Sturgeon pushes against half-closed European Union door

Spanish prime minister says if the UK leaves the EU, ‘Scotland leaves’

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon is welcomed by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker ahead of a meeting  in Brussels  yesterday.  Photograph: Eric Vidal/Reuters

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon is welcomed by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker ahead of a meeting in Brussels yesterday. Photograph: Eric Vidal/Reuters

 

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon was given a “sympathetic hearing” during a visit to Brussels on Wednesday, but no concrete promises on securing EU membership for Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, held talks in the European Parliament and European Commission in a bid to shore up support for Scotland to stay in the European Union, although European Council president Donald Tusk declined a request for a meeting.

Ahead of his meeting with the first minister, commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that Scotland had “won the right to be heard in Brussels”, but he also said the EU would not interfere in the British process.

“I will listen carefully to what the first minister will tell me, but we don’t have the intention – neither Donald [Tusk] nor myself – to interfere in the British process,” he said. “That is not our duty and not our job.”

In a sign of the political opposition likely to face Scottish EU membership, the Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said: “If the United Kingdom leaves . . . Scotland leaves. “The Spanish government is against – and I’m sure that everyone agrees with me on this – that talks are held with anyone but the UK government,” Mr Rajoy said. “Scotland doesn’t have any powers to hold such talks.”

Madrid is concerned that moves to secure EU membership for Scotland could stoke independence claims in Catalonia.

At a news conference in Brussels, Ms Sturgeon said that while some doors had been opened, “none of this is easy”.

“Since I’ve been here today, I’ve found enormous interest in the referendum result, as you would expect,” she said. “And I’ve also had a sympathetic response to the position Scotland now finds itself in, facing the prospect of being taken out of the European Union against our will. I’ve found doors to be open here today . . . we are right now in uncharted territory and none of this is easy.”

The Scottish National Party has vowed to fight for the country’s continued EU membership, despite last week’s Brexit vote. Scotland voted by 62 per cent to 38 per cent to remain in the EU.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny delivered a message from Ms Sturgeon at the two-day summit of EU leaders, conveying her view that Scotland should not be dragged out of the EU against its will.

Following a meeting with Ms Sturgeon, Philippe Lamberts and Rebecca Harms, co-chairs of the Green group, said they would support exploring options to help Scotland ensure EU membership. She also held talks with Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament.

Scottish MEP Alyn Smyth received a standing ovation in the parliament on Tuesday as he set out the case for Scotland’s EU membership. “Scotland did not let you down,” he said to cheers. “Please, I beg you, chers collègues, do not let Scotland down now.”