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Britain left the European Union on January 31, but not everyone in the UK has given up on EU membership. Despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson repeatedly rejecting her independence calls, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is still determined to hold a second referendum this year. The SNP leader believes Scots are being “dragged” out of the bloc against their will.
However, while Brexit might have made the case for Scottish independence stronger, it has also made it practically more difficult.
An independent Scotland would now border a non-EU country, likely requiring infrastructure and border checks between regions whose communities are deeply intertwined – similar to the problem of the Irish border that severely complicated Brexit talks.
Scotland could also be rejected by Brussels due to its current deficit of seven percent of GDP, unless it adopted a strict austerity programme from the EU as well as potentially adopting the euro.
Moreover, new members can only be allowed into the bloc through a unanimous vote from the existing member states – and Holyrood would undoubtedly ruffle feathers if it were to join.
Nicola Sturgeon blow: European Commission’s crushing verdict on Scotland’s EU entry revealed (Image: GETTY)
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (Image: GETTY)
According to a throwback report by The Telegraph, in 2017, the former European Commission’s official representative in the UK, Jacqueline Minor, reiterated all the difficulties an independent Scotland would have to face in order to join the EU.
She said there were several countries waiting to become member states, including Montenegro and Serbia, and an independent Scotland “would join that list”.
This would mean Scotland being outside both the UK and EU for an indeterminate period.
Ms Minor also noted that a separate Scotland would have to commit in principle to joining the euro to get membership and show how it intended to bring down its huge deficit, which is even larger than Greece’s.
Her intervention was significant as Ms Minor had worked in various European institutions since 1984, spending 16 years in the directorate responsible for the EU’s internal market before becoming the EU’s ‘woman in the UK’ in 2013.
It prompted Holyrood’s Unionist parties to challenge Ms Sturgeon to start being “honest” with Scots about independence.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Image: GETTY)
Former EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker (Image: GETTY)
At the time, senior nationalists had suggested that Scotland could have negotiated a deal with Brussels to remain inside the EU if it voted for independence before the UK left in 2019.
However, Ms Minor said former EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker had made clear there would have not been further EU “enlargements” during his term in office.
She said: “There are a number of official candidate countries – Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina – they are still quite some way away from meeting the criteria for membership.
“And obviously if Scotland became independent they would join that list.”
She acknowledged that Scotland “might” be able to gain membership quicker than the others as its laws already comply with EU rules but rejected the SNP’s claims that it could have seamlessly stayed inside the European Union.
Ms Minor said that was not the European Commission’s opinion during the 2014 independence referendum and nothing had changed since.
She said Scotland would instead have to apply from scratch under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty, a process that can take many years.
She added: “Normal practice for new member states is to commit to joining the euro.”
Adam Tomkins, the Scottish Tories’ constitution spokesman, said: “This is a senior figure telling the SNP what it needs to hear. For all its moaning about Brexit, it knows full well an independent Scotland would not simply step into the European Union.
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President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (Image: GETTY)
“It’s time for the nationalists to be honest about Brexit, and stop using it as a tool to agitate for separation.”
But an SNP spokesman said Ms Minor had “demolished many of the bogus arguments used by the No campaign in 2014 around EU membership”.
He added: “We are focussed on protecting Scotland from the catastrophic effects of a hard Tory Brexit which would cost 80,000 jobs in Scotland over the next decade.”
In a major U-turn this week, EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen left a door open for Scotland when asked if the nation could rejoin as an independent country, though.
Hungarian MEP, István Ujhelyi of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Group asked on Monday what the possibility was of Scotland potentially joining the EU.
Mr Ujhelyi said: “‘Scotland cannot be held prisoner in Great Britain’s jail’ was the message delivered by the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which performed well in the UK elections, to re-elect Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“Nicola Sturgeon’s party is pushing for another referendum on Scottish independence for 2020, one which would have an unequivocal outcome, given the SNP’s performance in Scotland in the election on December 12.
“Yet the question is when and under what circumstances the Europe-supporting Scots, undertaking to uphold EU values, can become or remain members of the EU.
“What are the chances for independent Scotland to join the European Union?”
In response, Ms von der Leyen stated: “Any European State, which respects and promotes the values of the EU, may apply to become a member of the Union.”
Although Ms von der Leyen did state Scotland could potentially join the trade bloc, the EU chief refused to express a view on any future membership application.