Scotland-UK Brexit deal closer after 'cordial' talks at No 10

Nicola Sturgeon has expressed greater optimism that the Scottish and UK governments can strike a deal on Brexit after a “cordial” meeting with Theresa May.

Speaking outside No 10, the first minister said her private meeting with the prime minister on Tuesday, which was dominated by discussions over the EU withdrawal bill, was more fruitful than their previous encounters.

Sturgeon warned there was “still a long way to go” but suggested they were edging towards a deal for the first time, ending a impasse which threatened a major crisis over May’s Brexit plans.

“That was a better meeting; it was certainly a better meeting than we have had previously,” said Sturgeon.

“It was cordial, it was constructive and I think we were both able to set out quite frankly our positions on the [EU] withdrawal bill.

“Now, that doesn’t mean that an agreement will follow but perhaps it provides the conditions for reaching agreement in the period ahead.”

She said she and May had “probably achieved a better understanding of each other’s positions than we have perhaps been able to do in the past”.

Sturgeon and May’s last one-on-one meeting was held in a cramped room at a hotel in Glasgow in March, just as Sturgeon was demanding the UK government grant her the powers to stage a fresh Scottish independence referendum before Brexit.

The first minister had told the Guardian just before June’s snap general election that she had found that meeting tense and frustrating. Sturgeon said May was a “very difficult person to establish rapport with” and “it’s like she was reading from a script”.

However, both the Conservatives and the Scottish National party suffered losses in June, and Sturgeon has been forced to drop her referendum demands in the short term. The Scottish Tories have been making overtures towards Sturgeon’s ministers, in a bid to help broker a deal.

With Britain’s divorce from the EU now dominating the agenda, both leaders are adopting far more conciliatory stances and inching slowly towards an agreement, so Sturgeon can recommend that the Scottish parliament approves the Brexit bill in a so-called legislative consent motion.

A No 10 spokesman said the leaders discussed the progress the two governments had made on agreeing UK-wide common frameworks, where powers and regulations are shared by the UK and devolved governments.

They also covered the sexual harassment crises in British politics and the threatened closure of two renewable energy fabrication yards in Scotland, owned by BiFab.

“The prime minister reiterated that as powers are repatriated from Brussels back to Britain there will be a significant increase in the decision-making powers for the Scottish government and other devolved administrations,” a No 10 spokesman said.

Sturgeon said she had stressed again to May the Scottish government still needed to see significant concessions in the withdrawal bill, to guarantee that Holyrood will be given substantial new powers after the UK leaves the EU.

She added that any common frameworks needed to be agreed by all the UK’s governments and not imposed by London, and warned there was “still a long way to go” before she would be ready to recommend Holyrood’s approval.

Speaking with Carwyn Jones, the Welsh first minister, she has previously accused the UK government of plotting a power grab by refusing to amend a clause in the bill under which it will initially take control of all former EU powers within the remit of devolved administrations.

In a non-binding Westminster debate on Monday night, the SNP MP Tommy Sheppard warned that if Holyrood felt unable to grant legislative consent, that would trigger the second independence referendum Sturgeon has proposed.

The first minister said Sheppard’s stance was consistent with her government’s policy, but she was again more conciliatory.

She implied that even a failure to do a deal on the withdrawal bill next spring would not be enough to immediately trigger a referendum.

“We have a mandate for that [referendum] in this session of the Scottish parliament but I have been very clear that we will not take further decisions around the timing of any referendum until other aspects of Brexit are clear,” she said.

Powered by article was written by Severin Carrell and Heather Stewart, for on Tuesday 14th November 2017 20.55 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010