SNP Westminster group leader Ian Blackford, speaking exclusively to the Sunday National, has sent a message to the Prime Minister: her time for bargaining on Brexit is up.

MPs return to the Commons tomorrow, but it remains to be seen whether or not the Prime Minister has any chance of persuading Westminster to back her Brexit deal.

The signs suggest this will be impossible. In order to sell the deal, she first promised the world and now promises the apocalypse.

Fire and brimstone warnings of the repercussions of rejecting her deal may be enough to break the will of the rebels in her own party but May’s intense lobbying failed to fool those who do fire and brimstone best, with DUP British spokesperson Sammy Wilson delivering his party’s rebuttal of what they call her backstop “con trick”, last week.

Blackford, who led cross-party manoeuvres against the Government’s deal, is adamant that the SNP will begin the new year as they ended the last – opposing May’s deal and opposing no-deal – but that there will be a hardening of their position.

“For a PM to try and push something through which her own economic analysis has shown will cost people jobs is the height of irresponsibility,’’ he said.

‘‘I think that the agenda in the Commons has shifted from arguing that the best outcome is continued membership of the single market and customs union to the favoured option being a People’s Vote.

“We have a responsibility to say to Westminster that Scotland voted to Remain. We were told in our own [independence] referendum that Scotland would be respected and was a partner of the UK. At the very least, there has to be a People’s Vote now that we know the consequences of a hard Tory Brexit,” he said.

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The National:

What happens if May’s deal is rejected?

THE meaningful vote, set to take place during the week of January 14, will come after three days of debate. Rejection of that deal will have major ramifications for the Brexit process. Also crucial would be the terms of that rejection.

A straight rejection would create the most uncertainty over what would come next.

But the deal could also be rejected with amendments indicating a preferred route, which would then pose the challenge of reopening talks with a reluctant EU.

Parliament could amend the motion to say that it can only pass subject to approval via a popular vote. Pursuing this course of action would require the extension of Article 50 and, in theory, another referendum could take six months.

Parliamentary rules dictate that, if the deal is rejected, the Government then has 21 days to make a statement to the Commons on how it plans to proceed.

That statement has to explain “in neutral terms” how it plans to move forward, expressed for the House to consider inside seven days. Blackford highlighted the fact that a rejection of May’s deal would leave the Government with hardly any breathing space whatsoever to renegotiate.

He argues that the deadline for an agreement at Westminster is not March 29, as stated in Article 50, but is actually January 21.

“There’s a lot of attention on March 29 but there is something much more significant in the short-term because of the conditions of the Withdrawal Act,” he said.

“It states that an agreement has to be reached by the January 21. The immediate deadline we face is that one. If we have the meaningful vote the week after next and vote down the Government’s plans, it means we have less than a week to get Parliament into a situation where it has voted down this Brexit nonsense and given us an opportunity to at least defer Article 50 if not stop it completely.

“We don’t have a lot of time – we have less time than people may think.”

The National:

Can the deal be changed?

BEFORE the break, the SNP joined the LibDems and two Tories in supporting Hilary Benn’s “no to no-deal” amendment, which rejects May’s deal and a no-deal Brexit as well as giving Parliament a say on the Government’s next steps.

Faced with the prospect of being forced to give control to Parliament, May pulled the vote on December 11, a move that Blackford put down to her awareness that the momentum in Parliament is changing.

“I think pulling the vote in December was such a disappointment because it would have released MPs supporting the party’s position. There are a lot of Conservative MPs who don’t support leaving the EU but feel that they have a manifesto commitment to stand by. Once that vote actually takes place in the Commons, it almost becomes a cathartic moment. Everything changes.

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The National:

How likely is a General Election?

JEREMY Corbyn still has the option of lodging a no confidence vote in the government, something he failed to do before Christmas. That process actually involves two votes. If May wins the first she would still have to find a way to navigate her deal through parliament or admit defeat and a pursue a no deal scenario.

If she loses she can remain in office for 14 days but must win a second vote in the House. If she loses that vote a general election is automatically triggered.

Blackford sees that election as an opportunity to highlight the need for Scotland to chart an alternative route.

He said: “We would welcome an election. We would give leadership to the people of Scotland in such a scenario and say that we have a responsibility to protect their interests by remaining in the EU and single market but also that we cannot be in a position where our rights and the rights of EU citizens, our right to freedom of movement or our economy can be put at risk from the actions of the rest of the UK.”

