David Cameron would be “disrespectful” and wrong to hold the forthcoming referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU in June, Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon has said, as she warned the In campaign not to make the same mistakes as their counterparts in the Scottish referendum.
Ms Sturgeon, Scottish National party leader and the country’s first minister, said that holding the referendum at the earliest possible date — a move which it is thought Mr Cameron favours — would clash with elections in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London.
Mr Cameron is negotiating a package of reforms to the EU which he hopes will be decided at a meeting of the European Council next month. That would mean a referendum could be held in June after a four-month campaign.
But speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday Ms Sturgeon said the Remain camp needed more time to build up “a positive, in-principle campaign” in order to prevail. At the moment arguments about Brexit were “very much focused on the narrow issues of renegotiation”, she said.
She also warned Remain campaigners not to mirror the tactics of the No-to-independence camp during the 2014 referendum, which she said had been “negative and fear-laden”.
“There are undoubtedly analogies,” she said. “If the In campaign behaves the way the No campaign behaved in the Scottish referendum I fear it will lose.”
Ms Sturgeon reiterated her belief that a UK vote to leave the EU was “highly likely” to trigger a second independence referendum in Scotland.
And she pushed Mr Cameron to speed up the process of devolving more power to Scotland, warning him that he should be “under no illusion” that he needed to offer more than is on the table.
“The Scottish government will be busting a gut to get a deal but we need significantly more movement from the UK government and if we don’t get that I will not be signing up to a deal,” she said.
Ms Sturgeon’s move to put pressure on Mr Cameron about the timing of the referendum came as Eurosceptic Conservatives’ dissatisfaction with the prime minister’s renegotiation process burst out into the open.
A group of 40 Eurosceptic backbenchers have been trying to meet Mr Cameron since November but he has been avoiding them, the MP John Baron said in a column in the Sunday Telegraph.
He said Mr Cameron’s refusal to meet them suggested he had “no intention of pitching for a fundamental change in our relationship with the EU”.
Downing Street’s “refusal to engage” with Tory backbenchers “epitomises the EU’s democratic deficit but we had not expected it of our own government”, Mr Baron wrote.
A senior pro-Europe Tory stepped in to defend Mr Cameron on Sunday. Sir Eric Pickles, the former communities secretary and now the government’s special envoy on post-Holocaust issues, said that some passionate Eurosceptics would not be satisfied with any form of renegotiation short of Brexit.
He said: “There are a number of people who have made their minds up [about wanting Brexit] and it doesn’t matter what the prime minister comes back [from the summit] with.”
Sir Eric was one of 22 Conservative MPs to sign a letter in the Telegraph over the weekend arguing in favour of Britain remaining in the EU.
“It is time for Conservatives to weigh up the benefits as well as the costs of EU membership carefully, and focus on the real risks which leaving the EU could have for our economic success,” the group of MPs wrote.