Nicola Sturgeon’s renewed push for Scottish independence descended into confusion today after her deputy suggested the First Minister could demand breakaway talks with Boris Johnson even if the SNP wins less than half the popular vote at the next general election.
Ms Sturgeon yesterday set out her intention to hold a re-run of the 2014 vote on October 19 next year but there are question marks over whether that vote will go ahead, with the Supreme Court being asked to look at whether the Scottish Parliament can hold the ballot without the permission of the UK Government.
The SNP leader said that if the referendum cannot proceed then she will treat the next general election as a “de facto” referendum.
That has prompted questions about what the SNP would consider as a victory, with senior Scottish Government sources briefing the party would have to achieve more than 50 per cent of the popular vote.
But John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, outlined a different position this morning as he said that Ms Sturgeon would have a mandate to start talks about Scotland separating from the UK if the SNP wins a majority of Scotland’s Westminster seats – 30 out of 59.
That raised the prospect of the First Minister demanding independence talks despite winning less than 50 per cent of the popular vote. However, Mr Swinney subsequently rowed back and suggested he had misheard the question as he insisted a “majority of votes” would be required to declare victory.
Follow the latest updates below.
Steel decision taken ‘in the vital public interest’
Anne Marie-Trevelyan, the International Trade Secretary, said the decision to retain steel tariffs has been taken “in the vital public interest” (see the post below at 12.49).
She told the House of Commons: “The Government has a duty to use its democratic mandate to the greatest possible effect to protect the interests of the British people and provide leadership in these challenging times.
“So on balance we have therefore decided that it is in the vital public interest that government acts to protect the steel sector which is why we have taken the steps that we have.
“We believe that this approach is in the public interest and the decision has been taken collectively and with reference to the ministerial code noting the conflict outlined above.”
Steel decision ‘departs’ from UK’s international legal obligations
The Government’s decision to keep steel tariffs in place will mean the UK “departs from our international legal obligations”, Anne-Marie Trevelyan has told MPs (see the post below at 12.49).
However, she said that “from time to time issues may arise where the national interest requires action to be taken which may be in tension with normal rules or procedures”.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Ms Trevelyan said: “The Government wishes to make it clear to Parliament that the decision to extend the safeguards on the five product categories departs from our international legal obligations under the relevant WTO agreement as relates to the five product categories.
“However, from time to time issues may arise where the national interest requires action to be taken which may be in tension with normal rules or procedures.
“The Government has therefore actively engaged with the interested parties including those outside the UK on the future of the UK safeguards and has listed to the concerns raised.”
Pictured: Queen Elizabeth II holds audience with Nicola Sturgeon
UK Government retaining steel tariffs
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the International Trade Secretary, has announced the Government will keep steel tariffs in place for another two years to try to protect the domestic industry.
She told the House of Commons: “The TRA [Trade Remedies Authority] has since completed additional analysis for my consideration. I have now considered their report of findings and concluded there would be serious injury or the threat of serious injury to UK steel producers if the safeguard on the five additional categories of steel were to be removed at this time.
“Given the broader national interest significance of this strategic UK industry and the global disruptions to the energy markets and supply chains that the UK currently faces we have concluded that it is in the economic interest of the UK to maintain these safeguards to reduce the risk of material harm if they were not maintained. “I am therefore extending the measure on the five steel categories for a further two years until the 30th of June 2024 alongside the other 10 categories.
“This means the safeguard will remain in place on all 15 categories, updated from the 1st of July to reflect recent trade flows.”
SNP claims UK Government is ‘scared of democracy’
Ian Blackford said the Tories “don’t have the right to block Scottish democracy” as he said the UK Government should not stand in the way of another referendum on independence.
The SNP’s leader in Westminster said: “Why is the UK Government scared of democracy? Or is it simply that they have run out of ideas to defend the failing Westminster system?”
Dominic Raab said the SNP has imposed a “huge tax burden” in Scotland, its record on science and maths attainment levels has “dropped below England and Wales” and the country also has the worst drug death rate in Europe.
The Deputy Prime Minister said: “I think the people of Scotland expect their government in Holyrood and in Westminster to work together to tackle the issues facing them in their day to day lives.”
‘It is not the right time for another referendum’
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, said Nicola Sturgeon has “set the date” for a second independence referendum on October 19 next year.
He said: “In the weeks and months ahead we will make the positive case for independence, will the opposition, if they can, make the case for continued Westminster rule?”
