Theresa May has moved to block a new Scottish independence referendum by saying “now is not the time” for another vote.
The prime minister said a repeat of the 2014 referendum was not appropriate because the country was already going through a huge change in terms of Brexit, and that Scottish people needed a fuller picture before taking any decision on the future.
But her move to block another vote for now creates an intense political stand-off with SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, who will next week ask Scottish MSPs to approve her plans for a second referendum.
Relations between the two are strained with Ms Sturgeon taking a swipe at the prime minister earlier this week, pointing out that Ms May has not been voted in at a general election.
Ms May told ITV News: “My message is very clear. Now is not the time. I’ve explained the reasons why.
“We should be working to get the right deal for Scotland and the UK with our future partnership with the European Union.
“It would be unfair to the people of Scotland at the moment that they would be being asked to make a crucial decision without the information they need to make that decision.”
The prime minister’s words do not completely rule out allowing a second referendum at some point in the future, but the clear intention to deny a referendum in the immediate future will provoke the SNP.
Announcing her intention to trigger the poll on Monday, Ms Sturgeon said the Westminster government had “not moved even inch in pursuit of compromise and agreement” with Holyrood over Brexit and even a good deal would be “significantly inferior” to the status quo.
Nicola Sturgeon also issued a direct challenge to Ms May, pointing out that she was voted in on a clear manifesto commitment to Scottish independence but that the prime minister “is not yet elected by anyone”.
The First Minister said the vote had to be held between Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019 – before it was “too late” but after “the terms of Brexit are known”.