Theresa May dismisses plans for independence referendum as 'muddle on muddle' as she rejects 'obsessive' SNP nationalism 

PM: Our party believes heart and soul in United Kingdom Watch | PM: Our party believes heart and soul in United Kingdom
01:41

Theresa May has dismissed Nicola Sturgeon’s plans for a new independence referendum as “muddle on muddle” as she rejected the “divisive, obsessive” nationalism of the SNP.

The Prime Minister used her speech to the Conservative Spring Forum in Cardiff to suggest that Ms Sturgeon had been plotting since last year to use Brexit as a “pretext” for a new referendum.

Pledging to defend the “precious, precious Union”, Mrs May said she wanted the country to become more, not less, united - “one that our children and grandchildren are proud to call home”.

Prime Minister Theresa May Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

It came as the SNP's deputy leader insisted that a second referendum on Scottish independence will take place, despite the Prime Minister insisting "now is not the time".

Angus Roberston, deputy leader of the SNP, said if Holyrood backs Nicola Sturgeon's bid for a fresh ballot on Wednesday it would be "undemocratic and totally unacceptable" for the British Government to deny Scotland a vote.

Sturgeon warns PM: Block independence call at your peril Watch | Sturgeon warns PM: Block independence call at your peril
01:17

Mrs May told delegates: “Our Party believes heart and soul in our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Deputy leader Angus Robertson  Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty 

“The precious bond between four nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

“But that union is more than just a constitutional artefact. It is a union between all of our citizens, whoever we are and wherever we’re from.”

She said that keeping the Union together would be at “the heart” of her plans for the country, because: “It is has always been the special mission of our Conservative Party to be the true national party in Britain…rejecting the extremes of Labour’s socialist left, UKIP’s libertarian right, and the divisive and obsessive nationalisms of Plaid Cymru and the SNP.”

'Yes' campaigners in 2014  Credit: REUTERS /PAUL HACKETT

Mrs May added: “It is now clear that using Brexit as the pretext to engineer a second independence referendum has been the SNP’s sole objective ever since last June…

“We have seen that tunnel vision on display again this week. The SNP argue that we should break up the UK because we are leaving the EU, but three years ago they campaigned for a result that would have taken Scotland out of the EU altogether.

“They are happy to see power rest in Brussels. But if those powers come back to London they want them given to Edinburgh, so that they can try to give them back to Brussels.

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, poses for a photograph with a love heart at the spring conference  Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

“And now they apparently say that an independent Scotland would no longer seek to become a member of the EU after a vote for separation. It is muddle on muddle.”

Scottish independence, she said, “would be bad for Scotland, bad for the United Kingdom, and bad for us all”.

Turning to the coming Brexit negotiations, she said: “It is essential that we get the right deal, and that all of our efforts and energies as a country are focused on that outcome."

Mrs May said the result of last year’s referendum was “not just a vote to leave the European Union. It was an intruction to change the way our country works – and the people for whom it works – forever."

Chopper's Brexit Podcast Episode 3 Watch | Chopper's Brexit Podcast Episode 3
35:56

 

SNP are 'obsessive nationalists'

Theresa May has accused the SNP of being "obsessive" nationalists, who since last June have aimed to use the Brexit vote to engineer a second Scottish independence referendum.

The Prime Minister said the SNP was guilty of "tunnel vision" in trying to push a vote that would be "bad for Scotland, bad for the United Kingdom, and bad for us all".

It came after Downing Street made clear that the Scottish Government cannot hold a legal independence referendum without the UK Government's approval.

'We have always been the Conservative and Unionist party'

Theresa May has told the spring forum that the Brexit vote was also an "instruction" to change the way the country works.

She said:

The referendum result was not just a vote to leave the European Union. It was an instruction to change the way our country works – and the people for whom it works – forever.

It was a call to change the balance of Britain – to make this great United Kingdom a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few... 

We will get the right deal for Britain abroad – forging a new partnership with our friends and allies in Europe, but looking beyond Europe to build relationships with old friends and new allies around the world too.

And at the same time, we will pursue the ambitious economic and social reforms we need to make Britain work for working people.  

That means building a stronger economy and investing in the things that will deliver for Britain in the long-term, tackling the problem of low productivity and helping to secure the high-paid, high-skilled jobs of the future. 

It means creating a fairer society, as we break down the barriers of privilege and spread opportunity and prosperity around the country.

It means forging a more united nation, as we put the values of fairness, responsibility and citizenship at the heart of everything we do. 

It means building a stronger, fairer Britain that our children and grandchildren will be proud to call home.

Theresa May arrives in Cardiff 

Theresa May in Cardiff 

Liam Fox warns against trade barriers 

The International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox has warned Europe of the dangers of putting up trade barriers with Britain when Brexit happens.

He said:

Any new impediments to trade in Europe would not only be politically irresponsible, but also economically dangerous.

He also tells delegates that when he goes abroad and asks companies why they want to invest in Britain, he always hears the same answers.

They are:

  1. They understand and trust our legal system, giving them confidence in investing.
  2. Britain has a skilled labour force.
  3. We have some of the world's best universities, feeding talent into the workforce.
  4. We speak English, the international language of business.
  5. We are in the right time zone to do business with all the major world economies.

