June 29, 2016 3:52 pm

Spain’s Rajoy opposes EU talks with Scotland

Duncan Robinson in Brussels and Tobias Buck in Madrid

Scottish hopes of retaining EU membership in the case of a British exit from the bloc were discouraged by Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who insisted there could be no separate negotiations between Brussels and Edinburgh.

“If the United Kingdom leaves [the EU], so does Scotland,” Mr Rajoy told a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday. “Scotland has no competences to negotiate with the EU. The Spanish government rejects any negotiation with anyone other than the United Kingdom.”

The comments came as Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon rushed to Brussels to lobby influential MEPs and EU officials on the politically vexed issue of the country’s EU future.

After Mr Juncker met with Ms Sturgeon on Wednesday evening, a commission spokesperson offered qualified support: “The president respects Scottish democracy and the result in Scotland; However, this is an issue that pertains to the constitutional order of the United Kingdom and will have to be dealt with in this context.”
Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, said Scotland had “won the right to be heard in Brussels” after the country voted overwhelmingly — 62 per cent to 38 per cent — to stay in the EU during last week’s UK referendum.

Scottish nationalists lost a long-awaited referendum two years ago. But there are now fears that a Brexit will prompt a re-run in which they would prevail, breaking apart the UK.

Lawyers and diplomats have spent the past few days considering the legal options available to Edinburgh to preserve EU membership. The idea of giving Scotland a “special status” within the UK that would allow it to remain a member of the EU without declaring independence was raised during the Scottish first minister’s meetings in Brussels, according to one official.

Some EU officials believe Scotland must first become fully independent and then reapply for membership.

Mr Rajoy holds a veto over Scotland’s fate because EU rules require all governments to approve the accession of a new member. Contending with a powerful independence movement in Catalonia, Madrid has been a longstanding opponent of the creation of breakaway states in Europe. 

John Kay

Scottish Nationalists succeed where Leavers fail

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JUNE 16: Scottish Green Party co-convener Patrick Harvie, Ruth Davidson leader of Scottish Conservatives, Kezia Dugdale leader of Scottish Labour and Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon pose with supporting MSPs as they gather outside the Scottish Parliament with vote remain EU banners on June 16, 2016 in Edinburgh, Scotland. With one week to go before the EU referendum on June 23rd campaigning by the 'In' and 'Out' campaigns are stepping up a gear. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***

The great achievement of the SNP is to be a party of protest and of government at the same time

Catalan voters elected a firmly pro-secession government last September that is officially committed to leading the prosperous north-eastern region to independence by next year.

Officials in Madrid worry that any signal of encouragement from Brussels towards Scotland’s independence-minded government would further embolden the secessionists in Catalonia — and create a potentially crucial precedent for the break-up of a sovereign EU member state.

Other EU leaders are more sympathetic to Scotland’s plight. Irish leader Enda Kenny revealed that he spoke on behalf of Ms Sturgeon during Tuesday’s meeting of heads of government in Brussels, repeating her message that Scotland should not be “dragged” out of the EU against its will.

In Brussels, some officials have been keen to play down the ramifications of the meetings. When asked what Mr Juncker will discuss with the Scottish first minister, one senior EU official replied: “regional policy”.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, which represents heads of governments, declined to meet the Scottish leader, in part because of the intense sensitivities surrounding the issue of breakaway countries joining the EU.

Following meetings with influential MEPs, including former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt and European Parliament president Martin Schulz, Ms Sturgeon said: “I set out very clearly Scotland’s desire to protect our relationship with the European Union. This is very much an initial meeting, so people understand that Scotland does not want to leave the European Union.”