Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Business group makes Scots EU claim

Saltire and European Union flag and Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nationalists say the only threat to Scotland's EU membership is the prospect of a UK in-out referendum

An independent Scotland faces at least three years outside the European Union, a group of business leaders has said.

Business For New Europe (BNE) also claimed it would be "next to impossible" for Scotland to rejoin the EU on the UK's current terms.

BNE lists the chairmen of BAE Systems, RBS, ScottishPower and Shell among its advisory board.

Last week, a senior EU official said it was "entirely realistic" Scotland's membership would continue.

But BNE said it believed the earliest Scotland could join would be 2019, although membership could be delayed until the next decade if the Scottish government insisted on an opt-out of the euro and a share of the UK's budget rebate.

Its report, written by BNE associate Dr Daniel Furby, predicted Scotland would leave the EU on independence day and would have to reapply under the normal accession procedure, rather than the "unprecedented, expedited route" suggested in the Scottish government's white paper.

'Accession could slip'

Scotland "would need a temporary agreement to guarantee continued access to the single market" requiring a three-way negotiation between the Scottish government, the UK government and the EU running in parallel with UK-Scottish negotiations on the terms of independence, it said.

The report stated: "It would be next to impossible for Scotland to negotiate a budget rebate like the UK's, and very difficult for it to keep zero VAT rates on food, children's clothing and books.

"Scotland would also find it very hard to negotiate a formal opt-out from the euro, and if it did succeed in securing a currency union with the remaining UK - as the Scottish government has proposed, although the UK government has rejected that - that very fact would seriously complicate negotiations on EU membership.

"If negotiations between the UK and Scottish governments dragged on, or if Scotland pushed for special deals from the EU, the date of accession could slip into the next decade."

This would be because current EU members would ask why Scotland should receive better terms of membership than they do, Dr Furby's report suggested.

BNE describes itself as a "coalition of business leaders articulating a positive case for reform in Europe".

Pro-independence campaigners said the BNE report was trumped by one published last week by Graham Avery, the European Commission's honorary director general, for the European Policy Centre.

Mr Avery, who negotiated the UK's entry to the European Commission in the 1970s, said it would be "difficult to see how the Union could reject five million Scots, who are already EU citizens".

He also argued that: "Scotland outside the EU, and not applying EU rules, would be a legal nightmare for EU member states, whose citizens and enterprises would lose their rights in Scotland. No member state, particularly not the rest of the UK, would have an interest in creating such an anomaly."

'Complex process'

His views contradict those of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who claimed in February that it would be "extremely difficult, if not impossible" for an independent Scotland to join the EU.

Responding to the BNE report, a spokesman for Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said: "Scotland is already part of the EU, and we therefore already meet all the requirements for membership. There is no treaty provision for Scotland's expulsion, as this report implies.

"Scotland's continued membership as an independent country will involve the specific terms being agreed in the 18-month transition we have outlined, a timetable described by the UK government's own legal adviser as 'realistic'.

"An independent Scotland will keep the pound, and no country can be forced to join the Euro, as the example of Sweden shows.

"The only threat to Scotland's place in Europe comes from David Cameron's in-out referendum as Westminster dances to a UKIP tune and flirts with the exit door of the EU."

Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael, who opposes independence, said: "The report confirms what we've been saying for a long time; Scotland would need to leave the EU and applying for membership from scratch would be a lengthy and complex process.

"This is simply the cold and hard facts. With the facts staring them in the face about how long it could take an independent Scotland to apply for EU membership, the Scottish government are in a state of denial."

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