Biden Defends Evacuation as Thousands Besiege Kabul Airport

LONDON — The desperate scenes at the Kabul airport reverberated around the world on Friday, forcing President Biden to defend his handling of the chaotic evacuation and fueling recrimination from American allies that are struggling to get their own citizens out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Mr. Biden insisted the American-led operation made “significant progress” after a rocky start, with nearly 6,000 American troops evacuating 5,700 Americans, Afghans, and others on Thursday. Flights were suspended for several hours on Friday to process the crush of people at the airport, but they were resuming, he said.

“We’re acting with dispatch,” Mr. Biden said at the White House. “Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.”

their origin story and their record as rulers.

Signs of the Taliban’s tightening grip over the capital were everywhere on Friday. An activist posted a photo on Twitter of billboards of women’s faces outside a Kabul beauty salon that were blacked out.

Khalil Haqqani, the leader of one of the most powerful and violent Taliban factions, appeared at Friday prayers, the high point in the Islamic week. Mr. Haqqani, 48, is on both the U.S. and United Nations terrorist lists, responsible for kidnapping Americans, launching suicide attacks and conducting targeted assassinations. He is now playing a prominent role in the new Taliban government.

crystallized a sense in Britain that their leaders were asleep at the wheel — a striking turn for a NATO member that contributed more troops to the Afghan war than any but the United States. It has also hardened feelings toward the United States, which barely consulted its ally about the timing or logistics of the withdrawal.

British newspapers pointed out that Mr. Biden did not take a call from Prime Minister Boris Johnson until Tuesday, days after Britain requested it. Some British diplomats said they could not recall a time when an American president came under harsher criticism than Mr. Biden has in recent days.

“It shows that Biden wasn’t that desperate to get the prime minister’s input on the situation,” said Kim Darroch, a former British ambassador to Washington. “It’s all escalated a bit. It’s not a great sign.”

Reporting was contributed by Jim Huylebroek in Kabul, Carlotta Gall in Istanbul, Eric Schmitt and Zolan Kanno-Youngs in Washington, Nick Cummings-Bruce in Geneva, Steven Erlanger in Brussels, and Marc Santora in London.

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Northern Ireland, Strained by Brexit, Braces for Marching Season

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — The pandemic was hard on David Milliken, who sells drums, flags and pro-British banners from his brightly-colored shop in Sandy Row, a loyalist stronghold in Belfast. But now, he said, “things have started to open up again,” especially since “the unrest is back.”

Two months ago, Sandy Row exploded in flames as masked demonstrators hurled stones and gasoline bombs at the police to protest what they call the “Brexit betrayal.” With the loyalist marching season kicking off next month, there are fears that the eruption of violence was only a warm-up act.

Like others in Sandy Row, Mr. Milliken, 49, said he did not want a return to the Troubles, the bloody 30-year guerrilla war between Catholic nationalists, seeking unification with the Republic of Ireland, and predominantly Protestant loyalists and unionists, who want to stay in the United Kingdom.

iconic military victory over a Catholic king, James II, in 1690.

the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of sectarian strife, in part by tamping down Northern Ireland’s identity politics. Brexit has reawakened those passions, and they could flare further next year if, as polls currently suggest, the main Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein, becomes the biggest party in a field of divided, demoralized unionists.

the Northern Ireland Protocol, a post-Brexit legal construct that has left the North awkwardly straddling the trading systems of Britain and the European Union. The protocol grew out of a deal between London and Brussels to avoid resurrecting a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The catch is, it requires checks on goods flowing between the North and the rest of the United Kingdom, which carries both a commercial and psychological cost.

“It has hit the community here like a ton of bricks that this is a separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom,” said David Campbell, chairman of the Loyalist Communities Council, which represents paramilitary groups that some say are stirring up unrest.

Mr. Campbell said that the paramilitaries actually tried to keep people off the streets. But he warned that unless the protocol was either scrapped or radically rewritten, violence would break out again during the marching season.

bitter divorce with the European Union.

Jonathan Powell, a former chief of staff to Tony Blair, the British prime minister at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, acknowledged that, “Biden could be important on the protocol.”

“Britain is rather friendless outside the E.U., so there is a limit to how far they can go against what the administration wants,” Mr. Powell added.

