December 6, 2012 10:50 pm

Scottish EU membership claim challenged

The UK stepped up lobbying on Thursday to challenge Alec Salmond’s claim that an independent Scotland could remain in the EU, as fresh evidence emerged to suggest that Scottish membership would not be guaranteed.

Michael Moore, the Scotland secretary, spent the day in Brussels, where he met several commissioners to explain why Westminster thought an independent Scotland would need to reapply to the union.

Meanwhile, it emerged that European leaders had in the past made clear that a new state born out of the break-up of an EU country would not automatically retain membership.

As president of the European Commission in 2004, Romano Prodi said that any new independent state would have to go through the usual procedures of admission, which include obtaining unanimous backing from all existing members.

“A newly independent region would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the union, and the treaties would, from the day of its independence, not apply any more on its territory,” he said, according to the Official Journal of the European Union.

This contradicts claims by Mr Salmond, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the separatist Scottish National party, that the country would automatically become an EU member if it broke from the UK.

Mr Prodi’s 2004 remarks are similar to those in a leaked draft letter from the European Commission published by The Scotsman newspaper this week.

The letter reportedly said: “If a territory of a member state ceases to be part of that member state because it has become an independent state then the treaties would cease to apply to that territory.”

The commission insisted on Thursday that no such draft had been written, but one British official said he was almost certain it was genuine.

If Scotland were forced to reapply, it could face resistance from Spain, which is trying to see off an independence push by the region of Catalonia and has made clear its lack of enthusiasm for Scottish secession.

Under European law, any applicant country also has to agree to join the euro – something Scottish voters appear unwilling to do and the SNP has insisted will not be necessary.

Mr Moore, who was in Brussels for talks on a range of issues, said: “Our negotiating clout has delivered the UK and Scotland important opt-outs from EU border controls and the euro currency.

“If Scotland was to become independent, then these benefits and everything else would be up for grabs, as we embarked on negotiating a whole new set of terms with the rest of the EU.”

The Scottish government responded with a fierce attack on the House of Lords economic affairs committee, which had first requested the commission’s legal position.

A spokesman for Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy first minister, said: “These Westminster committees and their inquiries are simply anti-independence propaganda tools, and are not seriously considering the opportunities of independence.”

The SNP was dealt a further blow on Thursday with an opinion poll suggesting a majority of businesses in Scotland thought independence would harm their prospects.

The survey of 250 executives at large and medium-sized companies by Ipsos Mori shows 56 per cent think a “Yes” vote would be bad for their companies, while only 10 per cent think it would be positive.

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