Nicola Sturgeon is determined to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence in 2020 but Boris Johnson is firmly resisting the pressure and has repeatedly rejected her demands. The SNP’s goal is for Scotland to leave the UK so the country would remain part of the EU. However, Holyrood would not become independent the day after a Yes vote, so even if a referendum was held tomorrow, the transition would run beyond the end of 2020 – when the UK is due to complete its exit from the EU.
This means Scotland would likely leave the EU with the rest of the UK, and would need to apply to join again under Article 49 of the Treaty of the European Union.
Scottish ministers accept they would have to go through an “accession process” for EU membership and want to start this “as soon as possible”.
However, there are several questions hanging over whether the country would even be able to join the EU as an independent state.
Scotland could be rejected 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.
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Moreover, new members can only be allowed into the bloc through a unanimous vote from the existing member states and Scotland would undoubtedly ruffle feathers if it were to join.
Spain is struggling with secession demands itself, from Catalonia, so may be unlikely to support a newly independent state.
It was indeed Spain who, ahead of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, crushed former First Minister Alex Salmond’s hopes for a smooth EU transition.
The ex-Spanish leader Mariano Rajoy told his government in 2013 that he believed an independent Scotland could only apply to join the EU from outside the organisation as a new state, as he warned against regions of Europe embarking on “solo adventures in an uncertain future”.
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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
SNP rally in Glasgow last week
While Mr Rajoy’s government was facing an election in late 2015, before Scotland formally sought to become independent, the Spanish politician’s words were seen as an effective veto on immediate Scottish entry to the EU.
Speaking at a joint press conference with former French president, François Hollande, Mr Rajoy said: “It’s very clear to me, as it is for everybody else in the world, that a country that would obtain independence from the EU would remain out of the EU, and that is good for Scottish citizens to know and for all EU citizens to know.”
Mr Rajoy said EU treaties “apply only to member states that have agreed and ratified them, and if a part of one member state cleaves from the member state, it converts itself into a third part with relation to the EU”.
He added: “That is the law and that law applies.
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Former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond
François Hollande and Mariano Rajoy
“In no way does it benefit our European regions and our citizens to propose divisions or solo adventures in an uncertain future in which the exit points may seem clear but the destination is unknown.”
There is only one part of the UK, which, according to one of Britain’s foremost constitutional historians, will be able to automatically rejoin the bloc.
Professor Vernon Bogdanor told Express.co.uk: “The Belfast Agreement was conceived in the context of both Britain and Ireland remaining member states of the EU.
“Brexit, therefore, is likely to have consequences for the Agreement, in terms of North/South collaboration, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and indeed for the whole philosophy of power-sharing which lies at the basis of the Agreement.
Professor Vernon Bogdanor
“Northern Ireland, which voted to remain in the EU, is indeed in a unique position in the EU.
“If it did decide to join with Ireland, the European Council has agreed that the entire territory of the united island of Ireland would be part of the EU.
“Northern Ireland, therefore, is the only part of the UK that could secede and rejoin the EU without need to re-negotiate entry.”
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis echoed Professor Bogdanor’s claims in 2017, when he said that the UK Government’s position, in the event of a future border poll in favour of a united Ireland, was that should the people of Northern Ireland vote to leave the UK, they would “be in a position of becoming part of an existing EU member state, rather than seeking to join the EU as a new independent state”.