'Scotland's referendum is going to happen'

Angus Robertson, the SNP leader, is now speaking in Aberdeen. 

He says that blocking a referendum until after Brexit would be a "democratic outrage".

He says:

Let there be no doubt - Scotland will have its referendum and the people of this country will have their choice. They will not be denied their say.

Scotland's referendum is going to happen and no UK Prime Minister should dare to stand in the way of Scotland's democracy.

 'Conservatives can’t afford to be complacent'

Sir Patrick McLoughlin, the Tory chairman, made no mention of Scotland or the investigation into Conservative election spending in his speech to the forum.

Instead his most important job of the day is to introduce a surprise speaker - Trudy Harrison, the new MP for Copeland.

She receives a standing ovation as the new darling of the party, and gives an emotional speech talking of how she decided to stand for office when she came home to find her daughters in tears because their primary school was facing closure.

She tells the delegates: "It would be easy to put my victory down to a failing opposition - and the Labour leader's failure to sing the National Anthem certainly helped.

"But the people of Copeland voted for a party that is on the side of ordinary working people," she says.

Mr McLoughlin also hit out at David Dimbleby for predicting Copeland would remain a Labour stronghold.

Joking: 

Well he does work for the BBC.

He says Labour are in disarray but the Conservatives "can’t afford to be complacent."

Mr McLoughlin says Britain will make a success out of Brexit and "I despair of those who think Britain can’t thrive outside the EU."

Patrick McLoughlin Credit: John Nguyen/JNVisuals

'Referendumb' 

Sturgeon ‘wants to rebuild Hadrian’s Wall’ 

Andrew RT Davies AM, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, has suggested Nicola Sturgeon "wants to rebuild Hadrian's Wall" in what is likely to be the first of many pronouncements on a second independence referendum at the Conservative Spring Forum.

Addressing delegates at the conference in Cardiff, Mr Davies said the party would "defend the Union" no matter what.

He ends his speech by telling the audience: "Let's get out on the streets and tell people - our great Union is worth fighting for."

He earns a standing ovation from about a quarter of those present.

Report from Gordon Rayner 

MP hints he would like JK Rowling to lead Unionist campaign 

Labour's only MP in Scotland has hinted he hopes JK Rowling would lead the campaign to keep the United Kingdom together if there was a second Scottish independence referendum. 

The MP told Politics Home that the head of the Unionist campaign should come from “civic Scotland”.

He said: 

This isn’t just about politics, it’s about the future of Scotland, it’s about the future of Scotland’s children, and it’s about opportunities.

We need someone from civic Scotland who is able to carry that argument and able to make it - that isn’t a politician in my view.

I’m not going to speculate about names because it’s not fair on individuals and it’s also not fair to put them into that kind of position of speculation on them.

But I do think it has to be somebody who is not a politician - of which JK Rowling is not.

British Harry Potter author JK Rowling Credit: REUTERS/Vadim Ghirda

SNP refuses to rule out 'advisory' referendum

John Swinney, the party's deputy first leader, has refused to rule out the SNP organising its own "advisory" referendum to test the will of the British people.

Interviewed on BBC Radio Four's Today programme he was asked if the Holyrood administration would have to "settle" for single market membership.

He replied that the "policy position" of the SNP was that "Scotland should be an independent member of the EU".

Mr Swinney also refused to be drawn on whether the Scottish government will seek an "advisory referendum" on independence if it was denied a legally binding one by Mrs May.

Mr Swinney replied that the Prime Minister "has the capacity to change her mind" and Mrs May would be "ill-advised to stand in the way of our position".

Experts say that such a move would be risky as the Scottish Parliament's presiding officer could rule it out of order, as constitutional affairs are reserved to Westminster.

This would undermine the SNP's accusation that Mrs May is ignoring the will of the Scottish Parliament.

Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney Credit: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

'Taxi driver wants to buy PM a drink for blocking referendum'

Some more photos of Boris Johnson jogging

 Here are some photos of Boris Johnson in full flight:

Boris jogging in attractive shorts on Feb 1 Credit: Steve Back/Steve Back
Same shorts, on Oct 31 Credit:  Nick Edwards/ Nick Edwards
Boris runs up stairs at last year's Conservative party conference in Birmingham Credit: JEREMY SELWYN/JEREMY SELWYN

 

Boris Johnson goes jogging again - this time with Haile Gebreselassie

Boris Johnson has been jogging this morning "running legend Haile Gebreselassie", as he says on Twitter

Scottish Parliament presiding officer could rule out advisory referendum

Our Scottish Political Editor Simon Johnson writes:

John Swinney on the Today programme repeatedly shied away from saying the Scottish Government would unilaterally call an advisory referendum if Theresa May refuses to change her mind.

Such a move would be risky as the Scottish Parliament's presiding officer could rule it out of order, as constitutional affairs are reserved to Westminster. This would undermine the SNP's accusation that Mrs May is ignoring the will of the Scottish Parliament.

It may also be boycotted by the Unionist parties, thereby destroying the legitimacy of the result.

Mr Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, also rejected the accusation it was unfair to hold an independence referendum campaign in parallel with the most complex peacetime international negotiations in which the UK has ever participated.

He denied that doing so would undermine Mrs May's chances of getting the best possible Brexit deal and told her to think again and allow another independence referendum.