Nicola Sturgeon holds talks with European leaders

Sturgeon and Barnier Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon met the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has held talks with European leaders as part of a visit to Brussels.

Ms Sturgeon met EU President Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier before making a speech on European policy.

She said the speech would restate her government’s backing for continued EU membership and shared European values.

The SNP leader also said the Foreign Office had been “childish” for cutting off diplomatic support for the trip.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt – one of the candidates for the Conservative leadership – had asked that the Scottish government provide its own logistical support for the visit, due to concerns Ms Sturgeon was using the trip to undermine UK policies on Brexit and promote Scottish independence.

Talks over the UK’s exit from the EU have been deadlocked for months, and have now taken a back seat to the leadership contest which will decide who replaces Theresa May as prime minister.

All 10 candidates in the running have pledged to deliver Brexit, but are divided on how and when to do so.

Ahead of her speech at the European Policy Centre, Ms Sturgeon said people in Scotland had “shown that they comprehensively reject Brexit and want to remain as a European nation”.

She added: “Membership of the EU not only has huge economic benefits for Scotland, but is the basis of the core values we share around democracy, equality, co-operation and human rights.

“My engagements in Brussels are an opportunity to outline the Scottish government’s support for those values and how they contribute to a better Scotland, Europe and wider world.

“On issues such as climate change and tackling inequality we can all work together to ensure the wellbeing of our citizens, as well as the wealth of member states.”

Has Brexit changed European attitudes to Scottish independence?

Analysis by BBC Scotland chief political correspondent Glenn Campbell

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon says Scotland is open to Europe – is the feeling mutual?

During the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, the EU was not exactly neutral.

The then European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barosso, suggested it would be “extremely difficult” for Scotland to become an independent member of the EU.

But Brexit – and the possibility of a no deal departure by the UK – appears to be changing some minds in Brussels.

One EU official told me there had been a “paradigm shift” in attitudes to Scottish independence in Brussels since the EU referendum.

That is to say that if Scotland voted to leave the UK after Brexit, the EU might be more accommodating.

It doesn’t mean an independent Scotland could choose its own terms or avoid either an application process or hard choices over its border arrangements with England.

But it is, as the first minister put it, a different “vibe”.

That may be of concern to the UK government, which has decided to withhold practical support, such as an official car, for Nicola Sturgeon on this visit.

The first minister said that was “petty” but the UK insisted its effort and resources must be focussed on its own objectives.

Those do not include reversing Brexit or independence for Scotland, for which Ms Sturgeon is actively campaigning.

Ms Sturgeon is making the visit without diplomatic support from the Foreign Office, which is customarily offered for trips abroad.

A spokesman for the UK government said that “a balance must be struck to avoid supporting activities intended to campaign for policies contrary to the government’s position”.

He said that Mr Hunt had “requested that the Scottish government provide its own logistical support, adding: “As a responsible government, we must be certain that our effort and resources overseas are focused on furthering the objectives of Her Majesty’s Government.”

Ms Sturgeon told BBC Scotland that the move was “pretty childish and pathetic”.

She said: “It’s not causing me to lose any sleep, it’s not making any real practical difference to my meetings here today, but I think it offers a bit of a window into what’s going on in the Tory party right now.

“Not only are they ignoring Scotland’s interests, they’re trying to undermine the Scottish government in trying to stand up for those interests. It’s quite a remarkable and extraordinary state of affairs.”

Source: bbc.co.uk

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