FORMER foreign secretary David Miliband yesterday dismissed SNP claims that an independent Scotland would automatically join the European Union as “fantasy island”.
On a visit to Scotland, Mr Miliband said leaving the UK would leave an independent Scotland “in limbo in Europe”.
Mr Miliband, who served as foreign secretary in the Labour government, claimed there would have to be “detailed and forensic negotiations” between all the current member states before Scotland could be admitted to the EU.
But a spokesman for Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Mr Miliband was mistaken and Scotland would have automatic entry, which had been confirmed this week by a leading expert.
Mr Miliband, Labour MP for South Shields, entered the fierce debate that has been raging over Europe since it emerged that Alex Salmond’s government has not obtained specific legal advice on the prospect of Scotland joining the EU.
With Croatia poised to join the EU next year after a decade-long battle for membership, Mr Miliband warned that an independent Scotland could find itself in a similar position.
“Next week is the second reading of the Croatian accession bill. I remember when we first started debating the entry of Croatia into the EU, it was over ten years ago,” Mr Miliband said.
“I have sat in on enlargement negotiations and some of them successful, like Croatia. Others have been unsuccessful, like Turkey, who are not so much stuck in the slow lane, but are stuck in an outer orbital lane. There is a long queue of countries.”
Mr Miliband added that the process for admission to the EU was long and tortuous.
“There are 35 chapters of EU legislation that have to be gone through – line by line – and all 27 countries have to agree on every line,” he said.
The addition of a new country would affect the relative wealth of all other EU countries, Mr Miliband claimed. He also said it would have an impact on the voting weight for each country in terms of the relative influence of their MEPs – factors that would have to be reflected by an adjustment of EU rules.
“The final part is that you have to get agreement of all 27 countries, soon to be 28, of all ministers, and then it has to be ratified by each country,” Mr Miliband said.
“France has said that any enlargement of the EU will require a referendum in France.”
Mr Miliband added: “The purpose of spelling that out is that the idea of some sort of automaticity [entry] into the EU is just fantasy island.”
The Labour politician, who served as a Cabinet minister in the Blair and Brown governments, arrived in Scotland yesterday to speak to students at Stirling University. He took the opportunity to express his views on the SNP’s European policy.
“The real warning I am issuing is that there is a real danger, which the Scottish people need to think about – and it is their choice – that leaving the UK can leave you in limbo in Europe, and that needs to be understood,” Mr Miliband said.
His intervention follows a bad-tempered spat between Labour and the SNP over the practicalities of EU membership, should Scots vote “Yes” in the independence referendum.
The row erupted last week when Ms Sturgeon revealed the Scottish Government had not asked law officers for formal advice on EU membership. The SNP has repeatedly claimed an independent Scotland could automatically join the EU, while opting out of the euro.
Ms Sturgeon’s revelation about the lack of specific advice was accompanied by her announcement that ministers would be dropping a £12,000 legal action, which had been taken to prevent the public from finding out whether or not the advice existed.
Last night, the Scottish Government disputed Mr Miliband’s claims, quoting evidence given by Graham Avery, an honorary director-general of the European Commission, to Westminster’s foreign affairs committee.
His evidence stated: “For practical and political reasons, they [Scotland] could not be asked to leave the EU and apply for readmission.”
A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said: “Scotland has been an integral part of the EU for almost 40 years and the people of Scotland are citizens of the EU.
“As distinguished legal, constitutional and European experts have confirmed, there is no provision for either of these circumstances to change upon independence, and the rest of the UK will be in the same position. We will both be successor states, with exactly the same status.”