Scotland politics

Scottish government 'not told' about Article 50 date

Flags outside Holyrood Image copyright PA

Holyrood's Brexit minister has claimed the UK government "forgot" to tell him the date for when it was going to trigger Article 50.

Prime Minister Theresa May said the UK would start the process of leaving the European Union next Wednesday.

The announcement will set in place a two-year negotiation process.

But Michael Russell, who is leading the Scottish government's Brexit talks with Westminster, said he only found out the date when it was reported by the BBC.

Mrs May had previously said that Article 50 would be triggered by the end of March, but the exact date was only confirmed on Monday.

Mr Russell, who is a member of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) on EU negotiations, tweeted: "Thank you @BBCNews for letting JMC members like me know that #Article50 is to be triggered next week".

He added that the UK government "somehow forgot to inform us".

Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish government's external affairs secretary, also said she had not been informed about the Article 50 date.

A spokesman for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "The fact the UK government failed to properly and fully inform all of the devolved administrations on the plans for triggering Article 50 speaks volumes - and totally exposes as empty rhetoric Westminster's language about equal partnership."

Image copyright @feorlean

Mrs May said she had discussed the Article 50 notification with Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones during a visit to Swansea on Monday morning.

She told S4C: "We have been talking with the Welsh government for the past few months and with the other devolved administrations about the process, about the timetable.

"I have always said it would be before the end of March and we will continue talking to them."

Asked later why Mrs May had not informed the Scottish government before announcing the Article 50 date, the prime minister's official spokesman said: "What we have done today is set out the date when we are triggering Article 50.

"As the PM has said, there will be opportunities between now and the actual triggering for more discussions with the devolved nations."

Increasing tension

Scottish Conservative MSP John Lamont said the SNP was guilty of finding "any excuse to complain about a perceived slight".

He added: "It is only a week since Nicola Sturgeon announced her plans for an unwanted, divisive second referendum out of the blue with no prior notice to anyone."

Britain's ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow, informed the office of European Council president Donald Tusk on Monday morning of the prime minister's plans.

It means the UK is expected to leave the EU on 29 March 2019.

The announcement comes amid increasing tension between Edinburgh and London over Brexit after Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced plans to seek to hold a second independence referendum in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Scottish government ministers insist the result gives them a "cast-iron mandate" to stage a second independence referendum.

That is based on the party's manifesto for the 2016 Holyrood elections stating that the referendum should be held if there was a "material change in circumstances" from the 2014 ballot, citing the example of Scotland being removed from the EU against its wishes.

Scotland voted by 62% to 38% in favour of the UK retaining its membership of the EU. The UK as a whole backed Leave by 52% to 48%.

A majority of MSPs are expected to support Ms Sturgeon's call for a fresh referendum to be held in a vote at Holyrood on Wednesday - which will see her government formally request a section 30 order from Westminster, enabling a legally binding referendum to take place.

However, Mrs May has already said "now is not the time" for another ballot on the future of the UK to be held.

And Scottish Secretary David Mundell has insisted that the UK government "will not be entering into discussions or negotiations about a Section 30 agreement" and that any request "at this time" will be declined.