Britain’s quest to leave the European Union is riddled with infighting, and now another domestic political battle looks set to rumble on through the increasingly tricky negotiations.
Barring an 11th-hour deal, the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh is expected to withhold consent on Tuesday for Prime Minister Theresa May’s key Brexit legislation.
The UK Parliament has the right to disregard the vote, but it would add to the disarray that’s loomed over the country since the Brexit referendum almost two years ago.
May is struggling to unite her cabinet over customs arrangements for trade after Brexit, is under threat of a mutiny by some lawmakers and her EU Withdrawal Bill has been torn apart by the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the UK Parliament at Westminster.
Now she’s at risk of having to impose British sovereignty against the will of the Scottish Parliament unless there’s a compromise on what the Scots are calling a “power grab.”
“The Scottish issue is just one among many headaches,” said Akash Paun, senior fellow at the Institute for Government in London. “But I don’t think they should underestimate it. It becomes a bigger issue at the point when the bill is completing its passage through Westminster.”
Scotland voted to remain in the EU after voting to stay a part of the UK in a referendum in 2014. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, whose pro-independence Scottish National Party runs the semi-autonomous government in Edinburgh, vowed straight away to contest Brexit by holding another vote on breaking away from the rest of the UK.
Public talk of defying Brexit, though, dissipated after May’s governing Conservative Party increased support in Scotland in last year’s election, even as she lost her UK parliamentary majority. The SNP had its wings clipped and the narrative shifted to how Scotland can keep the powers it has after Britain leaves the EU.
“The SNP has to wait and see what happens with Brexit,” said Nicola McEwen, politics professor at Edinburgh University.
“If the constitutional issue becomes about devolution and not about independence, then that helps them and not the Conservatives. It becomes about self-governance.”