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Ex-UK leader Gordon Brown enters Scotland independence fray


Scotland's First Minister and Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon makes a speech during the SNP Spring Conference, in Aberdeen, Scotland, Saturday March 18, 2017. (Andrew Milligan/PA via AP)

LONDON (AP) — Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Saturday that Scotland should get more sweeping powers but stay in the United Kingdom — comments that came even as Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would proceed with plans for an independence referendum.

Brown entered the fray over the region's future with a speech in Scotland saying Britain's planned departure from the 28-nation European Union makes the case for Scottish independence weaker, not stronger.

He said Scotland should be able to set some tax rates, sign international treaties, and have more control over agriculture, fisheries, environmental regulations, employment and energy once Britain has left the EU. This would be better than leaving the U.K., as Sturgeon wants, or remaining under current conditions, he said.

"I think it will become clear over the next few months that the third option, that Scotland has more powers as part of a federal agreement with the UK ... will be the best option," he said.

Sturgeon seeks another independence referendum in late 2018 or early 2019 when Britain's Brexit negotiations are expected to be nearly concluded.

This has put her on a collision course with Prime Minister Theresa May, who said the timing is unacceptable. Scotland needs the British government's approval to hold a legally binding referendum.

Sturgeon told her Scottish National Party conference on Saturday that she will not drop plans to lobby the Scottish Parliament for the authority to hold a referendum, with the debate expected to begin next week.

She said she would be flexible on the timing "within reason" but that the view of the Scottish Parliament ultimately has to be respected by British authorities.

"The will of our parliament must and will prevail," she said.

Brown's intervention may be important, because he helped persuade Scottish voters to reject independence in the 2014 referendum. But the Labour Party he once led has lost considerable strength in Scotland and his influenced may have waned.

The United Kingdom is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. While most British voters backed leaving the EU in the Brexit vote last year, most Scottish voters wanted to remain in the bloc.