Dominic Raab said: “It is not the right time for another referendum given the challenges that we face as one United Kingdom… I think actually the people of Scotland want their two governments to work together and we are keen, willing, enthusiastic, to do so.”
Dominic Raab accuses Angela Rayner of ‘auditioning for leadership’
Angela Rayner asked Dominic Raab: “When will the Deputy Prime Minister finally grow a backbone and tell the Prime Minister the game is up?”
Mr Raab said: “I can’t help thinking that the right honourable lady is auditioning for the leadership contest on that side, not really referring to anything on this side.”
Angela Rayner claims PM is ‘at war’ with Ben Wallace
Angela Rayner referred to Tory MPs expressing concerns about Boris Johnson suggesting he wants to serve three terms as PM.
She then claimed Mr Johnson is “at war with his own Defence Secretary” over defence spending. She said that under the current Government there will be “less troops, less planes and less ships”.
“The only thing the Prime Minister’s interested in is defending his own job,” she said.
Mr Raab rejected the criticism and said: “In fact there is a £24 billion increase for our armed forces, spending for the armed forces is rising to 2.3 per cent of GDP, again making us the largest military spender in Europe and frankly we will take no lessons from the right honourable lady when it comes to the security of this country.”
Dominic Raab attacks Labour over rail strikes stance
Angela Rayner pointed to increasing food bank use and asked Dominic Raab: “How many more working people will be pushed into poverty by his Prime Minister before he says enough is enough?”
Mr Raab would not be drawn on the issue and instead raised last week’s rail strikes in his response.
The Deputy Prime Minister said: “If the Labour Party wants to help working people they should be clear on standing up against these militant, reckless strikes by RMT.”
‘Call a general election and see where the people are’
Angela Rayner has challenged Dominic Raab and the Tories to call an early general election.
She said: “I’d revel in the opportunity for the people of this country to have more than just by-elections to see what they think of this Government opposite.
“Call a general election and see where the people are.”
Mr Raab would not be drawn on the demand.
Angela Rayner and Dominic Raab clash over tax
Angela Rayner imagined a situation where Boris Johnson is still Prime Minister in 2030. Pointing to the tax rises which have been imposed in recent years, she said that “at this rate the British public will have endured 55 tax rises” by the end of the decade.
She asked Dominic Raab: “How many more tax rises will this Government inflict on families before he says ‘enough is enough’?”
Mr Raab rejected the criticism and said the Government is “cutting taxes next month on National Insurance”.
Angela Rayner claims PM has ‘fled the country’
Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, started by congratulating the winners of the Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton by-elections – both seats lost by the Tories last week.
Ms Rayner said it is “no wonder the PM has fled the country and left the honourable member to carry the can”.
She said that Boris Johnson intends to “limp on” into the 2030s and asked whether the Cabinet intends to “prop him up” for that long.
Mr Raab hit back and said: “I gently point out to her that we want this Prime Minister to go on a lot longer than she wants the leader of the Labour Party to go on…”
PMQs now underway
Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, is standing in for Boris Johnson at today’s edition of Prime Minister’s Questions.
Mr Raab will face a grilling from Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader.
Cabinet minister apologised to MPs for missing hearing
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the International Trade Secretary, pulled out of a select committee appearance on this morning to prepare for an announcement on steel tariffs, a spokesman has said (see the post below at 11.52).
The spokesman for the Department for International Trade said: “The International Trade Secretary is in the process of finalising a finely-balanced decision on the steel safeguard by June 30. This is an issue of national strategic importance and she has had to ensure she is able to review the final advice from the department before updating Parliament today.
“She informed the chair of the International Trade Committee last night, apologised for having to cancel and immediately offered an alternative two-hour slot next week. We await the response from the committee.”
Ms Trevelyan is expected to make a statement on the steel safeguards to the House of Commons this afternoon.
MPs accuse Cabinet minister of ‘disrespect’
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the International Trade Secretary, has been accused of showing “disrespect” to MPs after failing to appear before a select committee this morning.
Ms Trevelyan did not attend a meeting of the International Trade Select Committee to discuss the UK’s free trade agreement with Australia.
Deciding to “empty chair” Ms Trevelyan, committee chairman Angus Brendan MacNeil said her decision not to attend had provoked “the unanimous disappointment of all the members of the committee”.
He said: “We feel that this is a disrespect to the committee. We are very disappointed.”
Sir Keir Starmer: Labour rail strike rebels have been ‘dealt with’
Sir Keir Starmer told Labour frontbenchers not to join rail strike picket lines last week but a handful defied the instruction.
