EFTA chief offers SNP glimmer of hope over post-Brexit plans

The chair of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) has offered the SNP a glimmer of hope over plans to maintain Scotland's links with Europe post-Brexit, according to reports.

Liechtenstein's foreign minister Aurelia Frick, left, speaks with her Icelandic counterpart and EFTA chair Lilja Alfredsdottir. Picture: Keystone/AP

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, who is also Iceland’s foreign minister, said during a meeting of EFTA members in Geneva yesterday that it was ‘too premature to exclude anything’.

Ms Alfreðsdóttir, who recently met with Nicola Sturgeon at an Arctic Council meeting in Reykjavik, revealed that SNP politicians had been ‘very interested both in EFTA and also the EEA arrangement that Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein have’.

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Norway's Minister of Trade and Industry Monica Maeland, left, speaks with Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann. Picture: Keystone/AP

Ms Alfreðsdóttir added: “It is interesting but of course you need to be a sovereign state to apply but maybe as a possibility going forward - you never know.”

Ms Alfreðsdóttir said that EFTA would welcome an application from the UK, saying that she felt the group would be stronger as a result.

But any bid by the UK to join Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland could be met with anger by Leave voters.

EFTA membership allows EU citizens the right to live and work in the four countries along with market access, in exchange for monetary contributions to the EU.

Norway's Minister of Trade and Industry Monica Maeland, left, speaks with Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann. Picture: Keystone/AP

But Norway’s trade minister Monica Maeland said that Scotland lacked the ‘competence’ to join EFTA, adding: “I think this is an internal matter for the UK, so I think Scotland should talk to the government in the UK about these matters.”

And Liechtenstein’s foreign minister Aurelia Frick said that Scottish representatives were ‘coming and visiting Liechtenstein, and trying to find out about the functioning of the European Economic Area (EEA) that allows Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway to be part of the single market.’

SNP Foreign Affairs spokesman at Westminster Alex Salmond has also reportedly held informal talks with representatives from EFTA members in Switzerland.

But while Ms Frick said that Liechtenstein could inform Scotland about the way EFTA and the EEA works, she warned that the UK must thrash out its post-Brexit plans before membership of either body could be considered.

Reports over the weekend suggested that, as Scotland is not considered a state by the EU, it would be unable to apply to join the single market group.

It is looking increasingly likely that Scotland would have to vote for independence before it could apply to join the group, as per Article 56 of the EFTA Convention.

The SNP are due to publish plans outlining how the party plans to maintain Scotland’s links with the EU in the wake of Brexit in the coming weeks.