By Sybille de La Hamaide
LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – Scotland was assured of an “open door” to talks in Brussels and said it had found understanding on Monday from some European governments of its push to stay in the EU after Britain voted to leave the bloc.
Two days after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged to try and find a way to keep Scots in the European Union after the far more numerous English opted to leave in last week’s referendum, one of her ministers flew to Luxembourg to sound out sentiment at an EU council meeting and said he liked what he was told.
“I found … a sympathetic hearing,” Fergus Ewing told Reuters after meetings with fellow farm ministers, notably from EU heavyweights France and Germany as well as Ireland, another part of the British Isles deeply worried by the looming Brexit.
“Over the past 24 hours, senior officials in Europe have said they would like to see Scotland as the 28th member state.”
A special motion on Tuesday in the Scottish parliament aims to give Sturgeon’s government very broad backing for discussions both in Britain and in Europe on options for protecting Scotland’s relationship with the EU and the single market.
In Brussels, EU officials remain cool to talk of Scotland joining the bloc in its own right — just as they were during its 2014 independence referendum, when veto-wielding members like Spain voiced worries about fuelling separatism at home.
And despite a surge of fellow-feeling for europhile Scots, who voted 62 percent against Brexit, EU leaders consumed with the headache of unwinding Britain’s membership are in little mood to explore arcane possibilities of keeping Scotland in.
Nonetheless, a spokesman for the EU chief executive, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, said of a possible welcome for Sturgeon in Brussels that she had visited Juncker a year ago and that Scottish representatives could “at some point in time” have another opportunity.
“President Juncker has a very open door,” he said.
Ewing said the options for Scotland were not easy.
“We had constructive talks and we are keen to continue a dialogue with those member states over the coming weeks and months,” he said.
“There is no mechanism for Scotland to remain part of the EU with Britain coming out, but the EU has shown itself to be adaptable and flexible. I’m not suggesting there are simple solutions. We are into uncharted territory here.”
He declined to be specific about support from particular countries. French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said he agreed to meet Ewing. “At government level they are trying to make contacts and it seemed to me totally legitimate to be able to meet him and discuss with him,” Le Foll told reporters.
Ewing was attending the EU council as part of an arrangement by which the British government lets members of its devolved administrations take part with it in some EU meetings.
Calls for a second Scottish independence referendum have grown in recent days. Sturgeon says it is “democratically unacceptable” to take Scotland out of the EU and has suggested the Scottish parliament could block British Brexit legislation.
But British Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokeswoman said on Monday: “There was a legal, fair and decisive referendum nearly 2 years ago. The reasons for Scotland to be in the UK are as strong now as they were 18 months ago.”
(Additional reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary in Edinburgh and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Mark Heinrich)