Scotland is intent on remaining in the European Union despite the UK voting to leave the bloc, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has told EU officials in Brussels.
Sturgeon’s short-notice visit to the Belgian capital on Wednesday came a day after the outgoing British Prime Minister David Cameron told European leaders that his country would be leaving the union following last week’s referendum.
“Scotland is determined to stay in the EU,” Sturgeon said after a morning meeting with European Parliament President Martin Schulz.
Scotland overwhelmingly voted to stay in the European Union in last Thursday’s vote, and Sturgeon has previously threatened to veto a British exit, or Brexit, hinting that her government may use legal means to try to block Britain’s departure from the EU.
That may also require a second referendum on Scottish independence after a previous one failed in 2014 – a prospect that throws the future of the UK into question.
Sturgeon is expected to meet Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, later on Wednesday afternoon.
But Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council who chairs EU summits, turned down a request for a meeting, his spokesman said.
Diplomats said there was a risk that the high-profile welcome for the Scottish National Party leader could be seen in London as encouragement for secession, although EU officials denied any such intention.
Later on Wednesday, EU leaders will meet for a second day in Brussels to discuss the fallout from Brexit, in a session that will not be attended by a British representative for the first time.
Cameron flew back to the UK after his last EU summit, where he told EU leaders that Britain’s future relations with the union could hinge on the bloc’s willingness to rethink free movement of workers, which he blamed for the “Leave” vote in the referendum.
“People recognised the economic case for staying, but there was a very great concern about movement of people and that was coupled with concern about issues of sovereignty,” Cameron, a “Remain” backer, said.
Britain’s “Leave” leaders hope that the nation can still enjoy many perks of the EU internal market for business, while being able to deny EU citizens entry to the UK to address concerns about immigration.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that London could not “cherry pick” the parts of EU membership that it liked – a view echoed by French President Francois Hollande and other European leaders.
“If they don’t want free movement, they won’t have access to the single market,” Hollande said.
At a tense summit, the 27 remaining EU members agreed on Tuesday to give Britain some breathing space, accepting that it needs time to absorb the shock of the Brexit vote before triggering Article 50 – an EU treaty clause that begins a two-year withdrawal process.
Yet, Juncker warned that Britain did not have “months to meditate” and set a clear timetable for triggering Article 50 after Cameron’s successor takes office in early September.
“If someone from the ‘Remain’ camp will become British PM, this has to be done in two weeks after his appointment,” he said. If they are from the Brexit camp, then it should be “the day after”.
Officials in Brussels are concerned that giving Britain favourable divorce terms will spark a domino effect of others leaving
“Some think that Britain needs more time. I hear this, yes, but I think it strange. It’s a type of surrealism,” said Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel.