LONDON British Prime Minister Theresa May will travel to Edinburgh on Friday to discuss the implications of Brexit for Scotland with Nicola Sturgeon, head of the pro-independence Scottish government, May's office said in a statement.
May's decision to visit Sturgeon on her own turf less than 48 hours after taking office underlines her determination to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom after the Brexit vote revived the issue of independence.
Scotland voted by a large majority to stay in the European Union in the June 23 referendum that saw the United Kingdom as a whole vote to leave the bloc.
Sturgeon says Scots must not be dragged out of the EU against their will and she will explore all options for preventing that from happening, including a referendum on independence from the rest of the United Kingdom.
"I believe with all my heart in the United Kingdom – the precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland," May said in a statement issued by her office ahead of the visit.
"This visit to Scotland is my first as prime minister and I'm coming here to show my commitment to preserving this special union that has endured for centuries."
May has made it clear she is profoundly opposed to the idea of Scottish secession, saying during her first speech as prime minister on Wednesday that the word "unionist" was very important to her.
Sturgeon said on Wednesday she wanted May to enable the Scottish government to explore options for Scotland to remain in the EU as a central part of the overall negotiations with the bloc over the terms of Britain's exit.
She has also repeatedly said that Scotland should be able to conduct talks directly with EU counterparts, and met several EU leaders in Brussels during a visit there days after the referendum.
She is unlikely to find May receptive to her arguments.
May's predecessor David Cameron, asked hours before leaving office on Wednesday what solution he saw for the Scottish conundrum, said his advice to May was to seek as close as possible a relationship with the EU after Brexit.
Scots rejected independence by 55-45 percent in a referendum in 2014, but since then, Sturgeon's Scottish National Party has gone from strength to strength, winning 56 of Scotland's 59 seats in the British parliament in the 2015 election.
May's Conservative Party, hugely unpopular in Scotland for decades, holds only one of those 59 seats, although it has recently improved its standing, coming second to the SNP in the Scottish parliamentary election in May.
It is now the official opposition to the SNP in Edinburgh, having beaten the once dominant Labour Party into third place.
(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Alison Williams)
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