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Independent Scotland 'would have to start afresh as EU member state'

SNP MEP dismisses Tory MP Hugo Swire's statement insisting that claims Scotland would join union automatically are wrong

The dispute over an independent Scotland's right to join the EU intensified after a Foreign Office minister insisted that it must start afresh as a new member state.

In the most strongly-worded statement on the issue so far by a UK minister, Hugo Swire told MPs that after independence, Scotland would need to start from scratch and negotiate with all 27 member states.

Swire insisted that Alex Salmond, the first minister, was completely wrong to assert that Scotland would automatically join the EU and inherit the UK's current opt-outs on issues such as the euro and cross-border policing treaties.

"The most likely scenario by far is that an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU as a new state, involving negotiation with the rest of the UK and other member states, the outcome of which cannot be predicted," Swire said.

"In simple terms, an independent Scotland could not just assert that it would be a member of the club – the other members would need to agree as well. The Scottish government must be prepared to respond and be upfront about the uncertainties surrounding their position."

But his stance was attacked by Alyn Smith, the Scottish National party MEP, as based on assertion and not on evidence. He said Scotland had been within the EU as part of the UK for 40 years, its laws and finances were entirely compliant with EU laws, and its population were already treated as EU citizens.

It was in the EU's interests to maintain as much continuity as possible during the process of transition. "Swire's hypothetical doom-mongering is as absurd an assertion as I have heard yet," Smith said. "The scenario is that we would negotiate from within."

The issue has risen in significance for the UK government as the semi-autonomous Spanish region of Catalonia prepares to vote in regional elections this weekend which are seen as a key test for the pro-independence movement.

The Scottish government has given conflicting views on whether an independent Scotland would automatically join the EU, which has allowed its critics to launch repeated attacks. It now says negotiations would be needed.

Smith, a lawyer, said those negotiations would have to agree the precise terms of Scotland's membership. He said it was unclear how long that would take but insisted they would take place in parallel with Scotland's independence negotiations with the UK government.

Much of the talks would be over "housekeeping" arrangements on Scotland's membership, including fixing the number of Scottish MEPs; he said those would more than double, from six to 13.

While adamant that membership of the euro or the Schengen border security treaty were unlikely to be forced on Scotland, he confirmed Scotland may need to accept some new terms of membership.

Some EU states, such as Cyprus, which has its own internal conflicts, could insist on concessions from Scotland. "I don't rule out the hypothetical chance that a member state like Cyprus might have a particular issue and we might have to do some horse-trading," he said.

He effectively dismissed claims by some nationalists that both the rest of the UK and Scotland would need to reapply as new states, acknowledging that the UK would remain a full member. The majority of EU states would want a smooth transition.

"It is in nobody's objective interests to see this stop while we do a hokey cokey to leave and come in again," he said.

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