Scotland will always be a part of Europe, Nicola Sturgeon tells Brussels

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Nicola Sturgeon made an emotional plea to Brussels yesterday as her government was engulfed in a diplomatic row with its UK counterpart over her trip to Belgium.

The First Minister said a “basic truth” was that “Scotland is, always has been, and always will be a European nation” as she addressed the European Policy Centre.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, left, and European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Picture: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, left, and European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Picture: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

She said her government deeply regretted the UK’s vote to leave the EU and added: “We think the best option – for the UK, as well as for Scotland – would be to remain in the EU.

“The basic values of the EU are ones we identify with. We like the idea of independent nation states co-operating for the common good.”

Meeting European Commission president Jean-Claude Junker and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier while in Brussels, she also criticised the UK government, describing its Brexit position as filling her with “despair” as there was no “coherent or credible UK government position to speak of”. Ms Sturgeon said that “Brexit – and all that flows from it – runs counter to Scotland’s expressed democratic wishes”.

But her visit was mired in controversy after Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he had refused to allow Foreign Office staff to help with the logistics of the trip. Mr Hunt had said his officials should be “focused on furthering the objectives of Her Majesty’s Government (HMG)”.

A UK government spokesperson said while diplomatic staff regularly provide support to devolved administrations, “a balance must be struck to avoid supporting activities intended to campaign for policies contrary to HMG’s position”.

The revelation was dismissed by Ms Sturgeon as “childish and pathetic”. She she said she hoped Scotland’s separate stance on Brexit was being “acknowledged and welcomed” in Europe.

Ms Sturgeon said that in the “battle of ideas which is confronting many European countries”, Scotland and its people had “consistently supported ideals of internationalism, European solidarity and co-operation”.

She said while the free movement of people across Europe had boosted Scotland’s population and helped address a shortage of workers, it was not her government’s sole reason for remaining in the EU. “We want not simply to benefit from free movement and free trade, although we do,” she said. “We also want to contribute Scotland’s ideas and talents to Europe’s shared challenges,and to uphold and exemplify our shared values.

In the 20 years since devolution, Scotland’s contribution to the EU has already grown significantly. For all the current challenges we face, my hope is that it will grow further in the years and decades ahead.”