The SNP has pledged to hold another independence referendum “after the Covid crisis is over”.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has faced questions about the prospect of a hard Anglo-Scottish border in the event of Scotland becoming an independent state within the EU.
In an interview with Andrew Marr ahead of the Scottish elections, Sturgeon said her government would “work to make sure that we have trade flowing easily across the border”. However, Marr noted that if an independent Scotland was a member of the EU “they will expect you to police that border”.
Ferret Fact Service looked at the rules on UK-EU trade and their implications for a border between England and an independent Scotland.
How would an independent Scotland join the EU?
An independent Scotland would aim to become part of the EU, under plans from the SNP government.
To join the EU, now that the UK as a whole has left, Scotland would follow the same application procedure to become a member as any other country.
If Scotland was to gain independence, there would likely be a period where it was neither part of the UK or the EU.
Joining the EU usually takes a number of years to complete, so it’s possible Scotland would have to negotiate some transitionary trade arrangements with both the UK and EU.
How would trade be affected if Scotland joined the EU?
If Scotland became a full member of the EU, trade barriers in place between the UK and Europe would be removed, with the country rejoining the single market and customs union.
This would make it easier for Scottish businesses to trade with EU countries
As part of the Brexit negotiations an EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) was signed on Christmas Eve last year. It included a free trade agreement that means no tariffs or quotas are applied to goods moving between the UK and the EU.
If an independent Scotland joined the EU, that agreement would apply to goods moving between Scotland and England.
Despite the freedoms afforded by the free trade agreement, Brexit nevertheless created a regulatory and customs border between the EU and UK, making trade more difficult. As a result, businesses have to fill out customs declarations when moving goods between the two jurisdictions.
Regulatory changes created by the border include requiring special licences for importing or exporting certain goods such as waste or hazardous chemicals. There are also excise duties charged on goods, such as alcohol and tobacco, that can damage consumer health.
The border also means stricter rules on the transportation of live animals, products of animal origin, such as milk and cheese, and agri-food products.
There is also an extensive list of rules around the documentation lorry drivers must carry in order to cross the border.
Border checks are required to ensure rules are being complied with and duties are being paid. Due to delays in implementing these rules they will not be fully in place until January next year.
The First Minister has said her government will negotiate with the UK and EU to “put in place arrangements” to ensure “businesses do not suffer” from these regulations in an independent Scotland.
“We will keep trade flowing freely,” she said. “We will comply with all of the requirements of EU membership, but we will put in place arrangements to keep trade flowing.”
How much trade does Scotland do with the UK and EU?
Sixty per cent of Scottish exports are to the rest of the UK, estimated at just over £50bn in 2018.
EU countries receive £16bn worth of Scottish exports, working out at 19 per cent, while the rest of the world accounts for 21 per cent.
According to statistics from the same year, 2018, the rest of the UK exported £63.9bn in goods and services to Scotland.
After Scottish independence, it would expected to continue to be a major trading partner, due to the shared language, history and geographic proximity.
Is it possible to bypass the EU rules?
During the Brexit negotiations there was much discussion about whether a ‘hard border’ would be created between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, which remains part of the EU.
A ‘hard border’ is used to describe a border between two countries where checks on people and goods are required. This also includes the physical infrastructure required to support it.
To avoid checks on goods passing across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland the EU and UK agreed a Northern Ireland Protocol. The result of the agreement is that, while Scotland, England and Wales have left the EU single market for goods, Northern Ireland has not.
Despite this, customs and regulatory checks are still required on goods crossing the border between the UK and the EU. This is to ensure they comply with rules around, for example, the transportation of products of animal origin. Rather than do this at the land border in Ireland, these are carried out at Northern Irish ports.
What about an Anglo-Scottish border?
In an analysis published in March, the Institute for Government said it would not be possible to replicate the Northern Ireland protocol arrangement for an independent Scotland, because Scotland would be a full member of the EU, although Nicola Sturgeon has said the protocol could “offer some template” for how an independent Scotland could deal with its land border with England.
It is not known what arrangements the Scottish Government envisages putting in place should the issue of an Anglo-Scottish border ever become a reality. Detailed proposals for how the border would work in practice have not been drawn up as yet.
As the UK Government remains opposed to Scottish independence, stating it will not permit a second referendum to go ahead, discussions on the matter are not thought to have taken place between the two governments.
We cannot say how the border between Scotland and England would work, as there has yet to be a plan developed for trading with the rest of the UK if Scotland became independent.
It is likely that trade friction would be caused if Scotland joined the European Union and the European single market. There would be fewer barriers to trade between Scotland and the EU than in the post-Brexit UK, while trade with the UK nations would be harder.
Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, and a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Want to suggest a fact check? Go to ideas.theferret.scot, email us at email@example.com or join our Facebook group.