Until now, Mr. Johnson has taken a hard line in negotiations over the protocol. His senior aide, David Frost, says it is up to the European Union to propose remedies to the disruptions of the border checks. If it does not, Britain could abandon the protocol — a move the European Union says would breach the withdrawal agreement, though the bloc’s officials briefly threatened to scrap the protocol themselves in January.

the Democratic Unionists, a Northern Irish party that supported Brexit and has now fallen into disarray because of the fierce blowback from Mr. Johnson’s deal.

The party recently deposed its leader, Arlene Foster, and is squabbling over how to prepare for elections to the Northern Irish Assembly in May 2022. That has opened the door to something once thought inconceivable: that Sinn Fein could emerge as the largest party, with the right to appoint the first minister.

With Sinn Fein’s vestigial links to the paramilitary Irish Republican Army and bedrock commitment to Irish unification, an Assembly led by the party could prove far more destabilizing to Northern Ireland’s delicate power-sharing arrangements than the post-Brexit trading rules, which are difficult to explain, let alone use as a rallying cry.

But Sinn Fein’s leaders say that, with a growing Catholic population and the fallout from Brexit, momentum is on their side. The unionist parties supported Brexit, while they opposed it. They view the campaign against the protocol as a futile effort that only lays bare the costs of leaving the European Union.

“You have a very stark choice,” Michelle O’Neill, the party’s leader and the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, said in an interview. “Do you want to be part of inward-looking Brexit Britain or outward-looking inclusive Ireland?”

Another question is how the authorities will deal with further unrest. In April, the police moved carefully against the rock-throwing crowds, treating them as a local disturbance rather than a national security threat. But if the violence escalates, that could change.

Monica McWilliams, an academic and former politician who was involved in the 1998 peace negotiations, said, “Loyalist threats, or violent actions, against a border down the Irish Sea may no longer be seen as a domestic problem.”

But the greater challenge, she said, is reassuring unionists and loyalists at a time when politics and demographics are moving so clearly against them. While there is little appetite in the Irish Republic for a near-term referendum on unification, Sinn Fein is within striking distance of being in power on both sides of the border — a development that would put unification squarely on the agenda.

In Sandy Row, the sense of a community in retreat was palpable.

Paul McCann, 46, a shopkeeper and lifelong resident, noted how real-estate developers were buying up blocks on the edge of the neighborhood to build hotels and upscale apartments. The city, he said, wants to demolish the Boyne Bridge — a predecessor of which William of Orange is said to have crossed on his way to that fateful battle with James II — to create a transportation hub.

“They’re trying to whitewash our history,” Mr. McCann said. “They’re making our loyalist communities smaller and smaller.”

For Gordon Johnston, a 28-year-old community organizer, it’s a matter of fairness: loyalists accepted the argument that reimposing a hard border between the north and south of Ireland could provoke violence. The same principle should apply to Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

“You can’t have it both ways,” he said. “You either have no borders or you have violence in the streets.”

Anna Joyce contributed reporting from Dublin.

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Boris Johnson’s Former Top Aide Tells of Inept, Chaotic Covid Policy

LONDON — He suggested that a doctor inject him with the coronavirus live on television to play down the dangers to a nervous public. He modeled himself after the small-town mayor in the movie “Jaws,” who ignored warnings to close the beaches even though there was a marauding shark offshore. As the pandemic closed in on Britain, he was distracted by an unflattering story about his fiancée and her dog.

That was the portrait of Prime Minister Boris Johnson painted by his disaffected former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, in parliamentary testimony on Wednesday. While Mr. Johnson flatly rejected several of the assertions in his own appearance in Parliament on Wednesday, they nevertheless landed with a thud in a country still struggling to understand how the early days of the pandemic were botched so badly.

“When the public needed us most, the government failed,” said Mr. Cummings, the political strategist who masterminded Britain’s campaign to leave the European Union and engineered Mr. Johnson’s rise to power before falling out bitterly with his boss and emerging as a self-styled whistle-blower.

a much-criticized road trip he made with his family that breached lockdown rules, saying he had fled London because of threats against his family. And he apologized for his failure to act sooner when he realized that Britain’s delay in imposing a lockdown last March was courting disaster.

