First Minister Meets Prime Minister For Brexit Talks

23 January 2019, 07:37 | Updated: 23 January 2019, 07:39

Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon will warn the Prime Minister she is "pursuing the impossible" if she wants to change the Brexit backstop arrangements for Northern Ireland.

The Scottish First Minister is heading to London for talks with Theresa May, as the Prime Minister battles to try to get her proposed European withdrawal deal through Parliament.

And rather than focusing on the Northern Irish backstop, which European leaders insist forms a key part of the Brexit arrangements, Ms Sturgeon said Mrs May should instead be trying to extend the timetable for a deal.

Backstop provisions were written into the UK's draft Withdrawal Agreement in a bid to prevent any return to a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the North.

But the controversial measure has drawn criticism from some MPs.

In particular politicians from Northern Ireland's
Democratic Unionist Party - whose votes ensured Mrs May passed a crucial no confidence vote last week - are vehemently opposed to any arrangements which would see the province treated differently from the rest of the UK.

In a statement to MPs on Monday, the PM promised to seek a means to keep the Irish border open in a way which can win the support of Parliament.

But Ms Sturgeon said instead the Prime Minister should be focusing on seeking an extension to the Article 50 deadline.

With no Brexit agreement as yet approved by Parliament, the UK could crash out of the European Union with no deal - something the Scottish First Minister and others want Mrs May to explicitly rule out.

Ms Sturgeon issued a stark message to the PM ahead of Wednesday's talks, saying: "The UK is in the midst of the most serious political crisis in many decades - and it is entirely a mess of the Prime Minister's own making.

"With time running out, Theresa May needs to stop blaming everybody else and start listening."

She added: "Theresa May's current strategy is to rule out the possible - extending the Article 50 period - while pursuing the impossible - changes to the backstop.

"At today's meeting I will be making clear to the Prime Minister that it is she who needs to change her position - not everybody else."

Mrs May also pledged to give the devolved administrations of the UK an "enhanced role" in the Brexit process - but the day after she gave this commitment the UK Government cancelled a meeting with senior politicians from the Scottish and Welsh Governments.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Scotland's voice, and our overwhelming vote to remain in the EU, have been completely ignored at every turn - indeed, the fact that the UK Government has cancelled Thursday's Joint Ministerial Council on EU Negotiations at the last minute doesn't inspire any confidence that they are keen to hear others' views."

The Scottish First Minister repeated her calls for a second Brexit vote to be held, as well as extending the timetable for the Article 50 talks.

She said: "The time has come for the Brexit clock to be stopped, through a formal extension of Article 50 to allow a second referendum on EU membership to be held. We simply cannot afford to be dragged any closer to the cliff edge of no deal - an outcome which should now be explicitly and definitively ruled out.

"With Brexit only a matter of weeks away, and with MPs emphatically rejecting the Prime Minister's Brexit deal, both Labour and the Tories must agree to put the question to the people."