t trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty until she has a U.K.-wide approach to negotiations.

May visited Edinburgh for talks with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on her first official trip as premier. Scotland voted to remain in the EU in last month’s referendum and Sturgeon has hinted Brexit might see it break away from the rest of the U.K.

“I’ve been very clear with the first minister today that I want the Scottish government to be fully engaged in our discussions and our considerations, and I will listen to any options that they bring forward,” May said after the meeting. “I won’t be triggering Article 50 until I think that we have a U.K. approach and objectives for negotiations -- I think it is important that we establish that.”

For a QuickTake explainer on Scotland’s independence bid, click here

Article 50 signals the formal start of two years of talks with other EU countries, ending with departure from the bloc, and May had already ruled out triggering it in 2016. By promising Edinburgh’s involvement in talks, she is seeking to make good on a commitment, made in her inaugural speech, to preserve the 309-year-old union that binds Scotland to England and Wales. She rejected the idea of another referendum on Scottish independence.

‘Clear Message’

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“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,” she said. “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 U.K. leaves the EU.”

Sturgeon welcomed the opportunity to talk to the new prime minister. “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,” she said.

Michael Keating, professor of Scottish politics at Aberdeen University, warned against reading too much into the comments on EU membership.

“This is all preliminary talk about trying to seek consensus, trying to be reasonable, but I can’t see how we’re going to escape from the basic problem, the basic contradiction,” he said. “There is no middle way. Somebody’s got to give way here. Sturgeon wants in, May wants out.”

John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, agreed. “Theresa May could at some point be faced with the choice of delivering Brexit or keeping Scotland inside of the U.K.,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s a game of poker already. Presumably what Theresa May is trying to say is ‘actually, you may discover the Brexit deal that we’ve got is not one that is so inimical to Scotland’s interests.’”

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