“It’s true that I hit the panic button and said we’ve got to ditch the official plan,” Mr. Cummings said. “I think it’s a disaster that I acted too late. The fundamental reason was that I was really frightened of acting.”

testing 100,000 people a day. Mr. Cummings said he told Mr. Johnson to dismiss Mr. Hancock, as did the then-cabinet secretary, Mark Sedwill.

move patients from hospitals to nursing homes without testing them.

“Hancock told us that people were going to be tested before they went back to care homes, what the hell happened?” he said. “Quite the opposite of putting a shield round them, we sent people with Covid back to the care homes.”

A spokesman for Downing Street said on Wednesday that Mr. Johnson did not believe Mr. Hancock had lied to him.

reported by the BBC but denied by Downing Street.

Asked if Mr. Johnson was the right person to guide the country through the pandemic, Mr. Cummings responded simply: “No.”

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The Dominic Cummings Chronicles: The Can’t-Miss Sequel

LONDON — A year ago this week, a brusque, defiant figure in shirt sleeves appeared in the sun-dappled garden behind 10 Downing Street to give one of the most extraordinary news conferences in recent British political history.

On Wednesday, that same man — Dominic Cummings, then the most powerful adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson; now arguably his most dangerous enemy — will testify before two Parliamentary committees on Britain’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It is being billed as a can’t-miss sequel in the Cummings Chronicles.

Mr. Cummings is expected to unload a trove of inside details about how Mr. Johnson bungled Britain’s initial response, necessitating what he claims were months of needless and ruinous lockdowns. His account, some of which he previewed in a dense, didactic Twitter thread over recent days, is likely to embarrass a leader who bounced back from that wobbly performance, largely on the strength of Britain’s swift rollout of vaccines.

“Dominic Cummings has long been known as a man who brings a bazooka to a knife fight,” said Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent. “I suspect he shall not walk quietly into the night.”

firing him in November. Last month, the aide turned publicly on his ex-boss, accusing him of unethical behavior in the costly decoration of his flat in Downing Street and of trying to shut down a leak investigation because he feared it would antagonize his fiancée, Carrie Symonds.

With its promise of further juicy details about an alliance gone bad, the testimony is likely to be political theater of a rare vintage. British papers have speculated that Mr. Cummings will say Mr. Johnson missed numerous early coronavirus meetings because he was busy working on his long-delayed book about Shakespeare.

127,700 deaths, the highest toll in Europe.

“If mass testing had been developed properly earlier in year as cd/shd have been, wd probably have avoided lockdowns 2&3 while awaiting vaccine,” Mr. Cummings said in a Twitter post. In another, he wrote, “One of the most fundamental & unarguable lessons of Feb-March is that secrecy contributed greatly to the catastrophe.”

The problem with Mr. Cummings’s message is the messenger. His decision to flout the rules — most notoriously in going on a family outing to Castle Barnard that he claimed he undertook to test his eyesight — arguably did more to damage the government’s credibility than any single incident during the pandemic.

“He is a tainted source,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London. “But just because he has an ax to grind and a credibility problem, doesn’t mean he’s not telling the truth.”

For Mr. Johnson, the saving grace may be that Mr. Cummings is testifying at a time when Britain’s vaccination campaign has driven down cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Though there are concerns about flare-ups of a variant first seen in India, the government remains on track to reopen the English economy fully on June 21.

Nor is it clear how much lawmakers will press Mr. Cummings on Mr. Johnson’s personal peccadilloes. On Tuesday, there was a fresh reminder of his checkered history, with the release of a report by the Conservative Party that concluded Mr. Johnson’s disparaging references to Muslims during his days as a newspaper columnist had fostered the impression that the party is “insensitive to Muslim communities.”

For all the static around Mr. Johnson, however, his party just scored impressive victories in regional elections in England.

“Cummings would be able to do severe damage to a prime minister and a government that was in trouble and was unpopular,” Mr. Bale said. “But this government is not in trouble and the prime minister is very popular.”

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Lockdown Ends in England, for Now, at Least

LONDON — Pubs opened for drinks indoors, lights went on in theaters and airports buzzed with a steady stream of travelers on Monday, but the latest easing of Covid-19 restrictions in England was accompanied by growing fears that a variant of the virus could delay a full return to normality.

The lifting of a wide range of coronavirus rules Monday coincided with a small but worrying spike in cases of a variant, first identified in India, that threatens a lockdown-lifting road map frequently described by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as “cautious but irreversible.”

