EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Scotland’s leader cautioned Britain on Friday that its willingness to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland after Brexit meant the issue of frontiers could never be used again as an argument against Scottish independence.
Nicola Sturgeon, in comments on Twitter following a overnight breakthrough on Brexit between Britain and the European Union, also said that whatever concessions had been made to Northern Ireland should also apply to Scotland.
The overnight deal was possible after Northern Irish allies of the Conservative government gave a cautious signoff to a deal which it said meant Britain would leave the single market and customs union without a return to a hard Northern Irish border with EU member Ireland.
Scots, together with Londoners and the Northern Irish, voted to stay in the EU in June 2016’s referendum, but were outgunned by votes in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The vote to leave the European Union came as a second blow for Sturgeon and her party which, in another referendum in 2014, had been thwarted in a drive for Scottish independence.
Following national election losses in June, Sturgeon has pushed back the possibility of another independence referendum until the terms of Brexit are clear.
The British government, as part of its campaign against Scottish independence, had warned in 2014 that it would mean establishment of a hard border between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Sturgeon said the British government, in accommodating Northern Irish demands on the Irish border question, was contradicting this stance.
“An aside - a UK government that is able to say that come what may, it will avoid hard borders with Ireland/NI after Brexit can never again tell Scotland that independence would mean a hard border between Scotland and (the rest of the UK)” she added.
Continued membership of the EU single market and customs union was the only “sensible” way for the United Kingdom to square the circle of competing demands among its nations as it leaves the EU, Sturgeon argued.
“Move to phase 2 of talks good - but devil is in the detail and things now get really tough. If Brexit is happening (wish it wasn’t) staying in single market and customs union is only sensible option. And any special arrangements for (Northern Ireland) must be available to other UK nations,” she tweeted.
Sturgeon’s government has argued the economic need for Scotland to stay in the single market, even if that means Scotland has a made-to-measure deal within the current structure of the United Kingdom — something London has ruled out.
Sturgeon’s tweet was seized upon by Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, who has bolstered her party’s popularity in Scotland with staunch defence of a united UK.
“Right on time Nicola Sturgeon uses any Brexit development to bang the indy drum. Could set your watch by it. Give it a rest,” Davidson tweeted.
Sturgeon retorted: “Democracy, Tory style - shut up and let us inflict whatever damage on Scotland we want.”
Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary; Editing by Richard Balmforth