THE European Union’s ambassador to the UK Joao Vale de Almeida has thanked Nicola Sturgeon for supporting EU citizens who are living in Scotland.

He made the comments at the end of a two-day visit to Scotland and after meeting the First Minister and External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson in Edinburgh on Thursday.

“I thank the Scottish Government for all of the support in reaching out to our EU citizens in Scotland during the last year or so,” he told journalists yesterday. He said some six million EU citizens living in the UK were given settled status following Brexit.

“I thank the First Minister and of course I very much welcome continued support to our citizens as they contribute to Scotland’s economy,” he added.

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During his visit Vale de Almeida also met with academics and university figures in Scotland.

It was his first in-person visit to Scotland since becoming the EU ambassador to the UK last year.

Last month he travelled to Northern Ireland and is also due to visit Wales.

The top diplomat met with Sturgeon after the weekly session of First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood on Thursday.

His visit comes amid turmoil over food, fuel and labour shortages caused by Brexit and the end of freedom of movement, and as the SNP prepare to step up their independence campaign with the intention of Scotland rejoining the EU as a new member state.

After their meeting, the Scottish Government posted a picture on Twitter of the First Minister and the EU ambassador together. It said: “Nicola Sturgeon met with @ValedeAlmeidaEU on his first physical visit to Scotland.

“They discussed the importance of climate leadership at #COP26, supporting EU Citizens, and strengthening Scotland’s higher education and research links with Europe.”

The National asked the Portuguese diplomat in May this year whether he believed an independent Scotland could rejoin the EU.

“Let me say the following. First of all, we have enormous respect, appreciation and friendship with all our friends in Scotland, those who support the European Union and are committed to European affairs at all levels from business to universities to think tanks,” he said.

“Part of my role and a real pleasure is to keep very close contact with all our friends in Scotland.”

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He added diplomatic protocol prevented him from commenting on “hypothetical scenarios”.

Vale de Almeida became the EU’s ambassador to London last year following the UK departure from the EU, converting the commission’s representative office into an embassy.

However, a row erupted over Britain’s reluctance to grant the ambassador full diplomatic status with the UK government withholding the full diplomatic privileges on the grounds that the EU is not a sovereign state. He was granted full diplomatic status in May this year.