Boris Johnson is pursuing a dangerous hardline strategy with EU leaders, with the intention of forcing a no-deal Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon has said following her first face-to-face meeting with the prime minister.
Speaking to reporters immediately after Johnson had left her official residence in Edinburgh, Scotland’s first minister said: “This is a government that is pursing a no-deal strategy, however much they might deny that in public.”
“Behind all of the bluff and bluster, this is a government that is dangerous. The path that it is pursuing is a dangerous one, for Scotland but for all of the UK. He says that he wants a deal with EU but there is no clarity whatsoever about how he thinks he can get from the position now, where he’s taking a very hard line … to a deal.”
Johnson was greeted by boos and heckles from an assembled crowd of pro- independence and anti-Brexit protesters as he arrived at Bute House on Monday afternoon, and chose to leave after the hour-long meeting by an alternative back entrance.
Earlier in the day, Johnson visited the Trident nuclear base at Faslane, where he insisted that he “believed in reaching out” and that the mood amongst EU leaders towards his government was “very very positive”. Meanwhile, his official spokesperson in Westminster told a lobby briefing that he was refusing to sit down for talks with EU leaders until they agreed to ditch the Irish backstop.
Asked about this seeming disconnect, Sturgeon said that she was not sure if this lack of clarity was part of a deliberate approach. She went on: “In taking the hardline position [that he will not negotiate unless the backstop is removed], I don’t see how you can conclude anything other than he either wants a no-deal or is pretty relaxed about a no-deal Brexit.”
Sturgeon said that, from her meeting with Johnson, she had gleaned no real clarity about his plans for meeting other EU leaders. “The only strategy you can get from him is that he thinks the EU is going to blink. But the EU has been very consistent in the position it’s taken, its been very united. If you’re pinning the entire strategy on the belief that suddenly that’s going to change, then that’s doomed to failure, or it’s a strategy that’s destined to fail because you actually want the alternative which is a no-deal Brexit.”
Sturgeon added that the meeting, which was one to one before the leaders were joined by officials, had also involved a “lively exchange of views” about independence.
Asked about the prospect of a second independence vote earlier at Faslane, Johnson refused to state categorically that he would block a second vote but restated his position that the 2014 vote had been “a once in a generation consultation of the people”. He added: “The confidence of the public in politicians would be undermined even further if we were to go back on that.”
Sturgeon, who has already put legislation to enable a second referendum on independence before the Scottish parliament, said that she would consider over the summer whether to accelerate the framework bill and discuss this with MSPs once Holyrood reconvened after the summer recess.
Prior to his meeting with Sturgeon, Johnson met the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who on Sunday issued a defiant challenge to the prime minister, pledging that she will refuse to back a no-deal Brexit.
Johnson heaped praise on her before the meeting, claiming that he was “with Ruth in wanting to avoid a no-deal Brexit”, and describing her as “a fantastic leader”.
Davidson has made no secret of her reservations about the new prime minister, and Johnson infuriated her last week by sacking her ally David Mundell as Scottish secretary, against her advice.
After the meeting, Davidson said that she “wholeheartedly” backed the prime minister’s Brexit strategy.
Davidson said: “First and foremost, the prime minister and I spoke about our shared determination to strengthen the union and to make the case against Nicola Sturgeon’s plans for a second referendum on independence.”
“On Brexit, the prime minister has made clear the government’s preference is to leave the European Union with a deal. I back him wholeheartedly in that aim.”
Asked about Davidson’s no-deal vow, Sturgeon said that the Scottish Conservative leader had “made many bold principled-sounding pronouncements and then quietly fallen into line with the Westminster Tory government”, but acknowledged that she had “difficult circumstances to deal with”.