Nicola Sturgeon threatens fresh independence vote if Scotland forced out of EU single market

Posted On: 
19th December 2016

Forcing Scotland to quit the EU single market will lead to a fresh vote on independence, Nicola Sturgeon will warn Theresa May this week.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
PA Images

The Scottish First Minister will outline on Tuesday how Scotland could stay in the single market even if the UK government opts to leave after Brexit.

Writing in the Financial Times, the SNP leader said she hopes for the whole of the UK to remain in the trading area, but that the influence of “hardline Brexiteers” made the option unlikely.

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She will argue tomorrow that Scotland could still retain free trade across the UK as well as the EU - although freedom of movement for EU nationals would only apply north of the border.

But critics warned the proposals are legally complex, and said the prospect of Mrs May supporting Scotland having control over its own immigration was unlikely.

Ms Sturgeon conceded that achieving such a bespoke deal faces “difficulties” and would be reliant on “political goodwill and openness to a new way of doing things”.

But she argued Brexit marks an “entirely unprecedented situation”, and said the EU already employs “asymmetrical arrangements when it comes to the status of different territories across the continent”.

Ms Sturgeon said: "If the UK government opts not to remain in the single market, our position is that Scotland should still be supported to do so - not instead of, but in addition to, free trade across the UK."

She added: “It remains my view, and that of the Government I lead, that the best option for Scotland remains full membership of the EU as an independent member state...  

“Independence must remain an option for safeguarding our European status, if it becomes clear that our interests cannot be protected in any other way.”


Speaking to BBC Sunday Politics Scotland, former first minister Alex Salmond mapped out Ms Sturgeon’s vision for maintaining single market access for Scotland.

"One: keep the UK within the single marketplace; secondly, if that’s not possible, keep Scotland within the single marketplace; and if that doesn’t happen and the UK is unwilling to listen to Scotland’s representations, then it’s very likely there will be an independence referendum within the next two years," he said.

Mr Salmond also claimed Scots would back independence if Westminster rejected Ms Sturgeon's demands.

Confronted with recent polling suggesting support for independence is below the 45% achieved at the 2014 plebiscite, he responded: 

"The last time, when I was first minister and embarked on this process, support for independence was 28% and... we ended up at 45%.

"So I don't think Nicola Sturgeon would have any compunction about calling an independence referendum with support in the mid 40s."


Charles Grant, a member of the Scottish government’s advisory Standing Council on Europe, said EU members would be concerned about the possibility of Scotland becoming a “back door” route for goods from the rest of the UK into the EU.

“There would be tremendous legal difficulties — and it’s anyway hypothetical because Britain is not going to devolve complete control of business regulation,” he told the Financial Times. 

Mrs May has promised to factor in the requests of the devolved administration to agree a UK-wide negotiation position before triggering Article 50.

Ms Sturgeon said today that it would be a “breach of faith” for the Prime Minister not to factor in Scotland’s wishes.

A policy paper tomorrow will outline how Scotland can remain a part of both the EU single market and UK single market even if the rest of the UK has left the trading area.

Chancellor Philip Hammond warned Ms Sturgeon earlier this month that Scotland will not be able to reach its own deal with Brussels once Britain leaves the European Union.