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Scotland’s Sturgeon on why failure to reach a Brexit deal would be ‘catastrophic’

The United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union in just seven weeks but still has no plan for the departure. In fact, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, says the UK is “not remotely prepared” to extricate itself from the EU. Sturgeon sits down with Amna Nawaz to discuss the dire implications of a so-called hard Brexit and why she is advocating for a new Scottish independence vote.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    At the end of March, the United Kingdom is supposed to leave the European Union, nearly three years after British voters approved Brexit. But, in Scotland, most of the electorate voted against leaving.

    Enter Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon. She's now trying to chart a course for Scotland in circumstances she can't entirely control. Today, she brought her case to Washington.

    With just seven weeks left until the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is raising the alarm. She spoke today at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    The U.K. is simply not remotely prepared to leave the E.U. in 53 days' time. And that's been obvious for a while now. So the U.K. government should ask the E.U. to agree to put back the planned date for Brexit.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Sturgeon is one of Brexit's harshest critics, and recently joined those calling for a second Brexit referendum.

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    I think the only credible option for the U.K. now is to put this back to the electorate. The government Parliament has failed, and we can't go on hoping for the unicorn to appear out of nowhere.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In the first referendum, over 60 percent of Scots voted to remain in the E.U. That followed a 2014 vote in which Scots voted against Scottish independence, partly due to benefits from Britain's membership in the E.U.

    But Sturgeon said Scottish voices have since been sidelined and ignored.

  • Man:

    Order!

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For now, the Brexit process is in chaos. The deal British Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with the E.U. was rejected by Parliament. May returns to Brussels next week in a bid to renegotiate. But time is running out. And every day, the clock ticks closer to Britain crashing out, leaving the E.U. with no transition period and no deal.

    That possibility has the United Kingdom, including Scotland, bracing for what comes next.

    I sat down with First Minister Sturgeon earlier today.

    First Minister, thank you so much for making the time to speak with us.

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    You're welcome.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, you have said today the U.K. is not remotely prepared to leave the E.U. on March 29.

    So, in the absence of a deal, what is your priority? Do you want to see an extension of that deadline, or would you like to see another referendum on if or how to leave the E.U.?

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    What has to happen now, regardless of what else happens, in my view, is that there should be a request for an extension.

    And, actually, I think that should happen whether there is a deal or not. Probably, the U.K. doesn't have time now to do all the legislative steps it needs to do in order to prepare for leaving the E.U., because it's taken so long to get to a deal, and it hasn't even got to that stage yet.

    So, increasingly, I think an extension is required, regardless of what then happens after that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Do you think there's any chance that by the deadline any kind of deal is reached?

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    Well, there's a chance a deal will be reached by the deadline.

    But it's certainly possible that there will be a deal — even if there is a deal, there is a question of whether the U.K. can then take all of the practical steps necessary to put that in place, to allow Brexit to happen on the 29th of March.

    But if there's not a deal, and it looks like the U.K. could leave without a deal, that would be catastrophic, and in those circumstances, certainly asking for an extension should be infinitely preferable to a allowing a no deal Brexit to occur.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You say catastrophic. Explain to me, what do you think the ramifications would be for Scotland if the U.K. were to crash out of the E.U. without a deal in place? What would happen?

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    Well, much of how the U.K., not just Scotland, but much of how the U.K. trades right now is dependent on the European rules and regulations.

    The ability of planes to fly from the U.K. across different European countries is dependent on E.U. rules and regulations, issues like medicine supplies. So, across almost every aspect of life, it would be very difficult for us to get goods to market. It would be difficult for in the short term for us to import goods. That's why there are lots of concerns in the U.K. about potential food shortages if there is no deal, medicine shortages, and lots of contingency planning has been done to try to mitigate against that.

    And all of that really reinforces the view that it would be an abdication of responsibility for any government to allow that situation to transpire.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, you mentioned contingencies.

    We should point out, in the recent weeks, that the Scottish Parliament has been rushing through dozens of pieces of legislation to specifically to do that, to try to protect Scottish interests in the case that there isn't a deal…

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    Right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … by the deadline.

    Tell me a little bit about what those interests are that you're trying to protect and to what degree those do protect Scottish interests. How far do those go?

