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”.
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.
Mrs May told delegates: “Our Party believes heart and soul in our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
“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.”
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.
“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."
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.
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.
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.
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 understand and trust our legal system, giving them confidence in investing.
- Britain has a skilled labour force.
- We have some of the world's best universities, feeding talent into the workforce.
- We speak English, the international language of business.
- 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".
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.
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."