Nicola Sturgeon has been boosted by news a deal with Brussels could be possible
The SNP chief’s hopes of staying in the single market were given a cautious seal of approval by a pro-Brussels constitutional expert who was grilled by MEPs in the Belgian capital.
Law lecturer Dr Kirsty Hughes, who is a senior fellow at the pro-EU Friends of Europe think-tank, said she did “not accept” that it would be legally and politically impossible for Ms Sturgeon to seal a deal.
And she railed against the quality of the Brexit debate unfolding in the United Kingdom, warning that relations between England and Scotland will become “very difficult” over the issue.
Dr Hughes, who has worked for the EU Commission, was invited to give evidence as an expert witness to the constitutional affairs committee, which is proving the legal complexities of Britain’s split from Brussels.
During a hearing at the EU Parliament this morning she did not hide her disdain for Brexit and accused Theresa May of ignoring the views of people in Scotland and Northern Ireland who voted Remain.
But she was challenged by the former Ukip MEP Diane James, who said opinion polling showed there was little support for a second independence referendum amongst the Scottish public.
Dr Kirsty Hughes said Scotland could stay partly in the EU
Theresa May is facing a tough time accommodating Scotland's interests in the talks
Ms James also pointed out that Ms Sturgeon has been rebuffed in her attempts to build a rapport with chief eurocrats, who bluntly told her that Scotland would have to quit the bloc alongside the rest of the UK.
She said: “They have been told repeatedly by the Commission, by Mr Tusk, by Mr Juncker, that no special deal can be done and I think we ought to accept that’s the case rather than try to circumvent the European mechanism which is making a very clear signal.”
But while Dr Hughes admitted there had been “no so-called Brexit bounce” in terms of support for splitting up the UK, but quickly added: “The wish for self-determination and to be a state in the EU is a reasonable one.”
She insisted she was not expressing an opinion on whether Scotland should go it alone, but then forcefully added: “I don’t accept the view that Juncker and Tusk have said no deal can be done.”
The law expert also bemoaned the fact that amendments to the Article 50 bill proposed by the SNP and Labour were rejected by parliament earlier this week, which handed Mrs May the power to formally begin divorce talks.
The way pro-EU politics is playing out in the UK at the moment I would call it very disappointing
Dr Kirsty Hughes
She said: “The position that the Labour leader and the Labour Party has taken, along with the Conservative party, is that the result of the referendum has to be respected and that it’s illegitimate at this point not to respect it and to argue against it.
“I reject that view. The idea of being told to play with team UK as if we’re in a one party state is slightly offensive.
“It’s perfectly acceptable to say that you respect the result, but you’re going to continue to argue against it and try to change minds, and if you see minds changing there should be a second referendum.”
And she blasted: “There has been a lack of political leadership arguing the case as to why this is a hugely disastrous move for the UK and so to change minds.
“The way pro-EU politics is playing out in the UK at the moment, I would call it very disappointing.”
Dr Hughes also offered a very pessimistic assessment of how she thinks the Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU will unfold, saying they will be “poisonous” and drive a wedge between England and Scotland.
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Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in pictures.
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Nicola Sturgeon visits Glaxo Smith Kline.
She said there was a “long discussion” to be had about “whether the UK has an identity” and pointed to the negative campaigning and fear tactics tactics employed by the Better Together camp in order to win the 2014 independence referendum. She made no reference to the near identical tactics used by the Remain camp in last summer’s EU vote.
Instead she added: “It will get poisonous, I think it will get at different points bitter and pointless sadly between Britain and the EU27 and I would so far congratulate the EU27 on their approach to this that hasn’t made it months of panic.
“I think that things are going to get very difficult between Scotland and England.”
The discussion was informal and as such no vote was cast on any of its findings, but they could still influence the Brexit negotiations. Ms Sturgeon and her ministers are increasingly targeting the more sympathetic EU Parliament for support, given that it wields a veto over any deal agreed between Brussels and the UK.