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Scottish Independence (EU Membership)

Volume 558: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2013

7. Whether he has had discussions with the European Commission on the legal status of Scotland’s membership of the EU in the event of a yes vote to independence. (142507)

I have not discussed with the European Commission the legal status of Scotland’s membership of the EU. The United Kingdom Government’s position is that the most likely outcome is that Scotland would have to join the EU as a new member state. That position has been backed up by comments from the President of the European Commission and by the President of the European Council.

We have a phrase in the Scottish language, “Facts are chiels that winn’a ding”, which means “Facts are children who do not lie”. Despite the wonderful report by Professor James Crawford of Cambridge university and Professor Alan Boyle of Edinburgh university—which includes the quote on page 8 from the President of the Commission that has just been referred to—on which the Government have based their most recent document, may I plead with the Attorney-General to get engaged in this issue? We need to get to the point at which the legal officers in this Chamber and the majority of the people in my party, representing the people of Scotland, are dealing with facts, not with assertions. Will he please get involved with the interrogation of the Commission and set down the legal facts on what will happen? I think that that would support Barroso’s position.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s message. The view that I express is the view of the United Kingdom Government, and it is backed up by the advice of Professor Crawford and Professor Boyle. The overwhelming weight of international precedent is that, in the event of independence, the remainder of the UK would continue to exercise its international rights and obligations, and that Scotland would form a new state. In those circumstances, Scotland would have to apply to join the European Union.

But is there not an alternative legal viewpoint, which is that if Scotland were to leave the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom without Scotland would itself have to reapply for membership of the European Union?

The Electoral Commission has specifically recommended that the UK Government and the Scottish Government should agree jointly the processes that should follow either outcome of the referendum. Will the UK Government accept the Deputy First Minister’s invitation to prepare a joint submission to the European Commission setting out a transition process in the event of a yes vote? If not, why not? What are they afraid of? Or do they prefer scare stories?

The United Kingdom Government are not in the business of prejudging the outcome of the referendum.