EDINBURGH, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Britain’s Secretary of State for Scotland will tell the Scottish parliament on Wednesday that Scotland is leaving the EU whether or not it becomes independent.
The comments by David Mundell are bound to raise hackles with the pro-independence devolved Scottish government as talk of a new referendum on splitting from the United Kingdom swirls.
A majority of Scots voted to stay in the European Union in last June’s Brexit referendum but Britain as a whole will nevertheless quit the EU due to the weight of the pro-leave vote in more populous England.
The Scottish government says that means Scotland should have a choice on a future without the United Kingdom.
Although the independence movement lost a referendum in September 2014, the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) says that a second independence referendum is warranted as Brexit means circumstances have significantly changed.
But Mundell will say: “The Scottish government are in exactly the same position they were in before the 2014 referendum - arguing for an independent Scotland that would face an uncertain process applying to join the EU as a new member state.”
“There is no set of circumstances in which Scotland could remain a member of the EU after the rest of the UK has left,” he will say, according to an advance copy of his speech.
Mundell is the only member of the British parliament from the ruling Conservative Party to hold a seat in Scotland.
In response to his comments, a Scottish government spokesperson said: “Scotland faces being dragged out of Europe against its will by a Tory (Conservative) government with just one MP out of 59 in Scotland, but that MP – David Mundell – seems totally oblivious to the irony of him seeking to lay down the law on what should happen next.”
The devolved government in Edinburgh has proposed that Scotland be able to retain at least membership of the EU’s single market once Britain leaves.
But it accepts that the EU will not negotiate with it directly. And the British government has given no sign it is ready to seek special deals from Brussels for Scotland.
The notion that Scotland could somehow secede and negotiate its own independent membership of the EU to start by the time the rest of the United Kingdom leaves the bloc in early 2019 is dismissed as far-fetched by British and EU officials.
European Union leaders refuse to be drawn on hypothetical questions of whether a future independent Scotland would be let in and how long that would take. Fears of encouraging the break-up of other members, such as Spain or Belgium, meant the EU maintained a chilly distance from the Scots’ 2014 secession bid.
However, Scots’ strong vote in favour of remaining despite the Brexit vote in England has generated sympathy, EU diplomats say. As long as Scotland avoided a unilateral or disputed secession, Spain and others would find it difficult to argue it should be uniquely and indefinitely barred from joining the EU.
The EU treaty says “any European state” may apply. “There’s no question we would welcome Scotland very warmly, and pretty quickly, once it became independent,” a senior EU diplomat said.
How long that might take is unclear. As part of the EU now, Scotland broadly meets all the membership criteria, for example on democracy. While a troubled country like Serbia is still negotiating its accession after seven years, members like Sweden joined in the 1990s within two years of applying.
However, the changes inherent in becoming an independent state would raise uncertainties about Scotland’s institutions and its economy, which could prolong the accession process.
In any case, the timing of a new bid for secession is unclear. Earlier this month a poll suggested support for Scottish secession has risen to 49 percent from 45 percent, the same level as in the 2014 independence referendum. (Reporting by Elisabeth O‘Leary in Edinburgh and Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; Editing by Angus MacSwan)