THE First Minister stepped up her demand for a new vote on independence as she responded to Theresa May’s resignation statement.

As Tory MPs began backing hardline Brexiteer Boris Johnson for next Tory leader – and prime minister – Nicola Sturgeon called for a General Election, a People’s Vote and a second independence referendum.

She warned May’s departure as Tory leader on June 7 would “not solve the Brexit mess” and said it would be wrong for May’s successor to take office without calling a General Election.

“I wish Theresa May well. She and I had profound disagreements – not least on her handling of Brexit and her disregard for Scotland’s interests,” said the First Minister.

“However, leadership is tough – especially in these times – and she deserves thanks for her service.

“Her departure will not solve the Brexit mess that the Tories have created. Only putting the matter back to the people can do that.”

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She added: “Given current circumstances, it also feels deeply wrong for another Tory to be installed in No 10 without a General Election.

“The prospect of an even more hardline Brexiteer now becoming PM and threatening a no-deal exit is deeply concerning.

“Added to the experience of the past three years, this makes it all the more important that Scotland is given the choice of becoming an independent country.”

Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster leader (pictured below), said independence was the only way to protect Scotland’s interests and also renewed calls for a second EU referendum.

The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber warned the prospect of Johnson as prime minister was “utterly horrifying” and increased the threat to Scotland.

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Wishing May “well for the future” he added: “The prospect of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister in hock to the right wing of his party and the politics of Nigel Farage will be utterly horrifying to people across Scotland, and raises the threat we face as the Tories lurch even further to the extremes – putting jobs, living standards, public services, and the economy at risk.

“Scotland has been completely ignored throughout the Brexit process and any pretence that we will be treated as an equal partner in the UK has long gone. It is now clearer than ever that the only way to properly protect Scotland’s interests is by becoming an independent country.”

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said “nobody could have worked harder” and May had his “utmost respect”, but added she had “become an impediment to the resolution of Brexit”.

Coming a day after the European elections – with the results expected to show Tory voters flocking to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party – he added: “Yesterday’s elections will surely show that delivering Brexit is now more urgent than ever, and that will fall to a new Prime Minister.

“It’s time to get on with the process of appointing one.”

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Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson (pictured above) said the PM’s time in office had been characterised by “hard work, resilience” and “quiet dignity”.

She said: “Theresa May knew when she took on the job of prime minister that the challenges facing our country were unprecedented.

“Her time in office has been characterised by the hard work, resilience, quiet dignity and attention to detail for which she is known.”

She added: “Above all, by opposing the SNP’s call for an immediate second independence referendum in 2017, the Prime Minister demonstrated her resolute commitment to the Union and to Scotland’s place in it.”