NICOLA Sturgeon has signalled a delay to her long-awaited decision on whether to call a second independence referendum because of mounting uncertainty over Brexit.

The First Minister said she had a “huge amount of scepticism” that the UK Government would produce enough detail on Brexit and future relations with the EU by the autumn. 

After previously promising a “precise timetable” on another vote, she said she now didn’t know what she would say when she updated MSPs on her plans in October. 

Ms Sturgeon indicated the shift after a 30-minute meeting with Theresa May in Edinburgh, in which she said she gleaned almost nothing new from the Prime Minister.

“You’ve got a government that I don’t think knows what it’s doing from one day to the next on Brexit,” she said, after pressing Mrs May on her Plan B if Brexit negotiations break down.

Asked about the implications for her scheduled update on a second referendum, she said: “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’ll see where we get to in October. 

“My focus is on trying to use whatever influence I can to get us into a position where the whole of the UK is not taking a massive leap off a cliff-edge next March with a blindfold on. 

“Presumably when we get to October I’ll give an update. What the content of that update is, by definition, I don’t know right now.”


Ms Sturgeon stressed her decision depended not just on the UK striking a withdrawal agreement, but also on it setting out detailed plans for future relations with  Brussels, a recently added pre-condition. 

She said: “The Prime Minister said she is still planning to be in a position where there is a detailed statement on the future relationship in October. I’ll leave everybody to draw their own conclusions as to how we get from here to there, given the state of things just now, but that’s what she’s just told me, so we’ll see where we get to.”

The First Minister called a second referendum in March 2017 because of Brexit, but then “reset” her plans after the SNP lost a third of its MPs in the general election. 

In June last year, she said she planned to update MSPs on “the precise timetable for offering people a choice over the country’s future” this autumn, although this was contingent on the UK finishing its negotiations with the EU, “when the terms of Brexit will be clearer”.

Ms Sturgeon also said she could not back Mrs May’s Chequers deal for a soft Brexit that kept common rules on goods and agri-foods but not services or migration.

She would not support a deal that “shafted” Scotland’s service-based economy, she said.


After talking with Mrs May, Ms Sturgeon said it was still unclear if the Chequers plan was a starting point for talks with Europe or a final offer, and she feared there was an “awful long distance” between the UK and Europe on avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland.

Ms Sturgeon also attacked former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson over his remarks that Muslim women wearing the veil look like “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”.

She said the comments were a “disgraceful” and deliberate “dog whistle” to the right, and urged Mrs May to condemn Mr Johnson’s “Islamophobia”.

However in a media briefing, Mrs May repeatedly refused to condemn Mr Johnson’s words in those terms, saying merely that they had caused offence and merited an apology.

Mrs May and Ms Sturgeon’s meeting, convened on the margins of a signing ceremony for a £1.2bn City Deal for Edinburgh, was their first face-to-face encounter since March.

In the months since, relations between Edinburgh and London have nosedived because of profound disagreements over devolution and the constitution, including a UK challenge at the Supreme Court on the validity of Holyrood’s alternative Brexit Bill.

After the meeting, Mrs May insisted the Chequers plan would deliver a good deal for all of the UK, and called on the SNP to get behind it, not “sow division”. 

She said: “We have set out a clear proposal in the Chequers plan that delivers on the Brexit vote while protecting jobs and livelihoods in the UK. That’s important for all parts of the UK.  

“We’re negotiating [with the EU] as the United Kingdom.  I think it’s incumbent on all parts of the United Kingdom to be supporting the proposals that we’re putting forward in their interaction with Brussels.
“I think it’s important we see those proposals being supported rather than, sadly, what I fear what we see here, which is an attempt to sow the politics of division.”

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said on Sunday, who previously predicted a deal would be the “easiest in the world”, said the odds of a chaotic no deal were now 60-40.


Mrs May ducked questions on whether she agreed with his assessment.
Ms Sturgeon said on Monday the negotiating “scare tactic” only made a no deal more likely. 

Official analyses have suggested a no deal, in which the UK crashed out of the EU with a future relationship on trade and customs agreed, could damage the economy, lead to log-jams at the ports, create food and drug shortages, and potentially lead to civil unrest.

Professor Sir John Curtice of Strathclyde University said he expected a second referendum to be “kicked into the long grass”.

He told the Courier newspaper: “It’s very contingent on Brexit. I think at the moment the odds are against it, but probably only marginally.”

He said if the SNP was planning a referendum, Ms Sturgeon would have been much more politically active this summer, rather than keeping a fairly low profile.

He added: “If you make the assumption that Ms Sturgeon wants to remain first minister until at least May 2021 – and if you also make the not unreasonable assumption that if she holds an early referendum and loses she’s out – you can see that she has a strong disincentive at the moment to go (for Indyref2).”

Ms Sturgeon said she respected Prof Curtice but he “does not live inside my head”.

Mrs May would almost certainly reject another call for a second independence referendum if Ms Sturgeon were to ask for one, especially given her reliance on the DUP at Westminster.

However even a rejection could be useful to Ms Sturgeon, as she could claim it as evidence of the UK treating Scotland with contempt in the run-up to the 2021 Holyrood election.