Theresa May will meet Nicola Sturgeon for the first time since she blocked Scotland’s bid for a second independence referendum, on a visit today (Monday).
The eagerly awaited talks between the two leaders will take place ahead of the Edinburgh Parliament making its formal demand for a poll aimed at breaking up the union.
The pair have traded verbal blows since Ms Sturgeon, the SNP First Minister, made her bombshell call for a fresh referendum as early as the autumn of next year.
Ms Sturgeon reacted with fury when the Prime Minister insisted it would not be allowed to take place at least until Brexit is completed, in early 2019 on Ms May’s timetable.
At one point, she challenged her counterpart to a “face-to-face debate” as an alternative to the two leaders staging TV interviews, saying: “I'd be up for it.”
Now they will stage what Downing Street called “a bilateral meeting”, when Ms May visits Scotland on her tour to prepare the nation for the triggering of the Article 50 exit clause on Wednesday.
The Prime Minister will visit staff at the Department for International Development’s base in East Kilbride, then officers from Police Scotland to discuss counter-terrorism issues.
The following day, Holyrood is expected to make its formal referendum request, a vote postponed from last Wednesday when the terror attack struck Westminster.
In order to hold a legally binding poll, Edinburgh must be granted an “Order in Council” under Section 30 of the 1998 Scotland Act, which granted devolution.
However, after three days of prevarication, the Prime Minister made clear the request would be blocked, insisting “now is not the time”.
She ruled out Ms Sturgeon's demand for another vote between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, accusing the SNP of jeopardising the UK’s negotiations with the EU when they should be “working together”.
At the Conservative Spring Forum in Cardiff earlier this month, Ms May sharpened her attack describing the SNP’s referendum policy as “muddle on muddle”
“They are happy to see power rest in Brussels. But if those powers come back to London, they want them given to Edinburgh - so that they can try to give them back to Brussels,” she said.
In response, speaking at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon railed against Scotland “being taken out of the EU against our wishes”.
Without a referendum, Scots could be forced to accept a hard Brexit, after spending the next two years “crossing their fingers” and “hoping for the best”, Ms Sturgeon said.
Before the showdown meeting, Ms May will set out to the Scottish civil servants her aim of “building a global Britain that fully embraces its role on the world stage”.
And she will insist that the deal she will strike with EU leaders “must work for all nations of the UK, and the UK as a whole”.
“I believe, when we work together, there is no limit to what we can do,” the Prime Minister is expected to say.
“In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, that means fully respecting, and indeed strengthening, the devolution settlements – but never allowing our union to become looser and weaker, or our people to drift apart.”
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn said he did not support a second referendum, but argued that, if the Scottish Parliament called for one, Westminster should not block it.
“If that is what the Scottish Parliament wants, then I think that it would be wrong for Westminster to say to Scotland, ‘well, we gave you this devolution but sorry, this is where it stops’.” the Labour leader said.