Sir Keir has now confirmed that the rebels have been spoken to by the Labour chief whip Alan Campbell – but it appears they have only received a slap on the wrist.
Asked why they had not been sacked from their frontbench roles, the Labour leader said: “I was very clear that a responsible government gets the negotiating parties around the table and that is why I took the approach that I did.
“The Chief Whip has now dealt with those that didn’t follow the advice and that is a perfectly satisfactory outcome.”
‘Already the wheels are falling off the clown car’
Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said “already the wheels are falling off the clown car” as he responded to John Swinney’s comments (see the post below at 11.26).
He said: “First sources close to Nicola Sturgeon suggested she wanted a majority of votes in a future general election to act as a mandate to kick off separation negotiations. Now the Deputy First Minister suggests he wants a majority of Scottish MPs.
“We’re less than 24 hours into the Nationalists’ latest cunning wheeze and already the wheels are falling off the clown car.”
‘SNP is making it up as it goes along’
Pamela Nash, chief executive of the Scotland in Union campaign group, has responded to John Swinney’s comments on what would constitute an SNP victory at the next general election (see the post below at 11.26).
She said: “It took less than 24 hours for Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to plunge into confusion – although she probably wasn’t expecting her top lieutenant to be responsible.
“John Swinney might claim he misheard, but it’s clear that the SNP is making it up as it goes along in a desperate attempt to placate ultra-nationalists. The SNP has given up all pretence of governing.”
Indyref2 case ‘might be decided this autumn’
Lord Sumption, a former Supreme Court justice, told BBC Radio Scotland he expected the court would give the referendum case a “high degree of expedition and might be decided this autumn” as “it clearly can’t be allowed to drag on for that much longer”.
He said: “The Scottish Government’s main difficulty is that the constitutional relations of Scotland with the rest of the UK are a reserved matter, which means that the Scottish Parliament has no power to legislate about it.”
He predicted Ms Sturgeon would argue it was only a “consultative” referendum that would not in itself change the relationship between Scotland and the UK.
But he cited a recent Supreme Court ruling that the SNP had overstepped its powers by attempting to enshrine treaties on child rights and local government into Scots law.
He said: “The difficulty is that the Supreme Court decided last October that whether a matter was reserved, that meant not simply that the Scottish Parliament couldn’t directly legislate upon it, it also meant that they couldn’t legislate in a way that was intended to bring pressure upon the UK authorities on a reserved matter.
“I suspect that that will probably be the principal difficulty in the way of Ms Sturgeon’s application.”
Confusion over Nicola Sturgeon’s Indyref2 plan
Nicola Sturgeon has said she will treat the next general election as a “de facto” referendum on Scottish independence if her actual referendum cannot go ahead next year.
That position has prompted questions about what the SNP would consider a victory. Senior Scottish Government sources briefed the party would have to achieve more than 50 per cent of the popular vote.
But John Swinney, the Scottish Deputy First Minister, suggested this morning that winning a simple majority of Westminster seats – 30 of 59 – would be sufficient to demand talks with Boris Johnson.
Mr Swinney was asked during an interview on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme if winning a majority of Scottish MPs would give Ms Sturgeon a mandate to start talks with the PM and he said: “That is correct, yes.”
That raised the prospect of the First Minister demanding independence talks despite winning less than 50 per cent of the popular vote.
Mr Swinney subsequently rowed back, tweeting: “When @BBCGaryR asked me about a “majority of seats” this morning on #bbcgms, I only picked up on “majority”. Referenda, including de facto referenda at a UK General Election, are won with a majority of votes. Nothing else.”
Pictured: Nato leaders pose for family photograph in Madrid
Ben Wallace: Putin has ‘small man syndrome’
Boris Johnson has said Vladimir Putin is an example of “toxic masculinity” and the Russian President would not have invaded Ukraine if he was a woman.
Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, was asked this morning if he agreed with Mr Johnson’s assessment of Mr Putin.
He told LBC Radio: “I certainly think President Putin’s view of himself and the world is a small man syndrome, macho view.”
He added: “I also think you rarely hear the phrase small woman syndrome, you always hear small man syndrome, and I think he has certainly got it in spades.
“I think that the real challenge here is the Russian system’s view that somehow some states are lesser than others, their rights don’t count and if they want to paint themselves into a new history they seem to think the way to do that is through violence and invasion and I think that’s something to worry about.”
‘Nicola Sturgeon has some brass neck’
Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow levelling up secretary, has criticised Nicola Sturgeon’s new push for another referendum on Scottish independence.
