THE political will exists to give Nicola Sturgeon more than two years to make Scotland independent, enabling the nation to remain in the EU as a sovereign state when the UK leaves, according to an influential Brussels politician.

Philippe Lamberts, the co-chairman of the European Green Party/European Free Alliance, said he saw no obstacle to an independent Scotland joining the EU, and that the 24-month timetable between Article 50 being triggered and the UK leaving could be extended, allowing the First Minister more time to achieve her ambition.

Lamberts, who was the MEP responsible for an EU cap on bankers’ bonuses, said that the EU’s remaining 27 leaders would also be happy to agree to an independent Scotland’s membership of the bloc as a way of dealing a blow to the UK Government. There will be a break-up with the UK and the 27 will not be happy about that. So I think they will be all to happy to recognise Scotland if only to thumb their nose at the UK Government,” he said.

The First Minister has ruled out an independence referendum this year but has said she is “not bluffing” about holding a vote in the likely event of a hard Brexit.

However, with Theresa May due to trigger Article 50 by the end of March, there is concern time might run out before Sturgeon is confident of holding a vote she can win and completing the constitutional framework to create a new independent state by spring 2019.

Recent polls put support for independence at around 45 per cent, the same as in September 2014 when the Yes side lost.

Lamberts, a Belgian MEP, said the individual heads of state who make up the European Council could prolong the two-year period of exiting negotiations. He said there was political will to extend the spring 2019 deadline for exiting and to accommodate any constitutional changes taking place in the UK.

“Paragraph 3 of Article 50 says that the treaty ceases to be applicable to states that leave from two years after the date it is invoked unless the European Council decide to prolong that process. It all comes down to political will and there is very strong political goodwill towards Scotland among Euro- pean politicians,” he said. “I am certain that goodwill towards Scotland will continue over the longer term.”

Lamberts saw no obstacle to an independent Scotland being a member of the EU. “Tell me why there should be a problem? Right now Scotland is part of a full member of the European Union, which means it applies all of the EU legislation and fulfils the conditions,” he said.

“Why should an independent Scotland not fulfil the conditions? To me it is quite obvious that if a new situation is created to change the constitutional order of the United Kingdom, Europe would not stand in the way of an independent Scotland being in the European Union.

“I believe it would inherit the UK’s membership. Primarily that is a political decision. If there is a political will, and I think it will be there, lawyers will find a way to make it legally happen.”

Lamberts believes Spain would not veto an independent Scotland EU’s membership over concerns it might stoke Catalan demands for independence. “No-one in the Spanish government wants Spain to leave the EU. You could not say that an independent Catalonia could inherit Spain’s membership – as Spain is not leaving. The situations between the UK and Spain are very different,” he said.

Lamberts said his views on Scotland and EU membership are shared by his fellow Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator.

In the same interview with The National, he said he did not bel- ieve Scotland could remain in the single market while the rest of the UK left – an opinion shared by others including some in Norway. In his role as a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) Lamberts was credited with an amendment to the Fourth Capital Requirements Directive that capped bankers’ bonuses – a move which provoked fury among the Tories.

Verhofstadt has previously said there would be no obstacle to an independent Scotland remaining in the EU. Last month Monica Frassoni, the co-chairman of the European Green Party and a former MEP, suggested an independent Scotland could take over the UK’s membership of the European Union as England, Wales and Northern Ireland leave.

Frassoni said when East and West Germany unified in 1990, Germany became an expanded state in the bloc without having to negotiate special terms.

MEPs will not have a direct involvement in the Brexit negotiations but their opinions are significant as they will have to vote on and approve any EU exit deal reached with the UK.