BY KATE MCCANN
Theresa May has ruled out Nicola Sturgeon’s plans for a new Scottish independence referendum before Brexit, but postponed triggering Article 50 after the First Minister’s demands caught her by surprise.
In a day of high drama, Ms Sturgeon appeared to wrong-foot No 10 when she announced she would set the wheels in motion for a second referendum next week, and insisted the ballot should take place between autumn 2018 and spring 2019 – while the Brexit negotiations are still going on.
The Prime Minister issued a stern rebuke, telling her “politics is not a game”, and accusing her of “tunnel vision”.
Sources close to Mrs May said she would not allow a referendum until several months after Britain’s EU exit.
Hours after Mrs May’s riposte, Downing Street made the unexpected announcement that the Prime Minister will not now invoke Article 50 before March 27.
The Article 50 Bill is expected to receive royal assent from the Queen this morning, and it had been widely anticipated that Mrs May would choose today to make the historic announcement. Whitehall departments had been told to work to a March 14 deadline.
Downing Street yesterday insisted that the Prime Minister had always intended to wait until the end of the month, but Ms Sturgeon’s announcement left Mrs May scrambling to seize back the initiative.