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    If there is no deal, then the day after we leave, almost the minute we leave, all of the rules and regulations that govern how we trade and interact with the European Union cease to have any effect.

    Now, there's a lot of work being done to replace European laws with domestic laws. There's a lot of contingency planning under way to try to mitigate some of the worst impacts of that. But it's not going to be possible to completely mitigate the impacts of that, which is why no deal should simply not be allowed to happen.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Some folks will say, the longer the uncertainty around Brexit goes on, it benefits you to some degree, as someone who said that you're willing to call for another independence referendum, which Scotland had back in 2014.

    The majority voted against it, right, voted against independence. Why would you be willing to call for that vote again? What makes you think the result would be any different today than it was in 2014?

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    Well, I will come to that in a second, but let me take the premise of your question that somehow it is in my interest for there to be chaos and uncertainty in the U.K.

    I mean, it's really not, because if that chaos and uncertainty harms the U.K., by extension, by definition, it harms people in Scotland as well. And I don't want to see that happen.

    But to your question of why should there be another independence referendum in Scotland, well, if you think back to 2014, when we had the independence referendum, the campaign that argued against independence, the premise of their argument was that the U.K. was a partnership of equal nations, that we all had an equal say.

    There was also an argument in that referendum that, if Scotland became independent, we'd get thrown out of the European Union and have to reapply for membership.

    Fast-forward four years, and Scotland's interests and voice within the U.K. is being ignored. We voted not to leave the E.U., and yet we face being taken out anyway. And that's all happening because we're not independent, because we don't have the ability to take our own decisions and make our own voice heard.

    So circumstances have changed materially since 2014. And when the time is right for Scotland to look again at the question of independence, I think would be the right thing to allow it to do.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    When do you think that time would be right?

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    Well, I think we have to follow the process that is currently under way to reach some conclusion.

    What that conclusion will be remains to be seen. And then take a decision based on a calm consideration of what's in Scotland's best interests. And that's what I would do. So I'm not going to say right know what I think the best timing would be.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You have said before though, First Minister, that Scottish interests have been ignored in the Brexit process. You said that your parliamentary powers have been eroded.

    Why not just go ahead and call for an independence referendum now, if you think that Scottish interests have already suffered?

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    Clearly, if people in Scotland are being asked, given the opportunity to look again at the independence question, they have a right to have as much information as possible about what — if Scotland chooses to be independent, what our relationships will be with the rest of the U.K. and with Europe.

    And some of the answers to those questions inevitably depend on the Brexit outcome to some extent. And, therefore, I think it's in the interest of allowing an informed decision to be taken about independence that we allow some of that clarity to emerge.

    Brexit is a good example of what happens when people take, in some respects, an uninformed decision about a big change. And when people, as I believe they will in due course, opt for Scotland to be an independent country, that should be on the basis of a genuinely informed decision about all of the implications and consequences.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    While you're here in the U.S., I do want to ask you about the American president, Donald Trump.

    You have been a critic of his policies before. You called some of his previous comments abhorrent. I think, even in your — in your remarks today, you quoted former President Obama, but did not reference President Trump.

    I know you're not meeting with him on this trip. Are there any plans to meet with him? And what is the message that you would hope to deliver?

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    Well, firstly, I would never rule out meeting with President Trump.

    The fact that we disagree — and I think we disagree on lots of things and I take a very different view on many things to President Trump — shouldn't get in the way of the fact that, as long as I'm first minister and he's president, the interests of our countries mean that sometimes we would have to talk and meet.

    So, I certainly would not take a position of ruling that out. I think he's probably a bit preoccupied with the State of the Union address tomorrow night for me to meet him on this trip. He is somebody who has business interests in Scotland. His mother was Scottish. So I'm sure we will see him in Scotland again over the next period.

    But my message is, the ties between Scotland and the United States are longstanding, and they are very strong, and they're very important to Scotland.

    And regardless of the personality of the president or the first minister at any given time, it's strengthening and deepening those economic and social and cultural and family links that we should concentrate on, and not allow political disagreements between two leaders to get in the way of that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, thank you very much for your time.

  • Nicola Sturgeon:

    Thank you.

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