GLASGOW, Scotland (Reuters) - Scotland should have its own version of the Brexit “backstop” plan that the European Union and United Kingdom are trying to agree for the Irish border, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Monday.
The backstop that seeks to find a way to avoid checks on the border between Northern Ireland and EU state Ireland if there is no overall exit deal for Britain has become the biggest sticking point in negotiations between London and Brussels.
Under the disputed “Irish backstop” protocol of the largely completed draft withdrawal treaty, if Britain and the EU have failed to agree an open-borders EU-UK trade deal by the end of a transition period in 2020, Northern Ireland - but not mainland Britain - would remain de facto inside the EU economic space.
Speaking at her Scottish National Party (SNP) conference in Glasgow, Sturgeon said such an arrangement would put Scotland at a disadvantage to Northern Ireland, a comment underlining strains between the United Kingdom’s four nations over the Brexit vote.
Asked if a version of the Irish backstop should apply to Scotland, she told Sky News: “That would be my position.”
“If we are looking down the road to a situation where Belfast is still in the single market, and Glasgow is not, then any responsible first minister of Scotland is going to say ‘that’s a big worry for us’.”
The United Kingdom voted 52-48 to leave the European Union in a referendum in 2016. While England and Wales voted to leave, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is trying to clinch a Brexit deal which would take Britain out of the EU’s single market and customs union, flying in the face of a push by Sturgeon to keep single market membership.
A poll on Sunday showed rising support for Scottish independence from the UK, rejected by Scots in 2014.
Sturgeon has said that, in order to respect Scotland’s 62-38 percent vote to keep EU membership, Scots must have another choice once it is clear what Brexit means.
Scotland’s constitution minister Michael Russell, who has led talks to persuade May’s government to stay in the single market and customs union, headed a unanimous conference resolution demanding Scotland’s vote be respected.
The motion demanded that either the process of leaving the EU be extended or that the SNP seeks cross-party political consensus for a second Brexit vote.
Speaking in support of the motion, Alyn Smith, an SNP European lawmaker, talked of the frustration Scots felt at being taken out of the EU despite their vote to stay.
“Scotland is locked into a cabinet on the Titanic while the captain is heading towards the iceberg and telling the iceberg to get out of the way,” he said.
Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by John Stonestreet