Brexit talks: Scotland threatens UK exit

EDINBURGH • Scotland has put forward plans to remain in Europe's single market after vowing to seek independence from the United Kingdom should its voice be ignored in Brexit talks.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon detailed her semi-autonomous government's red lines on keeping access to free trade and labour as the UK heads into talks on withdrawing from the European Union next year.

Scotland wants power over such things as employment law, trade and immigration and the ability to conclude international agreements.

Ms Sturgeon reiterated at the weekend her stance on calling for a fresh vote on breaking away from England and Wales if Scotland's demands are not met.

"As a government, we remain committed to EU membership as an independent nation," Ms Sturgeon said in a Scottish government paper published yesterday.

"However, the proposals in this document are our contribution to ongoing efforts to build consensus. They represent a compromise on our part, but also what we consider to be requirements for Scotland if a UK solution to Brexit is to be found."

It leaves British Prime Minister Theresa May fighting on two fronts and potentially having to confront two divorces from unions that looked solid less than a year ago.

Scots chose to remain in the UK in an independence referendum in 2014, but the nationalist leadership renewed its push for full autonomy after the Brexit vote on June 23.

All of Scotland's regions voted to remain in the EU while the UK as a whole decided to leave, a result that Ms Sturgeon called "democratically unacceptable".

She then asked her ministers to prepare legislation on another independence vote that could be accelerated through the Scottish Parliament.

In its 50-page policy paper called "Scotland's Place in Europe", the government in Edinburgh laid out how it wants the UK to cede more powers as part of Brexit talks so Scotland can forge its own path with the EU.

That is if the UK opts for what has become known as a "hard Brexit" and leaves the bloc without access to the single market.

"Our hope is that the UK will remain within the single market," Ms Sturgeon wrote at the weekend in the Financial Times .

"Unfortunately, the rhetoric emanating from a UK government that appears ever more in thrall to hard-line Brexiters does not inspire great optimism that this option will be chosen."

Ms Sturgeon's gambit, however, does not come without risks.

Should she go for a bespoke EU deal, there are sizeable legal and practical hurdles involved in Scotland establishing separate legislation to the rest of the UK on the labour market and for businesses given the open border with England, its biggest trading partner.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2016, with the headline 'Brexit talks: Scotland threatens UK exit'. Print Edition | Subscribe