EU: Scottish Independence — Question
3:22 pm

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Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke (Labour)

To ask Her Majesty's Government what advice they have received on the consequences for the European Union membership of the remainder of the United Kingdom should Scotland secede.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, the UK Government have already confirmed that they hold legal advice on this issue. The overwhelming weight of international precedent suggests that, in the event of Scottish independence, the remainder of the UK would continue to exercise the existing UK's international rights and obligations and that an independent Scotland would constitute a new state. The UK Government judge that this situation will be recognised by the wider international community.

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Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke (Labour)

I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, in view of the events over the weekend in Catalonia, it is inconceivable that the European Commission would not be looking at the consequences for member states of the secession of one member state. In Scotland we have had enormous difficulty getting straight answers as to what the consequences will be for the citizens, so we need every citizen of this country to be confident that we have genuine advice and information on what will happen. Will the Government consider the establishment of an expert panel to look at the issues around the separation of Scotland from the rest of the UK to make sure that all British citizens do not suffer as a consequence of the break-up of Britain?

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, my noble and learned friend and colleague-and perhaps even noble kinsman-the Advocate General for Scotland has a legal forum, which met last Friday, which is considering these issues. In the course of 2013 the UK Government will publish a number of studies on some of the issues engaged. On the question of Catalonia and Spain, it is entirely clear that the Spanish Government are opposed to any idea of secession and would be likely to veto a Scottish application to join the European Union under current circumstances. There have been exchanges between the Spanish Government and the European Commission on this exact issue.

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Lord Steel of Aikwood (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it would be quite a tall order for an independent Scotland to seek to negotiate opt-outs of both the eurozone and the Schengen agreement? While I am always very keen to see employment in the Scottish Borders, border posts were not something I ever had in mind.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)

It opens up all sorts of questions about the future of Gretna Green. There would also be a number of questions about Scotland having to negotiate for fishery quotas and for the financial contributions that Scotland would wish to make. Those who argue that it is Scotland's oil would recognise, perhaps, that it would also be Scotland's financial contribution.

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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Labour)

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the corollary of his first answer-that the rest of the United Kingdom would inherit the current UK membership of the European Union and that Scotland would have to apply separately for new membership-is that Scotland would then go to the back of the queue behind Croatia, Turkey and all the other countries that are seeking membership? It would have to satisfy, in its own right, all the acquis and conditions of membership. It could take many, many years and that is yet one more really good reason why Scotland is better off as part of the United Kingdom.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, there is not an orderly queue for EU membership. There is a list of criteria for EU membership which applicant countries have to fulfil. Turkey applied during the 1980s, rather ahead of some of those countries that have since joined. Of course, Scotland would have to meet a whole range of criteria and there would be, no doubt, some careful and detailed negotiations. Whether or not Scotland would be allowed-as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has already posed-to opt out of Schengen or to opt out of the euro and keep the pound is something we would have to consider.

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The Duke of Montrose (Conservative)

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, if Scotland is separated from the United Kingdom, the contribution the UK makes to Europe will be reduced and that any rebate that is payable to the UK at the moment would also be reduced?

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)

That is a question that Her Majesty's Government have not entirely considered yet, since we have every confidence that when it comes to a referendum the people of Scotland will vote to stay in the United Kingdom. The question of the rebate and of the United Kingdom's financial contribution is, as Members may have noted, itself under negotiation.

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Lord Soley (Labour)

My Lords, do the Government also realise that it is not just Spain that is concerned about the break-up of the country, but a whole range of other countries, including France with regard to Corsica? Automatic admission as the consequence of the disintegration of an individual state would not be looked at happily by the European Union. My noble friend Lady Liddell made a very important point when she spoke about the importance of informing the Scottish electorate of the consequences of a division that might not be recognised by the European Union and also, if it was recognised, could still result in major differences in what it opted out of, in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, mentioned. It is a profoundly important issue, not just for the rest of the United Kingdom but for the Scottish people.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I can confirm all of that. It is a recognised, long established principle of public international law that when a part of a state secedes it inherits obligations under treaties but it has to apply to join international organisations. When the Soviet Union broke up, that applied to Ukraine, Belarus and others. When India broke up, it applied to Pakistan and then to Bangladesh, so this is a well established principle.

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Lord Cormack (Conservative)

My Lords, do we know yet precisely what legal advice the Scottish Government took on this issue?

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, we do not know. That is one of the things that everyone is longing to discover.

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Lord Low of Dalston (Crossbench)

My Lords, would the UK have a veto on a Scottish application for membership such as General de Gaulle exercised in respect of British membership in former times?

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, we are all mongrels. My father was a Scot; there are many of us here who have mixed Scottish, English, Irish and Welsh antecedents so we all hope that this question will not come up. If it did ever lead to separation, we would, of course, have to consider it. The Irish Free State seceded from the United Kingdom in 1922. Incidentally, that was relatively peaceful-although not within Ireland itself-and Ireland had to reapply to join international organisations.