LONDON: Nicola Sturgeon's hopes of negotiating a deal to keep Scotland in the EU suffered a major setback yesterday after Francois Hollande ruled out talks and the Spanish prime minister said it has to leave with the rest of the UK.
Mariano Rajoy said after the European Council meeting in Brussels that the Scottish Government "does not have the competence" to negotiate with the European Union. He concluded: "If the United Kingdom leaves... Scotland leaves."
He was echoed by Mr Hollande, the French president, who said the EU will make no advance deal with Scotland. "The negotiations will be conducted with the United Kingdom, not with a part of the United Kingdom," he said.
During a chastening visit to Brussels yesterday for Ms Sturgeon, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, also made clear that neither he nor Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, would "interfere in the British process" by negotiating with Scotland. A series of other member states, including Germany, also made clear they would not get involved in "internal" British politics.
The First Minister put a brave face on their interventions, saying Spain's views represented a "starting position" and that she was still "optimistic" about reaching an agreement after Scots last week voted for Remain by a margin of 62 per cent to 38 per cent.
She argued that a deal to keep Scotland in Europe could be reached in negotiations between the UK Government and the EU when the Article 50 process to leave is triggered by the next prime minister.
But any special deal would require the support of all member states. Spain is determined to take a hard line with Scotland in order to discourage its own separatist movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country.
Mr Rajoy's uncompromising stance appears to make a second independence referendum more likely, as Ms Sturgeon has said she will propose it if that is the "best or only way to protect Scotland's place in the EU". However, it also suggests that a separate Scotland would start life outside the EU and have to negotiate entry, a process that could take years and involve adoption of the euro, a hard border with England and tight public spending controls.
Mr Rajoy said: "I want to be very clear. Scotland does not have the competence to negotiate with the European Union. Spain opposes any negotiation by anyone other than the government of United Kingdom. "I am extremely against it, the treaties are extremely against it and I believe everyone is extremely against it. If the United Kingdom leaves... Scotland leaves." Speaking at a press conference after the conclusion of her talks, Ms Sturgeon said it was unsurprising "at this early stage to hear starting positions from a country like Spain". She said she "absolutely respected" the fact that the EU would negotiate with the UK Government as the member state but wanted to ensure "all of the options are on the table".
Andy Murray says the fate of the UK after the EU referendum is far more important than tennis. The world number two says the aftermath of the vote and the political chaos it unleashed is uppermost in his mind.
Murray said the state of the UK is the last thing he thinks about at night and the first thing he thinks about in the morning, despite being busy trying to win his second Wimbledon title.