Spanish MEP leader: Spain would oppose Nicola Sturgeon single market Brexit plan

Spain would reject any attempt by Nicola Sturgeon for Scotland to stay in the EU single market if the rest of the UK comes out, one of the country’s most powerful MEPs warned last night.

Esteban Gonzalez Pons, who leads the Spanish delegation of MEPs in the European Parliament’s largest political grouping, told the Telegraph that Ms Sturgeon’s proposals for a special Scottish deal are “impossible.”

He said the Spanish government would oppose any plan by SNP ministers to stay in the EU single market if the rest of the UK leaves for fear of encouraging its own separatist movements in areas like Catalonia and the Basque Country.

In a major blow to the First Minister, he said the Spanish government is planning to be the United Kingdom’s “best friend” during the Brexit negotiations and they share “the same point of view about the Scottish question.”

The MEP, who sits on the parliament’s constitutional affairs committee, also echoed academic warnings that Ms Sturgeon’s plan would create a hard border between Scotland and England.

His intervention is significant as any special deal for Scotland, including membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA), would require the consent of all EU member states. 

Although Mr Gonzalez Pons was not speaking on behalf of the Spanish government, which will not comment on the Brexit negotiations until the UK triggers the Article 50 process, he said his view represented the stance of Spain’s ruling People’s Party (PP).

The PP is headed by Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish Prime Minister, who said in June that Scotland would have to leave the EU along with the rest of the UK. Mr Gonzalez Pons is also the vice-chair of the European People’s Party (EPP) group of centre and centre-Right MEPs.

He agreed to an interview with this newspaper after holding a meeting with Alfonso Dastis, the Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister, during which they discussed misleading comments made this week in Brussels by Ms Sturgeon’s Brexit Minister.

Speaking to an audience of EU diplomats and officials, Mike Russell dropped heavy hints that the Scottish Government was in talks with the Spanish about a special deal. However, this was flatly rejected by Spain’s Foreign Ministry.

Nicola Sturgeon and her Brexit Minister Mike Russell


Ms Sturgeon is expected to set out specific proposals early next month for Scotland staying in the EU single market even if the rest of the UK comes out. She has threatened a second independence referendum unless her demands are met.

Asked about her plan, Mr Gonzalez Pons said: “It’s impossible. I’m telling you not only as a Spanish MEP but also as a member of the EPP.” He added: “My position is also my party’s position.”

Pressed specifically about the First Minister’s proposal that Scotland joins EFTA and the EEA, which would ensure access to the EU single market, he said: “It’s impossible. Scotland, while it is part of the United Kingdom, has to be the same as the UK.

“If Spain agrees a special deal for Scotland after Brexit, Spain has to negotiate a special position for Gibraltar and we accept that Gibraltar could be part of the single market. We’re not going to accept Scotland in the single market without the rest of the UK.”  

Mr Gonzalez Pons emphasised that Scottish ministers have no competence to hold talks with EU member states and the Spanish government “rejects any negotiations” with anyone other than the UK Government.

Referring to the UK, he said: “The day after Brexit, it’s not going to be sailing to the US – they will always be our neighbours and our friends. We don’t want to push any kind of (constitutional) problem onto Great Britain.”

He said the Spanish government was “very, very concerned” about what happens to Scotland after Brexit, saying: “The most intelligent position for Spain is to be a very, very good friend to the United Kingdom Government.

“More than any other European country, we want to be the best friend for the UK Government. Spain has many reasons to be a good friend for the UK and having the same point of view they have about the Scottish question.”

The MEP confirmed he was referring to the prospect of a special Scottish deal encouraging separatist movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country.

Ms Sturgeon has rejected a series of academic warnings that Scotland being in the EU single market and the rest of the UK being outside would require a hard border with England, with different regulations and trade deals applying on either side.

But Mr Gonzalez Pons said there would be a border, adding: “There has to be a line that says where the Common Market arrives and where there’s no Common Market.”

Ruth Davidson has accused the SNP of not being realistic about their Brexit demands


Ruth Davidson said the SNP should stop “trying to convince people there is a special deal they can strike on Brexit – so they can then blame the UK Government when it doesn’t happen.”  

The Scottish Conservative leader added: “People deserve the reality, not nationalist spin: and the fact is that European nations like Spain are making it clear that they cannot entertain the SNP’s proposals. As Mr Pons says, they are ‘impossible’.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Brexit is by far the biggest threat to Scotland’s jobs, prosperity and economy, and that is why we have always been clear that remaining in Europe – and as members of the world’s largest single market – is the best option for our future.

“The people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU – and we are exploring all options to protect Scotland’s national interests. We will set out proposals in the next few weeks that will keep Scotland in the single market even if the rest of the UK leaves.”

A source close to the First Minister said Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s lead Brexit negotiator, stated in June that an independent Scotland could theoretically join the EU before the rest of the UK leaves.

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