Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell has been accused by Eurosceptic politicians in the United Kingdom of encouraging the Scottish Independence movement. Defenders of “Brexit” – the UK’s exit from the European Union – have had harsh words of criticism for the Catalan politician, after hearing him say in Brussels that Spain would not oppose the inclusion of an independent Scotland in the EU. The Scottish nationalists of the SNP, meanwhile, led by Nicola Sturgeon, applauded his words, and said that they saw in them a historic change of course compared to that taken by the previous Spanish government led by the Popular Party (PP).
Borrell took part on Tuesday in a conference organized in Brussels by the online newspaper Politico. At the end of his appearance, he was presented with a loaded question: “Would Spain back an independent Scotland joining the EU?” “Why not?” the minister answered. “If it left the United Kingdom in accordance with the internal laws of the country and Westminster [the British parliament] is in favor, we are not going to be more Catholic than the pope, why would we object?”
We are not going to be more Catholic than the pope, why would we object?
Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell
This isn’t the first time that Borrell has voiced such arguments, and his statements were peppered with caveats and nuances, insisting that the situation of Scotland has no relation to the ongoing independence drive in Catalonia, nor with that of Kosovo, a country whose independence has yet to be recognized by Spain. But the timing could not be worse.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is currently fighting her own party and the opposition to get her Brexit deal approved, after long and agonizing months of negotiations.
Reaction to Borrell’s words was swift to arrive. In the words of former UK Brexit minister David Jones, they amounted to “appalling hypocrisy,” while Scottish conservatives accused him of being completely mistaken.
In the words of former UK Brexit minister David Jones, the minister’s words amounted to “appalling hypocrisy”
The Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP party, meanwhile, immediately shared Borrell’s comments on Twitter, and applauded his words. “Independence will allow Scotland to be an equal partner in Europe, instead of being dragged out against our will by the Tories [Conservatives],” said George Adam, a member of the Scottish parliament. “That message of hope is increasingly powerful as the reality of a Tory hard Brexit begins to bite.”
The non-nationalist forces in Scotland have argued until now that Scotland could not join EU institutions were it to achieve independence because the Spanish government, concerned about the Catalan independence drive, would veto it. Borrell’s words have dealt that view a crushing blow, as well as for the conservative Eurosceptics. “I’m much more concerned about the unity of the United Kingdom than the unity of the Kingdom of Spain,” he said in the interview with Politico. “I believe that the UK will break up before the Kingdom of Spain.”
Earlier this week Josep Borrell said that Spain would not sign off on the UK’s withdrawal agreement, unless a clause referring to future negotiations on the relationship between the country and the EU excluded the issue of Gibraltar, the contested British Overseas Territory located in the south of Spain. His words were later backed by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
English version by Simon Hunter.