“We need to make sure that we are demonstrating that the people of Scotland have to be independent. A vote for the SNP is recognition of that.”

Were an election to take place, the campaign would have to last 25 days but would not change the March 29 deadline for Brexit. The current or newly installed government would still have to contend with a no-deal Brexit, unless they opt for an alternative path.

While Theresa May is safe from a vote of no confidence from within Tory ranks for another year after surviving the attempt on her leadership in December, she could still resign and trigger a Conservative leadership contest.

This process could take a while given that the party is split over a vision of Brexit and there are no clear replacements for May. Blackford however, is unconcerned about who leads the Tories in the Brexit process.

“At the end of the day, it makes not one bit of difference whether it is Theresa May or another Tory who is Prime Minister. What we’ve witnessed over the years is that Conservative interests have acted against Scotland. English votes for English laws have constrained the rights of Scottish MPs,” he said “We’ve seen what’s happened with the power grab. Powers coming back from Europe which should sit in the Scottish Parliament, such as fishing, have been stripped back. Whoever is the Tory PM, they are not going to act in the interests of the Scottish people.”

The National:

How would a People’s Vote work?

THE Prime Minister is determined to deliver Brexit, but Blackford remains adamant that the decision must be revisited via a people’s vote. “What has to be on the ballot paper is the option of a right to remain. Whether on the other side of that you have the option of Theresa May’s deal or no deal – that has to be ascertained.

Blackford’s allies in his battle for a people’s vote include Lid Dem leader Vince Cable, Liz Saville-Roberts of Plaid Cymru and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, but not Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“There are an awful lot of Labour MPs who are closer to our position than they are to Jeremy Corbyn’s, said Blackford. He has got to recognise the responsibility he has.

‘‘I know he doesn’t want workers to lose their jobs and I would appeal to him that he has got to come together with us. Alongside those Conservatives who want to stop this as well, we have a majority. Jeremy must accept his own responsibility in doing that.

“The fact he argued in that Guardian interview that Brexit had to be delivered according to the vote in 2016 is irrational. It is bonkers. At the end of the day, it is not in the interests of his members or his voters.”

A second EU vote would require an extentikon of Article 50 but Blackford believes that option would gain support.

“I think that there will be that momentum to defer or to revoke article 50 and we have to put that back to the people. I think when we get to the vote the momentum for that will be quite demonstrable,” he said.

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The National:

The independence question

 ‘I think the Scottish perspective on this is really important because – coming back to the fact that Scotland voted 62% to remain – I am fully convinced that there will be an even stronger remain position in Scotland. If the rest of the United Kingdom votes the same way as before then, of course, we have to find our own solution,” he said.

At the core of such a solution is protecting Scotland from the anticipated fall-out of Brexit, especially in the event of a no-deal.

“Our first priority is to protect the economic interests of the people of Scotland and we know that a no deal would be disastrous. We know from the analysis done by Fraser of Allander that it could cost up to 80,000 jobs and will mean that everyone in Scotland would be poorer to the tune of £1900. That’s a price not worth paying,” Blackford said.

“We have said all along that the wishes of the people of Scotland who voted remain should be respected. It is the job of the Scottish Government to protect the interests of Scotland. Scotland is a European nation – we have no desire to see our rights as EU citizens taken away from us .

He continued: “We know that if we are to deliver sustainable growth in Scotland we need access to labour and we need free movement of people. If we are to have a no-deal Brexit we will have to have a conversation with the people of Scotland as to what the options open to us are. Ultimately, if we are to protect the economic interests of the people of Scotland, we are going to have to have a conversation as to the attractions of independence.”

The Irish border has posed serious problems to May’s Brexit plans, and for Blackford is another reminder of how Scotland has been disrespected during the negotiating process.

“Avoiding a hard border in Ireland is something which has to happen. I understand that is why Northern Ireland has been given protection to the degree it has been given in the Tory deal. But the consequence of that is that Northern Ireland becomes a destination to Europe. If it’s possible to give a differentiated deal to Northern Ireland then it is possible to give one to Scotland that recognises the desire of Scotland to stay in the customs union and the single market.”

While the situation could take many forms in the coming weeks, Blackford says he and his party are clear on their strategy.

“My message to the PM is: You are not generating support for your deal and you have to recognise that this will not command a majority in the Commons,” he said.

“The best thing for the PM to do is take her deal off the table, take no deal off the table and recognise that there is no such thing as a good Brexit.”