In a confidential report, seen by The National, senior EU figures say they’re ready to explore how to make the Scottish Government’s proposals for a differential Norwegian style post-Brexit model work.
The only stumbling block for Scotland’s future relationship with Europe is Prime Minister Theresa May.
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The Tory leader and her ministers have insisted any Brexit deal has to be done “under a single banner”.
Last December, Nicola Sturgeon produced proposals she said would allow Scotland to stay in the Single Market, even after the rest of UK leaves the EU.
The complex measures put forward in Scotland’s Place in Europe would allow tariff-free trade, and freedom of movement north of the Border, regardless of whatever deal is agreed for the rest of the UK. It would also mean a significant transfer of powers from Westminster to Holyrood.
The UK Government say they are still considering the First Minister’s plans. However, AFCO, the European Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs, has already been examining the EU’s options.
In a report sent to the Chair of the Conference of Committee Chairs, which will form the basis of the parliament’s negotiating position after the UK Government trigger Article 50, AFCO say the EU’s institutions, such as the European council, and the commission, “should be prepared” to deal with Scotland.
The report reads: “There are discussions in those territories [Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gilbraltar] regarding the possibility of obtaining differentiated status as compared to the rest of the UK in the withdrawal process.
“This would point to a possible differentiated territorial application of EU law. Moreover, there is a call from some sectors of those territories to listen to and accommodate the will of the majority of citizens of those territories to remain in the EU.”
It goes on, putting the ball firmly in the court of the Prime Minister: “Should such issues be raised during negotiations [by the UK Government], the [EU] institutions should be prepared for dealing with them from an EU law point of view.”
Regarding Scotland in particular, the analysis says the “different position of that devolved territory and of the UK Government regarding the participation in the single market as well as their approach to the free movement of citizens” should be explored and the possibility of “whether differentiations could be envisaged in the current constitutional and institutional set up of the Union should thus be addressed.”
In a footnote, it says: “It should be noted that Scotland voted 62 per cent to 38 per cent with a majority for Remain in all its council areas”.
A spokesman for Michael Russell said the report showed the EU was taking Scotland’s proposals seriously.
“This paper clearly shows there is a real willingness on the part of Brussels to engage seriously about a deal which would allow Scotland to remain in the single market – but that willingness needs to be matched by the UK Government,” he said.
“We have already compromised with the proposals we have put forward, and we need the Tories to do likewise – and this document proves they cannot get away with saying the EU would not be prepared to look seriously at such solutions.”
Alyn Smith, the SNP MEP said the letter showed “the doors are all open to Scotland in Brussels”.
He added: “The issue, sadly, is the willingness of the UK Government to similarly engage. Our proposals need to be included in the eventual Article 50 text, and it is open to the UK Government to take our points on board and represent Scotland’s interests or not. The people of Scotland are watching.”
However, a spokeswoman at the Department for Exiting the European Union said UK ministers were still looking at the Scottish Government proposals.
“We are working to secure the best possible deal for Scotland and the whole of the UK as we form a new partnership with Europe.
“The UK Government is engaging closely with the Scottish Government and the other devolved administrations, and is looking carefully at the proposals in the Scottish Government’s paper. It is clear that we all share common ground in wanting the freest possible trade in goods and services between the UK and the EU’s member States. This will be delivered through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free-trade agreement with the EU.”
Another section of the document which will likely frighten David Davis’s Brexit department is the warning that this process will set the precedent for a country leaving the EU. The “withdrawal approach” taken by the UK and the EU, here will become the framework for any other country trying to leave the bloc.
Brexiteers will be worried this means it’s in the EU’s interests to put off any other perspective leavers and make this process as difficult as possible.
It all makes the prospect of the “cliff edge” more likely, where the UK achieve no trade deal, no transitional deal, and the systems in place, like border controls, effectively collapse two years after Article 50 is triggered, which should be by the end of March 2019, causing widespread chaos.