May: Brexit will 'strengthen the British union'
Picture Credit - Scottish Government
Theresa May has said Brexit will "strengthen" the British union following discussions with Nicola Sturgeon and other devolved leaders.
The Prime Minister said the union between the four nations is "absolutely vital" to Britain's success and urged the devolved administrations to "play their part in making it work".
Sturgeon has pledged to "explore all options" to keep Scotland in the European Union - including a second independence referendum if necessary.
May and Sturgeon went head-to-head during the first meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee in London since the vote to leave the European Union on June 23.
Following the meeting, May said: “Working together, the nations of the United Kingdom will make a success of leaving the European Union – and we will further strengthen our own unique and enduring union as we do so.
“The great union between us has been the cornerstone of our prosperity in the past - and it is absolutely vital to our success in the future.
“The country is facing a negotiation of tremendous importance and it is imperative that the devolved administrations play their part in making it work.”
She added: "We have important work to do for the UK in terms of negotiating a smooth exit from the EU and getting the best possible deal for the whole of the UK.
“The UK has chosen to leave the EU and we’re going to make a success of it.”
May said the talks were "constructive” but Sturgeon said she found parts of the meeting "deeply frustrating".
She denied accusations that she is undermining the Brexit deal with her proposal for a second independence referendum.
"To be brutally frank about it, you can't undermine something that doesn't exist," she said.
"From everything I have heard today in Downing Street there isn't yet a UK Government negotiating position.
"I've no interest in undermining that when it does exist, but I do have a massive interest in protecting Scotland's interest.
"What I'm not prepared to do is stand back and watch Scotland driven off a hard Brexit cliff-edge."
She added: "Despite a full and frank exchange of views around the table we know no more about the UK Government’s approach to the EU negotiations now than we did when we went into the meeting.
“The Scottish Government is fully committed to engaging with the UK Government and we will seek to use our influence to ensure that the UK does not pursue a hard Brexit.
"However it is clear from today’s discussions that we must also continue to pursue alternative options, including bringing forward proposals to protect Scotland's place in the single market even if the rest of the UK leaves, and continuing to prepare for the option of a referendum on independence if that is what is necessary to prevent the UK taking Scotland over a hard Brexit cliff edge.”
Sturgeon went into the meeting seeking "meaningful input" into the Brexit negotiations, including a vote on the final deal in the Scottish Parliament.
May told devolved leaders that "she wanted their input in shaping the negotiations to leave the EU", and agreed to establish a new "cross-nations forum on Brexit talks" to be chaired by Brexit secretary David Davis."
Sturgeon welcomed the new forum but said there is still "a significant amount of work to do to make sure that the engagement we have is meaningful".
European leaders have warned they will not permit a "soft Brexit" - access to the single market without EU membership criteria such as free movement of people - and said a "hard Brexit" is the only option.
May told devolved leaders she is seeking "a bespoke Brexit deal" and urged them to look beyond "binary choices", a Downing Street spokesman said.
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: "Last week, the SNP revealed its true colours by publishing a bill for a referendum that the majority of Scots do not want. It has them up shown up as a party utterly out of step with public opinion.
"People don't want to go back to another divisive vote on separation and they don't want Brexit used by the SNP as a lever to crank up support for independence."
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “If the SNP were committed to getting the best deal for Scotland then they should stop pursuing independence and the chaos that another referendum will have on Scotland."
Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe