Sturgeon upbeat over first talks on Scots staying in EU

NICOLA Sturgeon last night insisted she was 'heartened' by the EU's response to her attempts to keep Scotland in the bloc despite Spain and France suggesting her efforts will fail.

Wednesday, 29th June 2016, 11:46 pm
Updated Thursday, 30th June 2016, 11:11 am
European Parliament President Martin Schulz, main, walks with Nicola Sturgeon at the European Parliament in Brussels. Picture: Getty

The First Minister said she met a “sympathetic response” from senior figures in the EU after a series of meetings in Brussels to discuss the implications of the Brexit vote for Scotland.

On a diplomatic trip to the European Parliament, Ms Sturgeon was determined to remain upbeat about her mission even though Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and French President Francois Hollande said negotiations about the future of the EU would be conducted with the UK rather than Scotland. Despite that setback, the SNP leader said: “I found doors to be open here today.”

Last night, a crowd of more than 1,000 pro-EU campaigners gathered outside the Scottish Parliament to protest against Brexit. They waved banners with slogans such as “We believe in yEUth Scotland” and “Boris is a Bampot”. Ms Sturgeon travelled to Brussels to protect Scotland’s interests in the EU after last week’s vote which saw 62 per cent of Scots vote to Remain.

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Talks were held with European Parliament president Martin Schulz and the leaders of several of the groups in the European Parliament before Ms Sturgeon went on to meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

“If there is a way for Scotland to stay, I am determined to try to find that way,” Ms Sturgeon said.

But the challenges that the First Minister faces were made plain by Mr Rajoy, whose country is facing its own constitutional challenges from the Catalan independence movement.

He told reporters at the European Council summit in Brussels: “If the UK leaves, so does Scotland. Scotland has no competences to negotiate with the EU. The Spanish government rejects any negotiation with anyone other than the United Kingdom.”

French president Francois Hollande agreed, saying: “The negotiations will be conducted with the UK, not with a part of the United Kingdom.”

Their interventions could dash any move to secure a separate deal for continued Scottish membership before the UK completes its two-year withdrawal process, as any such arrangement would depend on unanimous support from member states.

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Spain was not expected to look favourably on Ms Sturgeon’s plan as Madrid does not want to offer encouragement to Catalan separatists.

Ms Sturgeon reacted to their remarks last night, saying: “I don’t think the views of the Spanish Prime Minister will come as a surprise to anybody. We are here at the start of a process that will take the UK and the European Union into uncharted territory and part of what I am trying to do is that as we go into uncharted territory Scotland’s voice is heard and Scotland’s interests are being protected and asserted.”

According to Ms Sturgeon, Mr Juncker had given her a “very sympathetic response”.

Prior to their meeting Mr Juncker said Scotland had “won a right to be heard” in Brussels. But he was not so encouraging when it came to Ms Sturgeon’s hopes of negotiating a separate deal to stay in Europe. He said neither he nor European Council president Donald Tusk would get involved in internal British politics. “I will listen carefully to what the First Minister will tell me, but we don’t have the intention – neither Donald nor myself – to interfere in the British process,” said the commission president. “That is not our duty and not our job.”

Ms Sturgeon told reporters: “In the discussions I have had throughout the day I have heard, as you would expect, concern about the impact of the referendum, not just on Scotland or indeed on the UK, but also on people in all of the countries and on the EU itself.

“For my part I have emphasised that Scotland voted to remain part of the EU and I have a duty as First Minister to respond to and to seek to find a way to give effect to the democratic will of Scotland.”

She added: “My concern at this stage is to ensure that once the UK’s negotiations with the EU start, then all of the options are on the table. I don’t underestimate the challenges of that but I have been heartened today that I have found a willingness to listen.”

Yesterday, Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins said of the comments from Spain and France: “These remarks show just how important it is that Nicola Sturgeon works with the UK Government and other devolved governments in these negotiations. Simply ploughing her own furrow will not work, and will make for an overall weaker case.

“She’s already had several rejections on this solo mission, which is why she should be teaming up with the rest of the UK to get the best deal for Scotland.”

In the House of Commons, David Cameron brushed off a demand from the SNP’s leader in Westminster, Angus Robertson, to assist Scotland in its efforts to remain a part of the EU. He said “The membership of the UK is a UK membership and that’s where we should take our negotiating stance.”