Asked if Labour supported the move, Ms Nandy told Sky News: “No. I think Nicola Sturgeon has some brass neck. She and her friends in the SNP were the ones who said that the independence referendum was a once in a generation chance to settle the question and what she has done in the last 24 hours is nothing to do with the interests of Scotland it is to do with the interest of the SNP.
“She is launching an election bid. There are 700,000 people on waiting lists in Scotland for NHS treatment. If I were in charge in Scotland I would be looking very seriously at how to tackle that crisis. This is the thing that is keeping families in Scotland awake at night and she ought to be focusing on that.”
Liz Truss warns Beijing against Taiwan ‘miscalculation’
Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, has warned China that any attempt to invade Taiwan would be a “catastrophic miscalculation”.
Speaking at the Nato summit in Madrid, Ms Truss said Beijing was in danger of making the same mistake that Russian President Vladimir Putin made in Ukraine.
She said that Western allies needed to ensure Taiwan – which China has long claimed – has the means to defend itself from attack.
“I do think that with China extending its influence through economic coercion and building a capable military there is a real risk that they draw the wrong idea that results in a catastrophic miscalculation such as invading Taiwan,” she said.
PM: Putin ‘proved completely wrong’ on Nato
Boris Johnson said Vladimir Putin had been “proved completely wrong” in his hopes to reduce Nato dominance as Finland and Sweden moved a step closer to joining the defence alliance.
Arriving at the Nato summit in Madrid, the Prime Minister said: “The first lesson really from today is that if Vladimir Putin was hoping he would be getting less Nato on his western front as a result of his unprovoked, illegal invasion of Ukraine, he’s been proved completely wrong – he’s getting more Nato.
“This is a historic summit in many ways, but we’ve already got two new members coming in, Finland and Sweden, a huge step forward for our alliance.
“And what we’re going to be doing now is talking about what more we can do as an alliance to support the Ukrainians but what we also need to do to make sure that we think about the lessons of the last few months and the need for Nato to revise its posture on its eastern flank.”
You can read the latest on Finland and Sweden joining Nato here.
‘Stronger mandate’ for Indyref2 than there was for Brexit vote
Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, has claimed that there is a “stronger mandate” for a second referendum on Scottish independence “than there ever was” for holding a vote on leaving the European Union.
She told Sky News: “This is about democratic choice. It is not up to me whether Scotland becomes independent but it is up to me to fulfil the promise I made to people in Scotland and was elected on to offer people that choice.
“You can quote opinion polls, I can quote opinion polls back at you but what I am actually standing on is the outcome of a democratic election.
“There is a stronger mandate for an independence referendum in the Scottish Parliament than there ever was for a Brexit referendum in the UK Parliament. A majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament support a referendum so if we are a democracy then that should be respected.”
‘Circumstances have changed since 2014’
Nicola Sturgeon has defended her push to hold another referendum on Scottish independence as she said “circumstances” have changed since the first vote in 2014.
Told that the first vote was supposed to be a “once in a generation” event, the SNP leader told Sky News: “In 2014 at the last referendum, now almost a decade ago, those of us arguing for independence, yes, said to people make sure you don’t lose this opportunity, we might never get the chance again.
“But no politician can stand in the way of democracy. Democracy is not a single fixed moment in time.
“People in a democracy have the right to change their minds if circumstances change and nobody can argue that circumstances have not changed since 2014.”
Pictured: PM holds talks with Australian counterpart
Boris Johnson has held talks with new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the Nato summit in Madrid, Spain.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The leaders agreed on the importance of supporting Ukraine and ensuring Putin’s vainglorious conquest ends in failure. Protecting human rights and territorial sovereignty is in everyone’s interests, and the ramifications of Putin’s action and our response will be felt around the world.
“The Prime Minister and Prime Minister Albanese both welcomed the AUKUS pact, which is promoting stability and security across the Indo-Pacific. They looked forward to working more together to boost prosperity and create jobs in both our countries, including when the UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement comes into force.
“The Prime Minister welcomed Australia’s enhanced climate NDC. The leaders agreed that Australia has incredible potential to be a world-leader in the use of renewables and make the hyper leap away from coal and other fossil fuels. The leaders also agreed on the need to help developing countries grow in a clean and sustainable way.”
Defence Secretary confirms No 10 made changes to speech
The Telegraph revealed that Downing Street intervened to water down calls for higher defence expenditure from a speech delivered by Ben Wallace yesterday.
Mr Wallace told Times Radio that No 10 had simply wanted to ensure that he did not pre-empt something which Boris Johnson was due to say at the Nato summit in Madrid.