Already, the second part of that pledge is sounding less secure than it once seemed. In recent days the authorities have scrambled to ramp up testing and inoculation in parts of the country seeing a sharp rise in cases of the more transmissible variant. More than 6,200 people were vaccinated over the weekend in Bolton, a badly hit town near Manchester in the northwest of England.

The opposition Labour Party has accused Mr. Johnson of bringing on the trouble by delaying a decision to close borders to flights from India last month, while government scientific advisers have expressed their concerns about moving too fast to remove curbs.

Even Mr. Johnson, who is normally only too keen to ridicule pessimists as “doomsters and gloomsters,” urged Britons to be cautious in the face of the threat from the new variant, saying that there was a risk of “significant disruption” to plans for easing rules.

Nor did Mr. Johnson plan to visit a pub or restaurant on Monday to celebrate in front of the TV cameras, his office said.

In recent weeks Mr. Johnson has been able to claim credit for a highly successful vaccine program that, combined with lockdown restrictions, has cut cases and death rates to a fraction of their peak numbers. That has enabled England to start easing the burden on many of the parts of the economy that were worst affected by a lockdown in January.

Under the changes that came into force on Monday, pubs and restaurants can serve indoors as well as outside, people can hug each other and mix inside their homes in limited numbers.

Museums, theaters and movie theaters, sports stadiums, hotels and indoor playgrounds opened their doors again in England, though Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have slightly different timetables and conditions for relaxing rules.

A legal ban on all but essential foreign travel ended too, though travelers to any other than a small number of destinations will have to quarantine on their return.

Altogether, that represents the first real breath of freedom for many in England since the third national lockdown was declared in early January. Though restaurants and pubs have been able to serve food and drink outdoors for several weeks, the weather has been unseasonably cold and often rainy, leaving many diners and drinkers shivering in damp beer gardens.

While the government will fight hard not to have to reverse the changes introduced on Monday, there are growing doubts about whether it can proceed with the next stage of the road map. That change, scheduled to take place on June 21, would scrap almost all remaining restrictions.

But with a surge of cases in some communities, including Bolton, the government is refusing to rule out any measures, possibly including the imposition of new restrictions on specific Covid-19 hot spots.

“We must be humble in the face of this virus,” the health secretary, Matt Hancock, told Parliament on Monday, adding that there were now 86 areas with five or more cases of the variant whose higher transmission rate “poses a real risk.” While the overall case numbers, at 2,323, remain low, they have been multiplying rapidly.

Mr. Johnson continues to hear criticism for failing to clamp down fast enough on travel from India, even sparing it for some weeks after placing restrictions on travel from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Under Britain’s travel system those arriving from “red list” countries that are deemed high risk are required to quarantine in hotels.

“Our borders have been as secure as a sieve,” said Jonathan Ashworth, who speaks for the opposition Labour Party on health issues. “The delay in adding India to the red list surely now stands as a catastrophic misstep.”

Pakistan and Bangladesh were red listed on April 9 but India was not added until April 23, and Mr. Johnson’s critics have suggested he was reluctant to upset India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, with whom he is trying to strike a trade deal.

Mr. Hancock rejected that claim and said that significantly more people arriving from Bangladesh and Pakistan tested positive for Covid-19 than those arriving from India. In Parliament on Monday he accused the Labour Party of selective hindsight, saying that last month the Indian variant had not been identified as one of concern.

But some experts believe that the government should have reacted faster to the emergence of the variant. “Many of us in the U.K., we’re appalled at the huge delay in classifying it as a variant of concern,” said Peter English, a retired consultant in communicable disease control.

“You can’t stop diseases from crossing boundaries — they inevitably will,” he said, adding: “But you can slow the spread, and while that’s happening, you can learn more about it.”

Mr. English said that there was not yet enough data available to determine how effective vaccines are in combating the variant, but added that more financial support should be given to those on low incomes who need to self-isolate.

In general, Britons are being offered vaccination based on their age, with those oldest treated first. Appointments are to be extended this week to 37-year-olds, Mr. Hancock said.

However, in areas affected by the Indian variant, health chiefs appear to be offering vaccines to some younger people, using the flexibility in guidelines that, for example, suggest the vaccination of those living in a multigenerational household.

