Edinburgh, United Kingdom, Dec 20 – First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled plans Tuesday for Scotland to stay in the EU’s single market after Brexit but said she would prefer the country to be an independent state within the bloc.
Sturgeon said Britain’s June referendum decision to leave the European Union meant semi-autonomous Scotland could demand more powers from London over immigration.
Scottish citizens voted strongly in favour — 62 percent to 38 percent — of staying in the EU, opening up a divide with the British government, which has pledged to exit, come what may.
“We are determined to maintain Scotland’s current position in the European Single Market,” Sturgeon said in the introduction to a paper containing the proposals, entitled “Scotland’s Place in Europe”.
A “differentiated option”, such as the rules that apply to non-EU members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA), could apply to Scotland.
“The Scottish people did not vote for Brexit and a ‘hard Brexit’ would severely damage Scotland’s economic, social and cultural interests,” Sturgeon said, adding that 80,000 Scottish jobs were at risk if Britain were to leave the single market.
Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are in EFTA and the first three are also part of the EEA, which provides free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the single market.
British Prime Minister Theresa May later told a parliamentary committee that the government would “look very seriously” at the proposals but warned there could be some that were “impractical”.
“If Scotland were to become independent, then not only would it no longer be a member of the European Union, it would no longer be a member of the single market of the European Union and it would no longer be a member of the single market of the United Kingdom.
“The single market of the United Kingdom is worth four times as much to Scotland as the single market of the European Union,” May said.
The British premier has promised to initiate the EU exit procedure by the end of March 2016 at the latest and negotiate both a departure deal and a new trade treaty by 2019.
Speaking to reporters in Edinburgh, Sturgeon said that continuing the free movement of EU workers into Scotland would not mean the creation of a hard border with England even if the rest of Britain instead chose to restrict immigration.
EU workers could be prevented from moving from Scotland to other parts of Britain by modifying immigration rules on employment and housing, she said.
And asked whether Britain could remain in the single market and customs union, Sturgeon said: “We have to assume that is not the direction they will go”.
She said she was not planning separate negotiations with the European Union but warned that if Scotland fails in its bid to retain EU ties “the option of independence must remain on the table”.
Sturgeon has put forward draft legislation for a new independence referendum to go before the Scottish parliament, even though the country voted in 2014 against breaking away.
The British government would have to give the final go-ahead for another independence vote, just as it did last time.