LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May today rejected a call for a referendum on Scottish independence before Britain leaves the European Union, a move condemned as a "democratic outrage" by Scotland's nationalist leader. May and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon both dug in their heels in a showdown that could complicate Britain's path out of the EU and threaten the future of the United Kingdom.
May said "now is not the time" to reopen Scotland's independence debate, though she did not rule out a referendum in the future. Britain is to begin the two-year exit process from the 28-nation EU by the end of this month. The United Kingdom is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The UK as a whole decided in a June 23 referendum to leave the EU, but Scots in that ballot voted 62 to 38 per cent to remain.
Sturgeon announced earlier this week that she will seek a referendum on Scottish independence to be held between the fall of 2018 and the spring of 2019, so Scottish voters can decide whether to leave the EU with the rest of the U.K. or go it alone.
The Conservative-led British government, however, must agree to a legally binding referendum, and May said "now is not the time." "All our energies should be focused on our negotiations with the European Union," May said, adding that holding a Scotland referendum while EU exit talks are still underway would "make it more difficult for us to get the right deal for Scotland and the right deal for the U.K."
The British government's Scotland minister, David Mundell, said May's administration "will not be entering into discussions or negotiations" about a new referendum on Scottish independence. But Sturgeon, undeterred, plans to ask the Scottish parliament next week to start the process of seeking a new referendum. She said it would be a "democratic outrage" for the British government to stop the people of Scotland "having a choice over their future."