SCOTLAND and Northern Ireland could be allowed to remain in the European Union when the rest of the UK leaves, according to an expert in EU law.

Dr Nikos Skoutaris, of the University of East Anglia, said the EU has the necessary legal mechanisms to accommodate the wishes of voters in both countries that supported staying in the bloc.

But he indicated significant changes to both the current UK and EU constitutional frameworks were “almost unavoidable” in order to fulfill their aspirations.

Writing in the Cambridge Yearbook of European Legal Studies, Skoutaris, a lecturer in EU law, set out two options for Scotland and Northern Ireland to remain in the EU and/or the single market.

The first option involves the achievement of Scottish independence and the reunification of Ireland through referendums, while the second would see Scotland and Northern Ireland remaining in the EU and/or the single market without leaving the UK.

He cited previous cases of territorial differentiation including Greenland and the Faroe Islands and said underlining these are legally defensible precedents that would allows a similar situation to come about in the UK. Both are part of Denmark, but unlike Denmark neither is in the EU.

He added that if England and Wales withdraw from the single market and the customs union, while Scotland and Northern Ireland remain, a customs border and border checks within the territory of the UK would come about.

But he said in order for both Scotland and Northern Ireland to operate in the EU and the European Economic Area, a major constitutional amendment to the devolution arrangement would be required. Skoutaris acknowledged this would pose a significant change to the UK’s constitution, but said that for the UK Government it would be preferable to both countries leaving the Union.

“The UK might become almost a confederation but it would still be one recognised state under international law,” said Skoutaris. “In other words, it could save the Union.” He added: “Even if neither the UK nor the devolved administrations opt for such a [differentiated] arrangement, it could still prove useful.

“It could be used transitionally until there is a renegotiation and a resettlement of the constitutional status of those two nations, ensuring they do not find themselves outside the single market even for a minute. “In any case, both the current UK and EU constitutional frameworks somehow seem to be unable to accommodate the very different aspirations of the UK constituent nations. Their significant amendment is almost unavoidable.”

His arguments echo Nicola Sturgeon’s proposals in her Scotland in Europe document published last year.