Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned that the UK could be split apart if it goes ahead with Brexit, but the final two remaining candidates to become prime minister have said they want to prevent a UK break-up.
Theresa May is set to warn her Downing Street successor about the perils of a no-deal Brexit, as she will deliver a speech during her last visit to Scotland as prime minister on Thursday.
According to The Times, the soon-to-retire British PM will also announce a review into the role of the UK government in the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Theresa May will praise devolution as a source of strength for the UK and will urge Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt – the two last men standing in the leadership race – to work to preserve the UK as “an explicit priority of government”.
The review, which will reportedly be led by Lord Dunlop, the former Scotland Office minister, is expected to investigate whether the government needs to keep a higher profile in devolved countries, including by increasing direct spending on cultural projects.
The Guardian has reported, citing government sources, that Theresa May wants the Scotland Office and the Welsh Office to be enlarged rather than merged into a new department.
Last month, lawmakers called for the role of the Scotland Office and the Scottish Secretary to be reviewed, suggesting that the government departments for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could be replaced with a single department for constitutional affairs.
“We’re trying to get a real shift in mindset in Whitehall,” one source was quoted as saying. “The emphasis needs to be not so much on the mechanics of devolution. The emphasis needs to be much more on sustaining the union.”
The review is likely to start only after the Conservative Party decides on May’s successor. The results will be reported in Autumn 2019.
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), said that Theresa May’s review was coming “too little, too late” and would not be able to prevent Scottish independence.
“A desperate act by a Prime Minister who has shown zero respect for the Scottish Parliament during her time in office,” she said of May’s speech. “It’s for the Scottish people – not a Tory PM – to consider and decide what future we want for our Parliament and country.”
Sturgeon, who has proposed a new vote on Scottish independence by 2021 if Britain leaves the EU, said that the Tory party’s ‘high-handed’ attitude toward Scotland under Theresa May has driven the Scots toward departing from the United Kingdom.
“Scotland is heading inexorably towards independence — that will be Theresa May’s legacy,” she said.
A recent YouGov poll has shown that support for Scottish independence is at its highest in four years, as 49 per cent would vote Yes and 51 per cent would say No (at the 2014 referendum, the ratio was 44.7-55.3).
However, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, one of whom will become the UK’s prime minister, both appear unwilling to sign up to another Scottish referendum.
Hunt stated outright that he “would never pay any price if it meant that Scotland would become independent”, describing himself as “the prime minister Nicola Sturgeon does not want”.
Johnson, for his part, argued that “the United Kingdom truly is better together and we must never put that at risk”.