AN INDEPENDENT Scotland would have to negotiate its way back into the EU, the coalition government said yesterday.
In the clearest statement yet from the UK government on the post-independence position in Europe, Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire said the “weight of international legal precedent” held that Scotland would have to reapply for membership.
Meanwhile, Labour MP Ann McKechin suggested an independent Scotland could be hit with import tariffs when trading with the rest of the UK if it is not granted automatic admission to the European Union.
Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on Scotland in Europe, Mr Swire said: “England, Northern Ireland and Wales would continue the international legal personality of the UK; Scotland, having decided to leave the UK, would start afresh.
“The overwhelming weight of international legal precedent underscores this point.
“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.”
He added that this would mean Scotland would have to commit to joining the euro and Schengen border agreement, and could lose the UK rebate as well as having to negotiate new agreements on fishing and agricultural policies.
If Scotland has to join the Schengen agreement, this would lead to border posts with the rest of the UK.
Glasgow MP Ms McKechin warned that if Scotland had to negotiate its way back into the EU, it would also have to do the same for the World Trade Organisation. She said being outside the EU would mean Scotland could find itself subject to import tariffs in relation to the rest of the UK, which represents two-thirds of its “exports”.
She told MPs: “If Scotland were not part of the EU in a post-separation scenario, obviously its trading relationship with the rest of the UK would be in question – what criteria, tariffs and so on, would be in force.”
Ms McKechin added: “Scotland’s economy relies heavily on having a stable export market and many thousands of jobs depend on foreign trade, but the manner in which the Scottish Government have twisted and turned at every corner to avoid a clear answer as to what legal advice they had on such questions can only corrode public trust.”
She also pointed out that it took Croatia a decade to enter the EU because of an objection from Slovenia.
Ms McKechin said: “Given the gridlock of other membership requests, and that other EU states are much less relaxed about national referendums for secession, there is every risk that the application and negotiations could drag on, with consequent risks and uncertainty to our economy and particularly our financial services.”
She insisted Scottish voters needed to know what the position would be before making their decision in 2014 and accused the Scottish Government of trying to avoid the question.
However, the SNP accused Ms McKechin of “scaremongering”. Nationalist Angus MP Mike Weir asked if she was sure the rest of the UK would still be part of the EU, given the current pressure on the coalition government for an in/out referendum.
CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan said the issue was a “concern”. He said: “This is one of the issues that adds to the great uncertainty around independence. It causes uncertainty for businesses and consumers.”
Recently the Scottish Government admitted it had not sought legal advice on the issue of Scotland’s place in Europe after a possible vote in favour of independence.
But the likelihood of Scotland having an easy path was reduced last month when Spanish foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told his parliament in Madrid that Scotland “would have to join the queue”.
Ms McKechin added that “as a small country among 28”, Scotland “would be in a very weak position” to negotiate a good settlement”.
But the SNP yesterday maintained that as Scotland was already a member of the EU, it would be allowed to remain so post-independence.
Perth and North Perthshire SNP MP Pete Wishart said the pro-Union MPs had adopted a “scaremongering culture”.
He said: “Of course, the plat du jour this week is scaremongering on Europe. Barely a day goes past without another instalment in the scaremongering stories.
“Their message to the Scottish people when it comes to Europe is, ‘You cannae dae this, we’re no gonna let you do that and don’t even think about this.’”
He said that the main threat to Scotland remaining in the EU came from the UK’s possible departure.
He said: “There is a threat to Scotland’s European membership. It comes from the Union; it comes from the Westminster Tories.They are even prepared to defeat their government to ensure that they get this country out of the European Union.”