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Scottish parliament rejects Brexit in non-binding vote

Kate Brady
February 7, 2017

Scotland's devolved parliament has officially opposed Westminster's march towards Brexit. The outcome of the vote could now serve as a basis for a second referendum for Scottish independence.

EU and Scottish flags
Image: Getty Images/JJ.Mitchell

With 90 votes to 34, Scottish parliament voted overwhelmingly against triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on Tuesday - with most of the votes against coming from UK Prime Minister Theresa May's own party, the Conservatives.

Britain Presents Brexit Plan

British lawmakers in Westminster are currently debating legislation which will start the Brexit process. The Scottish government argues, however, that the draft bill should not proceed, as Westminster has allegedly failed to set the necessary provisions with the devolved administrations (of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) on reaching a UK-wide approach on Brexit. 

'Far more than symbolic'

Ahead of Tuesday's non-binding vote, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was one of the most important in the semi-autonomous parliament's 18-year history.

"This vote is far more than symbolic. It is a key test of whether Scotland's voice is being listened to and whether our wishes can be accommodated within the UK process," Sturgeon said.

Soon after the vote, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the result on Twitter, writing that Scottish parliament had voted "overwhelmingly" against triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Although the vote was non-binding, Tuesday's outcome could now serve as groundwork for a second referendum for Scottish independence. The UK's Supreme Court ruled last month that the launch of Brexit talks with the EU must be approved by the British parliament, but that May has no legal obligation to consult the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, prior to the 2014 Scottish referendum - which saw 55 percent of the Scottish population vote in favor of remaining part of the UK - Scotland was told it would be an "equal partner" in the British union if it rejected independence.

Almost two years later in June's EU referendum, Scotland voted to remain in the EU by 62 percent, but was outvoted by England which has a vastly larger population. In total, 52 percent of the UK population voted in favor of Brexit, leaving the country divided in the aftermath.

Asked on Thursday whether London would facilitate plans for a second Scottish independence referendum before 2020, UK Defense Minister Michael Fallon told Scottish paper the Herald: "No, forget it."

After later being challenged again, during a live interview with BBC Radio Scotland, Fallon answered: "We've made it clear that there's no need for a second referendum."

MPs to vote on Brexit deal

Ahead of the Scottish parliament's vote on Tuesday, the UK government appeared to bow to opposition pressure, as Brexit Minister David Jones announced that MPs will get to vote on the Brexit deal before it is "concluded" and before the European Parliament votes on it.

Jones told the House of Commons that the vote will cover Britain's withdrawal arrangements and its future relationship with the EU.

Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, described the announcement as a "huge and very important concession," but demanded more details.

Britain's Conservative government wants to pass the bill through parliament by early March and trigger the two-year EU divorce process by March 31.

Infograph showing how the UK voted in the EU referendum