Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she is prepared to push for a possible second referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom as the U.K. prepares to begin negotiations on leaving the European Union.

The U.K. narrowly voted to leave the EU in June, but Scotland’s voters overwhelmingly voted to remain, creating further tension between the devolved Scottish government and the U.K. government in Westminster.

“I am determined that Scotland will have the ability to reconsider the question of independence and to do so before the U.K. leaves the EU if that is necessary to protect our country’s interest,” Sturgeon said Thursday at a Sottish National Party conference.

Key points:

  • Scotland voted against independence in 2014, with 55 percent voting to remain part of the U.K. That was before the “Brexit” referendum in June, however, and Sturgeon said that a second independence referendum bill would be published for consultation this week.
  • Sturgeon has been pushing for Scotland to maintain as many of its ties to the EU as possible as the U.K. prepares to leave, a position that puts her at odds with Prime MinisterTheresa May, who has rejected the notion of a Swiss- or Norwegian-style arrangement that would allow for access to the single market and continued free movement of people.
  • May has said she will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by March to formally begin negotiation with the EU over the terms of the U.K.’s exit. That would put the U.K. on schedule to leave the EU at some point in 2019.

Background: Publishing a bill for consultation is only a first step toward a second Scottish independence referendum and is no guarantee that a second vote will be held. That said, it is clear that Sturgeon and May do not see eye-to-eye on the best path forward either for Scotland or the U.K. as a whole, particularly on the immigration issue.

Scotland’s economic need to support the oil and gas industry and other sectors that rely on a mobile migrant work force, and a social commitment to reject what some see as xenophobic proposals, put Sturgeon and May, and Scotland and the U.K., on very different political footing.

BAL Analysis: Whether Scotland eventually develops different immigration policies than the U.K, either by achieving independence or through political negotiations, remains to be seen. Separate immigration policies have been put in place for Scotland in the past (e.g., the Fresh Talent – Working in Scotland Scheme). This approach could allow different, and more flexible, treatment of migrants in a post-Brexit U.K. immigration regime.

This alert has been provided by the BAL U.S. Practice group. For additional information, please contact your BAL attorney.

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