A LEADING German MEP has said he feels Scotland is already a member of the European Union, as he underlines that he will “help in whatever way he can” and is “ready to engage” on behalf of the country.

David McAllister made the comments as he praised the work of Scottish Government officials in the Belgium capital when he spoke to a Holyrood committee yesterday morning.

He added he was ready to engage on behalf of Scotland as he attacked Boris Johnson’s decision not to let the UK remain in the EU’s Erasmus education exchange scheme.

McAllister is a senior member of the governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in Germany and a close ally of both its Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, a former defence minister in Merkel’s government. He is a former prime minister of the Lower Saxony region in Germany.

“Let me commend the excellent work Scotland is doing in Brussels. They are very active,” he said.

“Sometimes I am so often in contact with representatives from your Government that I’ve got a feeling that I have a new constituency in the European Parliament but I am happy to support where I can.

“I enjoy talking to Scots and wherever I can help I will be ready to get engaged.”

His remarks followed a question by SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson about the Erasmus scheme, who told him that the Scottish Government was prepared to make the financial contribution to ensure the universities could remain in the EU’s programme.

“I deeply regret the UK Government’s decision not to participate in the Erasmus programme. I don’t even want to be diplomatic. I want to be very outspoken. This is a total lose-lose situation,” McAllister told MSPs on the Parliament’s Europe committee, who were taking evidence on the Brexit trade deal.

“I am really, really disappointed, especially as the UK originally indicated that they would be ready to continue in this, a programme of academic co-operation.”

He said the UK could still rejoin and that the Brexit trade deal provided for such a possibility.

McAllister was speaking after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – a former defence minister in Merkel’s government rejected a request by more than 144 MEPs from across the EU, for Scotland and Wales to continue in the scheme without England. Northern Ireland will continue to participate after the Irish Government agreed an arrangement for it with the Commission.

The move also came as Scotland’s Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead held talks with the EU’s education commissioner Mariya Gabriel.

McAllister is the son of German and Scottish parents, he was brought up bilingual and attended a British primary school in Berlin, and was among the MEPs who signed the letter to von der Leyen.

He went on to say he hoped the UK would change its mind and that students across Britain will be able to benefit from the scheme again.

Pointing to von der Leyen’s reply to the MEPs’ letter, he said: “The European Commission has made public that association to Erasmus is not possible for Scotland and Wales separately, the only possibility as the commission argues, is for the UK as a whole or not at all.”

After reading out her letter, he added: “This is a clear position taken by the European Commission, I could imagine that not everybody in the European Parliament will share the view of the commission president in this matter but we are all politicians that was a very clear announcement from the commission president.”

The Erasmus programme was launched in 1987 with 11 participating member states, including the UK. It has enabled students to study in another European country – or a “partner country” elsewhere in the world – by funding their grants and waiving their tuition fees.

In 2014, the programme became Erasmus+ and expanded to include apprentices, volunteers, staff and youth exchanges, and jobseekers.

Brexit did not have to mean the UK had to end its involvement with the programme but the Tory Government said the terms for continued participation were not in the UK interests.

In December last year, the Prime Minister announced the UK would no longer participate in the programme and it would be replaced by the Turing Scheme, which would allow around 35,000 participants to go on placements across the world from September this year.

However, it does not fund overseas students taking part at UK institutions – a major flaw for Scotland hoping to attract and retain highly skilled residents.