On Monday, Mr. Hancock also said that of 19 cases in Bolton hospitals, most of the patients were eligible for vaccination but had not had one. That prompted a debate in and beyond Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party about whether the lifting of lockdown restrictions should be reversed to protect people who refuse a vaccine.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer and theater impresario, told the BBC that vaccine hesitancy was not only foolish but selfish. He added that he could not reopen his shows without an assurance that all restrictions would be eased as planned from June 21, allowing for full seating without distancing.

“I just feel so strongly at the moment, particularly the people who are not getting vaccinated and everything, just how selfish it is because so many people depend on this June 21 date, they really depend on it,” he said.

Megan Specia contributed reporting from London.

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Queen’s Speech: Johnson Presses Advantage in U.K. Government Program

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson hoped to use the opening of Britain’s Parliament on Tuesday to galvanize his government’s agenda after striking victories in regional elections in England last week. But the spotlight, at least initially, fell on Queen Elizabeth II, who appeared in public for the first time since burying her husband, Prince Philip, last month to handle the age-old pageantry.

Squired by her son and heir, Prince Charles, the queen, 95, presided over a ceremony stripped down by coronavirus restrictions. But her voice was firm and steady as she read the Queen’s Speech, in which Mr. Johnson’s government laid out an ambitious agenda to “level up” the economically depressed north of England with the more prosperous south.

It was the queen’s 67th opening of Parliament, and a reassuring sign of continuity for Britain’s constitutional monarchy. For Mr. Johnson, it was a chance to bring a semblance of normalcy back to politics, after the turmoil of Brexit and a pandemic that paralyzed the country, leaving more than 125,000 people dead.

Mr. Johnson signaled that he intended to keep playing a dominant role in the political arena, proposing to scrap a law that restricts his ability to call general elections. With the government reaping credit for Britain’s swift rollout of vaccines and the prospect of a post-lockdown economic boom, analysts said Mr. Johnson might decide to call an election a year early, in 2023, to take better advantage of the good news.

The government also proposed that voters be required to show identification at polling places, which some opposition parties criticized as a cynical effort to suppress turnout. It was one of a host of measures that included increased funding for the National Health Service, after a year of unrelenting pressure; tighter laws on crime; changes in planning regulations to encourage more house construction; and an overhaul of the asylum system.

The government, the speech said, would “deliver a national recovery from the pandemic that makes the United Kingdom stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before.” Reading a text prepared by Downing Street, the queen spoke fluently of Mr. Johnson’s plans to roll out “5G mobile coverage and gigabit-capable broadband” throughout the country.

For decades, Prince Philip accompanied his wife to the opening of Parliament, though in recent years Charles had taken his place. Philip’s recent death lent the proceedings a more wistful, austere atmosphere than usual.

The queen shunned the 18-foot velvet cape and imperial crown that she once wore at state openings in favor of a more sensible lilac coat and hat. Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, watched from the sidelines as Elizabeth delivered what amounted to an abbreviated State of the Union address.

Though missing hundreds of lawmakers and V.I.P. guests because of Covid restrictions, the state opening still featured plenty of pomp. The crown, which normally resides in the Tower of London, was paraded through the echoing hallways of the Palace of Westminster on a red velvet pillow, even if it did not sit on the queen’s head.

Mr. Johnson was summoned from the House of Commons by the Lady Usher of the Black Rod, who first had the door slammed in her face as a sign of its members’ independence. Mr. Johnson and the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, took their places before the queen, who sat on a carved wooden throne.

The two leaders said nothing to each other as they walked, in single file and wearing face masks, to the House of Lords. Last week’s elections left the Labour Party in disarray, as Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party made further inroads into Labour’s stronghold in working-class districts in the Midlands and the north of England.

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Of Brexit and Boris: What’s Driving the Call for Scottish Independence

The millions of votes counted across Scotland on Saturday could be among the most consequential in recent times, and not because of their impact on things like health, education and fisheries. The greatest issue facing the country, and the one that was really at stake, was nowhere to be found on the ballot, and that is the future of its 314-year-old union with England.

While the last votes were still being counted on Saturday in the parliamentary elections, it appeared virtually certain that the pro-independence Scottish National Party would fall short of the majority it had hoped would create an irresistible momentum for a new referendum on breaking away from the United Kingdom. But it will retain power in Edinburgh, probably with the support of the Scottish Greens, guaranteeing that the issue will continue to dominate Scottish politics, as it has in recent years.

