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Nicola Sturgeon says ‘difficult’ Theresa May will struggle with Brexit talks
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Nicola Sturgeon says ‘difficult’ Theresa May will struggle with Brexit talks
SNP leader talks of frustration in dealing with PM and says she will not push for independence referendum until EU deal is decided
Anushka Asthana and Severin Carrell
Tuesday 6 June 2017 21.30 BST Last modified on Wednesday 7 June 2017 08.15 BST
Nicola Sturgeon has said that Theresa May is a “very difficult person to establish rapport with” and someone whose character is such that will she will struggle in Brexit negotiations.
The first minister of Scotland, who is also leader of the Scottish National party, said she did not know the prime minister well enough to know “whether I like her or not” but claimed that in professional dealings May compared unfavourably with her predecessor as Conservative leader.
“Now OK, we’re miles apart politically but then so too were David Cameron and I, but we still managed to find a way of working that respected each other’s positions. We found a way of being civil,” she said.
Sturgeon said she believed the public were now witnessing the types of frustrations she had felt in recent meetings with May, in which she found the prime minister very difficult to engage with. “You literally go into a one-to-one with her and it’s like she’s reading from a script than having a conversation.”
She said that dealing with critical situations such as Brexit or the recent terror attacks required politicians to build a “working relationship that completely transcends any political differences”.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian during her final campaign push, Sturgeon also:
Admitted that she would not be pushing to hold a second independence referendum until the future trading relationship between the UK and EU has been decided, saying “none of us actually know” when that will be.
Said she believed May would emerge from this election weakened whatever the actual result, and was probably wishing she had never called it.
Said she believed that she was closer politically to Jeremy Corbyn on a number of policies than Scotland’s Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, was.
Sturgeon appeared to back away from a 2019 deadline for a second independence referendum, set out during a major speech in March on the eve of Britain triggering article 50, by admitting that she was sceptical about May’s stated two-year timetable for Brexit.
She said the Scottish people should vote again on whether to break away from the UK “when the [Brexit] deal is done, when we know the relationship, not just the divorce deal, but the relationship between the UK and the EU moving forward.
“Theresa May has said explicitly – and I readily concede there’s a lot of scepticism about this – but she has said that that will be before the UK exits in spring 2019. Which is why I have talked in that timeframe.
“If it takes longer than that, then it will be longer than that before we are at the end of the Brexit process.”
She said she realised that European figures had different ambitions for when trade talks would be complete, adding: “I think in all honesty none of us actually know at the moment.”
Pressed again on whether that meant any referendum could be delayed if trade talks stretched beyond the 2019 article 50 deadline, she added: “Once you know the terms of the relationship. It has got to be an informed choice for people.”
Sturgeon also hit out at May for distracting politicians from the Brexit talks and then basing her election campaign on the urgency of negotiations starting 11 days after Thursday’s vote. “Did she only find that out after she called the election? It does seem a pretty bizarre argument to underline the importance of the Brexit negotiations and the imminence of the start of the negotiations when she took the decision to call an election that has dominated, presumably, her time and everyone else’s time for the past two months.”
The SNP leader argued that the Tory campaign had “descended into complete farce” when the prime minister refused to take part in television debates because she was busy preparing for Brexit. “Come on,” she said.
Sturgeon said she would continue to fight for Scotland’s voice to be included in Brexit talks, including over a push for a differential immigration system.
She said Tory plans to crack down on free movement would be extremely damaging for Scotland, and had been something she had tried to raise with the UK government. “You get from Whitehall a sort of nodding of the head, recognising the problem, but a brick wall when it comes to any kind of contemplating this solution.”
She also said she had been “astounded” by how unprepared May had been for the election campaign, in which the Tories have faced a backlash over social care plans.
“I think almost regardless of the outcome, [May is] going to come out of this election weakened. I can’t believe that she’s doing anything other right now than wishing she hadn’t called the election in the first place,” she said.
Sturgeon is basing her campaign on a call for a progressive alliance north of the border that she hopes will see the SNP squeeze the Labour and Liberal Democrat vote. “We were first or second in every constituency in the country – a vote for Labour or the liberals in Scotland risks splitting the anti-Tory vote. In some constituencies it risks letting a Tory MP in the back door.”
However, asked if that meant SNP voters should vote for Labour in places where it was better set to win, for example in the Edinburgh South seat which has been held by Ian Murray, she said: “No, they should vote SNP.” She argued her party could win that seat.
She also said it was not for her to advise people outside Scotland how to vote, but did hint at a preference for tactical voting in other parts of the UK. “If you are asking me what people who want to defeat a Tory government should do then look at how best to defeat a Tory MP.”
However, Sturgeon was clear that her party wanted to drive Labour out of Scotland, where they have described it as a two-horse race between themselves and the Conservatives.
She has tried to depict Scottish Labour as cosying up to the Tories on an anti-independence ticket, and also questioned whether it represented the national party.
“Scottish Labour have until very recently been of the view that Jeremy Corbyn has been the worst thing ever,” she said, adding that her politics were closer to the Labour leader’s than Dugdale’s on a number of policies.
Sturgeon insisted that she was not worried about her own personal approval ratings falling. “Approval ratings go up and down for leaders … they compare favourably to any UK leader right now whether that’s May, Corbyn, any of the Scottish leaders,” she said.
And she said the SNP was holding up well, saying it was laughable for critics suggest that it was “apocalyptic that after 10 years in government that your party ratings have gone as low as 41% … let’s just get real here”.