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Northern Ireland Protocol could fix independent Scotland border issue, says SNP president

THE Northern Ireland Protocol could lay the foundations for a preferred “seamless” trade border between England and Scotland post-independence, the SNP President has said.

Last week during FMQs, the First Minister said she would sign up to a protocol-style agreement in a “heart beat” if it was offered to Scotland – in response to news that the UK Government intends to override parts of the Brexit deal they themselves signed through legislation in Westminster.

The protocol has allowed for a transition of goods across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland without any checks, with a trade border instead in the Irish Sea.

READ MORE: Independent Scotland-England Border not an issue, says English Scots for Yes founder

Mike Russell, former SNP MSP and constitution secretary, told The National the FM’s statement was “worth unpacking” because of the economic benefits the protocol has for Northern Ireland and suggested that Scotland could have numerous ways to strengthen ties with the EU.

Russell had returned to the Scottish Parliament for the first time on Thursday since his retirement as an MSP to chair a discussion of the European Movement in Scotland (EMS) on the sixth anniversary of the Brexit vote.

Asked for his view on how the border issue will be handled in the indyref2 campaign, Russell said: “I’m quite sure that as [white] papers appear from the Scottish Government that will be more than adequately dealt with.

%image(‘13922163’, type=”article-full”, alt=”Mike Russell, centre left, Sarah Boyack, centre right and Lord Andrew Adonis, on screen, at a meeting of the European Movement in Scotland”)

“But it is also quite clear that the relationship with Scotland to England would not involve a people border, you know the Common Travel Area is quite clear. I don’t think there’s any question about that.

“The aim would be to have a seamless border, in terms of trade, and I think Nicola [Sturgeon] said the other day that she would grab the [Northern Ireland] protocol with both hands if it was available to Scotland, and there’s something in that.

“I mean that statement is worth unpacking because of course it is seamless and it does seem that there’s a seamless border on the island of Ireland and indeed goods going across. It’s still seamless.

“It’s a minor matter in terms of what exists elsewhere. So I think there is every prospect of being able to enjoy a good and even better trading relationship.”

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon: FMQs grilling sees FM offer in-person apology to Grady victim

Sturgeon last week told MSPs at FMQs: “Northern Ireland’s economy right now is doing better than the economies of the other countries in the UK.

“As First Minister of Scotland, if I could get a protocol that would allow Scotland to continue to trade freely across the single market, I’d take that in a heartbeat. That is the reality.”

The border issue is set to be one of the big talking points of the indyref2 campaign, with numerous journalists asking the FM about how it would work in practice at the Bute House press conference when the first white paper was launched.

The FM said the plan will be set out in a future prospectus, which will look specifically at the border. There is also a white paper being produced on the European Union and the possible path to Scotland rejoining on its own terms.

%image(‘13922174’, type=”article-full”, alt=”The session in Holyrood was Russell’s first return to the parliament since he retired”)

Russell added that the indyref2 campaign could learn a lot from the Brexit campaign by doing the “complete opposite”.

He added: “What you’ve learned from Brexit is in a way not to do this and there’s a very sensible, constitutional, political and debating way that you take this forward. And that’s why I think the European movement is important, because as Sarah [Boyack] said this seriously creates an opportunity for us to have these conversations outwith other issues in Scotland.”

Speaking earlier at the session chaired by Labour MSP Sarah Boyack and attended by members of the EMS, Michelle Thomson SNP MSP and parliamentary staffers, Russell said that one of the victims of Brexit was the Scottish Parliament.

He said: “We can actually see a diminishing of the powers of the Scottish Parliament and we see it again today in terms of human rights.

READ MORE: Lord suggests England should get a vote in 2023 Scottish independence referendum

“Where in actual fact this parliament’s foundation in human rights will be chipped away by Westminster legislation, whether or not this parliament decides that’s what it wants.

“Brexit is not a victimless crime – one of the victims is the [Scottish] Parliament which was established on the foundation of being a lively and living part of the European dimension.”

Russell also told the session that for him, Europe is as much about values as it is trade, in particular when it comes to the maintenance of peace, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine still ongoing.

Labour Lord Andrew Adonis, who joined the session via video link from a London park, said he agreed with Russell’s point and had hopes that the UK as a whole will rejoin the EU.

He said: “In time if we can get to something like the customs union and single markets and in due course that will pave the way for us to rejoin the European Union, which I believe to be our destiny as much in the future as it has been in the past.”



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