A lot. A second independence plebiscite, following one in 2014, could lead to the fracturing of the United Kingdom. Were Scotland to become independent, Britain would lose eight percent of its population, a third of its landmass and significant amounts of international prestige.

Some say the loss of Scotland would be the biggest blow to a British prime minister since Lord North lost the colonies in America in the 18th century. Understandably, the current prime minister, Boris Johnson, is no fan of the idea.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister. Her party has led the Scottish government for 14 years and she has earned praise for her steady handling of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly compared with the early performance of Mr. Johnson.

There are smaller parties that want another vote, too, like the Greens, who are close to the S.N.P. Another pro-independence party, Alba, is led by Alex Salmond, who is not an ally of Ms. Sturgeon — at least not any more. A former first minister himself, Mr. Salmond was once Ms. Sturgeon’s mentor, but the two have recently been embroiled in a bitter feud, and his election campaign fell flat.

Re-established in 1999, Scotland’s Parliament was designed to quiet calls for Scottish independence, but it hasn’t worked out like that. The pro-independence S.N.P. has become the dominant force and, in 2011, won a rare overall majority in a Parliament where the voting system is designed to avoid any one party’s domination. After that result, the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron reluctantly agreed to the 2014 independence referendum.

Ms. Sturgeon had been hoping that a thumping victory for the pro-independence parties in these elections would give her the moral authority to demand another plebiscite. They fell short, but Ms. Sturgeon will keep up pressure for a referendum claiming that, combined with the vote for the Greens, she has a mandate.

They show a divided Scotland, split down the middle over independence. That is in line with the findings of opinion polls that last year showed a majority favoring independence only to fall back slightly in recent months. The Scottish Conservatives, the opposition Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats all oppose independence.

So dominant is the issue that some anti-independence voters seem to have switched allegiance from their normal parties to support the one most likely to defeat the S.N.P. in their area. Ms. Sturgeon is on course to remain first minister, which is an impressive achievement, but with her path to an overall majority likely cut off, her moral case for a second referendum has been weakened.

For a second independence referendum to be legal it would almost certainly need the agreement of London, and Mr. Johnson has repeatedly said no. That’s a big problem for Ms. Sturgeon, because she wants the result of any second referendum to be accepted internationally and for Scotland to be allowed to return to the European Union.

Far from it. Even if she has to rely on the Greens, Ms. Sturgeon is likely to have enough votes to push legislation for “indyref2” through the Scottish Parliament and then challenge Mr. Johnson or his allies to stop it in court.

That could cause a constitutional crisis. After all, Scotland’s union with England in 1707 was voluntary, making it hard for London to say no forever to another referendum. And Ms. Sturgeon may calculate that support for independence will only grow if Scots see the popular will being blocked by a government in England.

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Scotland Election Results Complicate Hopes for Independence Referendum

LONDON — Hopes for a swift path to independence in Scotland were dampened on Saturday, as early election results showed the dominant Scottish nationalist party falling just short of a majority in the country’s parliament.

The results, if confirmed after the votes are fully counted by Saturday evening, would deprive the Scottish National Party of a symbolic victory in a closely-fought election. That, in turn, is likely to stiffen the determination of Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain to deny Scottish voters the chance to hold a second referendum on independence.

Yet pro-independence parties were on track to stay in overall control, which will keep the flame of Scottish nationalism alive and ensure that the threat of Scotland’s breaking away will continue to bedevil the United Kingdom.

The number of seats won by the Scottish National Party in the election, held on Thursday, is in some ways less important than the political winds, which are still blowing in favor of the separatists. By allying with the pro-independence Scottish Greens, the Scottish nationalists could tighten their control over the regional Parliament.

a bitter feud with her predecessor, Alex Salmond, over a botched internal investigation of sexual misconduct charges against him. She was accused of deceiving lawmakers, breaking rules and even conspiring against Mr. Salmond, a former close ally.

Ms. Sturgeon was cleared of breaching the rules and misleading Parliament just as the campaign got underway, but the dispute dented her image. Mr. Salmond launched a breakaway party, Alba, which did not appear on track to win any seats but served as a reminder of the internecine split.

“This year has been quite difficult for the S.N.P. and for Nicola Sturgeon personally,” Professor McEwen said. Also, she added, “The broad shoulders of the U.K. have helped see us through the pandemic.”

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