With Article 50 expected to be triggered any day now, starting the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union, and Scottish nationalists calling for an independence referendum, now’s the time for the country to work together rather than look at ways of separating, the Conservative chairman of a leading parliamentary sub-committee told CNBC.
“I think the Scottish National Party (SNP) have got to recognize that actually we now need to come together as a country – the United Kingdom needs to really work hard for all of the United Kingdom,” Baroness Verma, chairman of the EU External Affairs Sub-Committee, told CNBC Tuesday.
On Monday, Scotland’s First Minister and SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, confirmed she was going to seek parliamentary approval to call a fresh referendum on Scotland’s independence.
In her speech, Sturgeon outlined that Scotland – who voted to stay in the EU – should be given a choice between becoming independent or opting for a “hard Brexit”, adding that she expected a referendum to happen sometime between the fall of 2018 to the spring of 2019.
Following Sturgeon’s speech, Irish republican political party Sinn Féin and Wales’ Plaid Cymru party voiced similar comments on protecting the rights of each country’s citizens.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May went on to respond to Sturgeon’s speech, saying that the majority of Scottish people didn’t want a second independence referendum and that “politics is not a game”.
Speaking to CNBC, Baroness Verma said the planned Scottish referendum wouldn’t help the Brexit negotiations and that it was time “to get on with the real debate” – securing a good deal for the U.K. once it is outside the EU.
“This referendum that the SNP are now wanting — or expecting to have — really doesn’t help the negotiations. And it really doesn’t help the rest of the United Kingdom either. Doesn’t help the Scottish people. So I think we really do need to come together.”
“We’ve had the referendums, the outcomes were there and now it’s time to get on with the real debate and the real debate is the best outcomes for us as a United Kingdom, but also our relationship not just with the rest of the world, but our continuing relationship – which is an important one – with the European Union.”
Late Monday, the U.K. parliament chose to back the so-called Brexit bill, clearing the way for the U.K. government to start formal exit talks.
The House of Lords recently tried to make two key amendments to the Brexit bill, calling on the Prime Minister to give lawmakers more power on the final terms of Brexit, and guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the U.K.
Both conditions however were voted against by members of the House of Commons during Monday’s debate. With parliament having now backed the Brexit bill, it is expected that the U.K. will trigger Article 50 by the end of March.
“I think the Prime Minister has always been quite clear that it will take place before the end of March. I don’t think she’s demonstrated that there’s going to be any change in that timetable – it’s up to her at the end of the day whether she triggers it today, tomorrow, at the end of March,” said Baroness Verma.
“But I think ultimately, what we need to do now is to really get on with the debate of making sure that the outcomes are the best outcomes of the negotiations for the whole of the U.K.”