‘For heaven’s sake!’ Keir Starmer erupts at SNP demands for independence sparking Scot row

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The Labour leader visited Scotland today, the first time since taking over from Jeremy Corbyn in April – with the trip coming after he had to self-isolate while his child was tested for COVID-19. Sir Keir has previously made clear he would not block another referendum if there was a pro-independence majority after next year’s election. 

He said earlier in January a decision on another poll “should be made in Scotland”.

But since then, he appears to have changed his mind and has now taken a hardline stance over a second independence vote.

When asked by Express.co.uk about his change of heart today, he said: “This is not the time for another divisive referendum.

“The vast majority of people would say for heaven’s sake, at the moment the virus is what we need to focus on. Beyond the virus, we’ve then got the rebuild of the economy and making sure our public services are in the right.”

Sir Keir also welcomed the resignation of the UK Government’s top law officer for Scotland who resigned because he was unhappy about the Internal Market Bill which risks overriding elements of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Lord Keen of Elie QC, the Scotland Advocate General, tendered his resignation to the Prime Minister on Wednesday morning and said: “Over the past week I have found it increasingly difficult to reconcile what I consider to be my obligations as a Law Officer with your policy intentions with respect to the UKIM Bill.”

When asked by Express.co.uk about this, Sir Keir added: “The letter of resignation speaks for itself, he couldn’t reconcile his position as a law officer and the breach of international law that Boris Johnson seems determined to push through whatever the reputation damage for the UK.

“I think he was right to resign.”

His comments today come as he admitted his party has a “mountain to climb” in the next UK general election, and also in the Scottish Parliament elections, which are less than eight months away.

But the visit also comes as Scottish Labour is split by in-fighting, with several of the party’s MSPs having called for leader Richard Leonard to go and put forward a failed motion. 

When asked about Richard Leonard today, Sir Keir said: “What I want to see in Scotland is our parties to pull together and to focus on the job in hand which we need to do between now and next May in relation to the elections.

“I have worked closely with Richard Leonard, he has my support.

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“My task is to unite and unify our parties both here in Scotland and across the UK and I’m determined to do that.

“This is the job of Richard and of me is to restore trust in Scotland and across the UK in the Labour Party as a force for good and for change.”

Asked about Brexit, he said the “Leave-Remain divide is over” but he warned exiting the EU without a deal would be a “catastrophic failure of negotiation” from the Prime Minister.

Prior to the visit, he said Labour had established the devolved Scottish Parliament after Tony Blair’s general election victory in 1997 so that “decisions could be made closer to people”, but added that for devolution to work effectively, the Scottish and UK governments need to “work in partnership”.

He issued a plea to both administrations, calling on them to “get a grip, focus on the job in hand and work together to defeat this virus”.

He concluded he had travelled north “with a very clear message – Labour’s history and values run proudly through Scotland, and always will”.

But Keith Brown, deputy leader of the SNP Keith Brown MSP, stated that Labour opposition to IndyRef2 was “completely unsustainable”.

He told Express.co.uk: “The most recent polls show support for Scottish independence consistently sitting at over 50 percent – the momentum is very much with the ‘Yes’ campaign.

“Labour’s opposition to a referendum is completely unsustainable – particularly when many of its own members recognise that to stand in the way of one would be undemocratic.

“But ultimately it’s not up to Keir Starmer or any other politician to determine if there is a referendum on independence – that should be a matter for the people of Scotland themselves.

“The more the Tories and Labour try to ignore Scotland’s democratic mandate to choose our own future, the more support for a fresh referendum – and for independence itself – will continue to grow.”

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