“There were some words in my speech that were taken out because the Prime Minister is going to say them today,” he said.
“I think the centre just wanted to make sure that he said it before the Defence Secretary said it. It is perfectly legitimate. It was his words. There is nothing conspiracy in it, I’m afraid.”
Ben Wallace criticises ‘desperate’ Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon is “desperate” to hold another referendum on Scottish independence as soon as possible because “time is running out” as more people realise staying in the United Kingdom is a “better option”, Ben Wallace claimed this morning.
Ms Sturgeon yesterday announced she is referring her bid to hold another vote to the Supreme Court and that she hopes to hold the ballot on October 19 next year (you can read the full story here).
Mr Wallace said Ms Sturgeon “hasn’t actually done her job of delivering for the people of Scotland” and continued: “Instead she is desperate, I think, now to have a second referendum even though all the promises, the referendum is a once in a generation, well, there was a referendum it was all pretty much handed over to the Scottish parliament to decide on everything from its wording to its timing.
“They had the referendum, they lost the referendum and instead of then saying ‘ok, hands up, let’s try and see if there is a better way, let’s try and better the people of Scotland’s experience with public services’ she has just banged on on the same one trick pony.
“I think the problem for Nicola is time is running out and I think she knows because for all the sort of spin she put on separation she knows that every day that goes past, every day further away from her referendum zeal or the division that she stoked up the first time around, the people are feeling that belonging to the United Kingdom is probably a better option.”
Ben Wallace: UK must remain ‘leader in the pack’
Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said he wants to make sure the UK remains the “leader in the pack” when it comes to meeting the pledge for Nato members to spend at least two per cent of their GDP on defence.
He said: “Overall, we have been the leader, I am determined that we stay the leader in the pack of that defence spend and that is why I am keen we address the post-2024 period.”
UK military needs ‘greater investment’ post-2024
Ben Wallace said he is locked in discussions with Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak about what should happen to the defence budget beyond 2024.
The Defence Secretary said if the UK wants to “maintain its leadership role” on the world stage in the future then “we are going to have to see probably greater investment”.
He told Sky News: “Post-2024 is really the discussions I have with the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. I feel and I said in a speech yesterday that the security of this country is vital, the work the men and women of our armed forces do is incredibly important.
“We have all basked in their success in helping with Covid, with Afghanistan Op Pitting, and now leading from the front on Ukraine and I think that means that Britain wants to maintain its leadership role post-2024 we are going to have to see probably greater investment.
“We have spent 40 years nearly taking a peace dividend out of the end of the Cold War, sometimes it is important to invest.”
‘In the here and now, absolutely, we have enough money’
Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, insisted that at the moment the Minister of Defence’s budget is sufficient – he is looking for more money in the middle of the decade.
He told Sky News: “I am the Defence Secretary in a department, all departmental heads will say they want more money, of course.
“In the here and now, absolutely, we have enough money, we have enough money for next year as well. What you discover in government in different departments is despite getting sums you have got to then spend them properly and I have been determined to make sure we are spending our money and getting it out the door.
“I think what you will see across a whole range of government departments is that despite settlements you can’t immediately start building a hospital or immediately start building roads.
“That is no different for defence. So look, for the here and now and for that comprehensive spending review settlement we are absolutely in the right place.”
Ben Wallace piles pressure on PM with fresh call for more defence spending
Boris Johnson will today call on other Nato members to “dig deep” and increase defence spending targets beyond the current level of two per cent of GDP (you can read the full story here).
But his rallying call threatens to be undermined by a domestic row over how much the UK should spend on defence.
Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, yesterday publicly called for a funding boost which Mr Johnson is resisting.
Mr Wallace repeated the call this morning, telling Sky News: “I am just really keen that we recognise that my settlement was done before Russia invaded Ukraine.
“Russia is very, very dangerous now on the world stage, the world is less secure than it was two, three years ago and is not looking likely to change for the rest of the decade.
“I think that’s an important moment in the middle of the decade to say we should commit to increase funding.”
Good morning and welcome to today’s politics live blog.
The main issue of the day is defence spending with Ben Wallace piling the pressure on Boris Johnson to boost investment in the UK’s armed forces as both men attend a crunch Nato summit in Madrid.
Meanwhile, there continues to be fallout from Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement yesterday that she has referred her bid to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence to the Supreme Court.
We also have PMQs at noon which will see Dominic Raab face a grilling from Angela Rayner as he stands in for the PM.
There is lots going on and I will guide you through the developments.