UK government: an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU
In a lively discussion on the LabourList website of whether Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, lied when he allegedly told Andrew Neil that the SNP government had obtained legal advice that an independent Scotland would not have to apply to join, or re-join, the EU, I have drawn attention in a comment to an interesting but neglected statement of the UK government’s view:
I carry no torch for Alex Salmond (although I regard him as the most formidable political leader in the UK) and I’m vehemently opposed to independence for Scotland. But as I understand it, his defence against the charge of having lied about having obtained legal advice on the question of an independent Scotland’s position vis-à-vis the EU is that his and other SNP statements on the subject, arguing that Scotland’s existing status of EU membership (as part of the UK) would continue after independence so that there would be no need to apply as a candidate for membership, had all been seen and approved by the Scottish government’s legal advisers. This can, I suppose, just about be squared with Salmond’s reply to Andrew Neil (“We have, yes, in terms of the debate”). I conclude, somewhat reluctantly, that the charge of ‘lying’ can’t be made to stick, although the charge of having been deliberately misleading probably does.
But in all the excitement over what Salmond did or didn’t say and whether he lied, an important statement by the UK government on the question of Scotland and the EU seems to have been widely missed. The only reasonably full report of it that I can find was in the Guardian of 1 November, at http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/nov/01/alex-salmond-scotland-eu-membership
The relevant passage reads:
“In a brief statement issued on Thursday, Westminster hinted strongly that its legal advice directly contradicted the claim by Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, that, if Scotland voted for independence, it and the rest of the UK would need to reapply to join the EU as newly formed states.
“The UK government statement stressed that, unlike the Scottish government, it had obtained formal advice from its law officers and that Scotland would have to negotiate the terms of its EU membership with the UK and all other 26 member states.
It said: ‘This government has confirmed it does hold legal advice on this issue. Based on the overwhelming weight of international precedent, it is the government’s view that the remainder of the UK would continue to exercise the UK’s existing international rights and obligations and Scotland would form a new state.
‘The most likely scenario is that the rest of the UK would be recognised as the continuing state and 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.’
“Referring to statements by European commission president, José Manuel Barroso, and his deputy, Viviane Reding, that a newly independent country would be seen as a new applicant, it added: ‘Recent pronouncements from the commission support that view.’ “
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