NICOLA Sturgeon’s demand for a bespoke Brexit arrangement will be strengthened if Northern Ireland gets a differentiated deal, according to a leading European expert.

Theresa May’s rejection of the First Minister’s request has provoked fury and last month the anger intensified when leaked papers revealed the UK Government had asked the EU to frame any proposals for Ulster so they explicitly could not be applied to Scotland.

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In a submission to members of Holyrood’s Europe committee ahead of its session today, Anand Menon, Professor of European Politics at King’s College London, supported the First Minister’s argument.

“There are clearly implications for Scotland in the status of Northern Ireland once agreed,” he said.

“Should the latter end up with a 'special status' of some description, as seems a possibility, this will set a precedent that different parts of countries can deal with the European Union on different terms.”

However, he added a note of caution was needed.

“The incentives on the EU side for allowing exceptions on the movement of goods in particular across the island of Ireland after Brexit are driven by the pressing interests of a member state,” he said.

“Were a Scottish administration to push for a similar status as Northern Ireland, it would not be at the direct request or need of a member state. This makes such an outcome much less likely. Nevertheless, the precedent of Northern Ireland could add support to the argument that, whether independent or otherwise, Scotland could have a different relationship with the EU than the rest of the United Kingdom.”

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The professor is giving his assessment this morning on the current state of the negotiations and the likely scenarios for the coming months.

He also discussed the issue of when people should know if there will be a no deal scenario – a factor influencing the First Minister’s plans for a second independence referendum – stating the latest date would be January 21.

He said: “The European Union Withdrawal Act sets out the provisions in the event that no deal is either reached or becomes a serious prospect. In such a circumstance, a minister – likely Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab or, indeed, the Prime Minister – would have to present a statement to Parliament by 21 January to inform the Commons that no deal were a prospect or had been reached, and set out its planned course of action thereafter.”

Menon examined the likelihood of the Scottish Government’s objective of remaining in the single market and customs union – and concluded it could not be “definitively ruled out”.

He said there was one plausible scenario by which Theresa May could not get her deal through the Commons, and was either forced to resign or lose a confidence vote leading to a new Conservative leader and government or even a general election.

“In such a scenario, the uncertainties would be so great that even a further referendum could not be ruled out for certain, although this seems less plausible than a general election,” he said.

“Labour support for a general election means that if any Conservative government wanted one it would be possible either by a two-thirds majority of MPs or a simple majority for a no-confidence vote. Given all of this uncertainty, membership of the single market and customs union, although ruled out by the current government, could once again become live options with a change of political leadership and/or government.”

The Scottish Government wants the whole of the UK to stay in the customs union and single market, and failing that wants a differentiated arrangement for Scotland. But the UK Government has refused, despite considering special provision for Northern Ireland to be more closely aligned. Last December, Sturgeon tweeted: “If one part of UK can retain regulatory alignment with EU and effectively stay in the single market (which is the right solution for Northern Ireland) there is surely no good practical reason why others can’t.”

Brexit Secretary Michael Russell hit out after the leak of an EU paper last month, revealing it was “secretly preparing” to accept a frictionless Irish border after Brexit, with “technological solutions” to minimising customs checks. The note said: “The solution is specifically phrased for Northern Ireland so that it is not applicable for Scotland. A UK concern.”

Russell said: “It now seems the Prime Minister and her Brexit team have... been conspiring behind closed doors trying to persuade the EU not to listen to five million EU citizens living in Scotland, the majority of whom don’t want to leave.

“That would be a massive insult and a massive deceit as the UK Government has at no time admitted to such activity despite regular contact and the existence of a Joint Ministerial Committee which is meant to give an element and transparency accountability to the EU/UK negotiations,” he added.