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Scotland threatens separation from UK if forced out of single market

19 December 2016 21:49

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Scotland threatens it will hold a fresh referendum to separate from the United Kingdom unless it can stay in the European Union’s single market.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will detail proposals on how her country can stay inside the single market after Britain withdraws from the EU, she said in a commentary published in The Financial Times on Sunday.

Scottish voters chose to stay in the EU in the June 23 referendum when the rest of the UK voted to leave the bloc. Sturgeon said the Scottish people were now being forced out of the EU against their wishes.

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

The ultimatum from Sturgeon on single-market membership will put more pressure on UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who has promised to listen to the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland before taking a negotiating position to Brussels for formal talks on Brexit.

Sturgeon said she prefers the UK as a whole to remain inside the single market. However, she added, “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.”

The first minister acknowledged that such a plan would be complex, but argued that “the EU is already used to asymmetrical arrangements when it comes to the status of different territories across the continent.”

May has promised to begin the Brexit process in March and complete it by 2019. The EU has warned that Britain will have less than 18 months to reach a deal to exit the bloc once Brexit negotiations begin.

Retaining access to the single market has been one of the major worries for UK businesses ever since the June referendum.

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