Nicola Sturgeon hits back after Theresa May's Brexit warning to UK leaders

The leaders of the three devolved governments met with British PM earlier today

Nicola Sturgeon hits back after Theresa May's Brexit warning to UK leaders

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon leaves 10 Downing Street in London earlier today | Photo: PA Images

The Scottish First Minister has hit back after Number 10 warned UK leaders not to "undermine" Brexit negotiations.

As British Prime Minister Theresa May met with the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in Downing Street, her spokeswoman was busy warning that the Prime Minister expected them "to no way undermine the UK's position".

The spokeswoman added that there would not be separate deals for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland but one UK-wide approach to negotiations that will see the UK leave the EU.

However, following the meeting Nicola Sturgeon hit back saying she could not undermine a Brexit strategy when she didn't even know what it was.

And she said that she had won agreement to bring forward proposals that would see Scotland retain its membership of the Single Market.

Ms Sturgeon said: "I don't know any more now about the UK government's approach to the negotiations than before I went into the meeting."

She said she had found the meeting "deeply frustrating" and there had been a "frank exchange of views".

The SNP leader said: "What I am not prepared to do, as First Minister, is to stand back and see Scotland driving off a hard Brexit cliff edge because the consequences in lost jobs, lost investment and lower living standards is too serious."  

Ms Sturgeon has called on Mrs May for a "flexible" Brexit arrangement that will allow a different deal for different parts of the UK. 

Her words were echoed by Welsh leader Carwyn Jones, who said: "The scale of the challenge is truly gigantic. Nobody has any details yet as to what happens next.

"We are waiting for the UK government to tell us what its general principles will be in advance of the negotiations in March."

In a statement after the meeting, Mrs May said: "The great union between us has been the cornerstone of our prosperity in the past - and it is absolutely vital to our success in the future.

"The country is facing a negotiation of tremendous importance and it is imperative that the devolved administrations play their part in making it work."

However, briefing journalists before the meeting had ended, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said: "We have been very clear that we should be working together to secure the best possible deal for the whole country.

"We expect representatives of the devolved administrations to act in that way and to in no way undermine the UK's position."

Ms Sturgeon, joined the Welsh leader Carwyn Jones and Northern Irish First Minister Arlene Foster, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness for a two-hour Joint Ministerial Council meeting at Number 10 on Monday morning.

Mrs May offered leaders a "direct line" into David Davis, the Brexit secretary, in a bid to make good on her promise to engage the devolved administrations in her EU exit plans.

Ms Foster said that it was important Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales should be "involved very much in the heart of this process".

The SNP, the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats are all concerned over Mrs May's insistence that immigration controls must be the priority in negotiating Brexit because this means the UK will have to quit membership of the single market, which allows all 28 member states to trade freely and tariff-free with each other.

European leaders have made it very clear that the UK cannot limit immigration from the EU into the UK and remain a member of the free trade area.

The Scottish First Minister told a Scottish National Party conference earlier this month that she would call a second referendum on Scottish independence if the UK government pulled the nation - which voted to remain in the EU - out of the single market as part of Brexit.

Mrs May has refused to be drawn on the sort of deal she is looking for, with the government insisting on Sunday that how the UK leaves the EU will "not boil down to a binary choice".

While clear that Britain must be able to control its borders, the Prime Minister is also hopeful she can secure "access" to the single market - but has yet to spell out how that might work. 

The scale of the challenge Mrs May faces was laid bare at her first EU summit last week when her first speech to fellow leaders was relegated to the end of a six-hour dinner and met with silence - her audience adhering to their refusal to discuss Brexit until the UK formally triggers exit procedures.