NICOLA Sturgeon has told leaders in Brussels that she will use the powers of Holyrood to ensure Scotland keeps a close relationship with the EU.

Speaking at the European Policy Centre, the First Minister said: “We will try to influence negotiations in a way which benefits Scotland, the UK and the EU.

“In particular, we will stress the value of having as close a trading relationship with the EU as possible.”

The SNP leader also warned Boris Johnson against diverging from EU standards, saying the freedom to be different could come with a “heavy” cost.

The First Minister suggested the only reason you would want different standards from Europe is so you could introduce lower standards.

Sturgeon, who earlier in the day met with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said: “The right to diverge will come at a cost – in my view a cost that is too heavy.

“As things stand, there is a danger that the UK will significantly reduce our access to the single market – something which will harm manufacturers and service industries across the country – because it wants the freedom to lower standards relating to health, safety, the environment and workers’ rights.

“The Scottish Government will argue against that approach. We largely support the idea of a level playing field, which removes the possibility of the UK adopting lower standards than the EU.

“Now, on past evidence, I must confess that I am not overly optimistic about our chances of success.”

The First Minister also said the Scottish Government would use available powers to “keep pace with EU regulations”.

She added: “It is a way in which we can protect the health and wellbeing of people in Scotland, maintain the international reputation of businesses in Scotland and make it easier, when the time comes, as I believe it will, for Scotland to return to the EU.”

The SNP leader went on to state that her party will continue to push for Scotland to become an independent country, which would hope to rejoin the EU in the future.

Sturgeon also said Scotland has “never needed the EU more”.

In her speech, she said: “We are leaving the European Union, imperfect that it undoubtedly is, at a time when we have never benefited from it more.

“And we are also leaving it – in my view – at a time when we have never needed it more.

“In an age when intolerance and bigotry seem to be on the rise, the values of the EU – values of democracy, equality, solidarity, the rule of law and respect for human rights – are more important than ever.”

Last week, Donald Tusk, the former European Council president, said Brussels felt “empathy” at the prospect of an independent Scotland joining the EU.

He told The Andrew Marr Show: “Sometimes I feel I am Scottish.

"I am very Scottish now, especially after Brexit. Emotionally, I have no doubt that everyone will be enthusiastic here in Brussels, and more generally in Europe. If you ask me about our emotions, you will witness I think always empathy.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Tusk’s comments were “rather irresponsible, given the secessionist, separatist tendencies in Spain, in France, in Italy”.