Planned Talks To Protect Scotland's Place In EU

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says her government will seek to enter into ''immediate discussions'' with Brussels to ''protect Scotland's place in the EU'' in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Ms Sturgeon said she will establish an advisory panel with experts to advise her on legal, financial and diplomatic matters as she seeks to continue Scotland's membership.

Speaking outside her official residence in Edinburgh, the First Minister said her cabinet had agreed to begin work on legislation that would allow for the option of a second independence referendum.

Following a cabinet meeting at Bute House, Ms Sturgeon said: ''We are determined to act decisively but in a way that builds unity across Scotland about the way forward.

''As I said yesterday, a second independence referendum is clearly an option that requires to be on the table and is very much on the table.

''To ensure that that option is a deliverable one within the required timetable, steps will be taken now to ensure that the necessary legislation is in place. Cabinet this morning formally agreed that work.''

The First Minister added: ``Cabinet agreed that we will seek to enter into immediate discussions with the EU institutions and other EU member states to explore all possible options to protect Scotland's place in the EU.

''Over the next few days I will establish an advisory panel comprising a range of experts who can advise me and the Scottish Government on a number of important matters - legal, financial and diplomatic.''

The emergency meeting of Scottish ministers was called the day after the UK voted to leave the EU by a margin of 52% to 48%.

By contrast, Scotland opted overwhelmingly to be part of the EU by 62% to 38% - a difference which prompted Ms Sturgeon to declare that a second vote on Scottish independence is now ''highly likely''.

The SNP leader confirmed her government will begin to draw up the legislation that could see a fresh vote take place within the next two years.

She described the prospect of Scotland being withdrawn from the EU against its will as ``democratically unacceptable.''

The SNP manifesto for May's Holyrood elections said the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there is a ''significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014''.

In the short-term, the First Minister said she wanted to offer reassurance to EU citizens currently living in Scotland and will hold a summit with representatives from member states.

She said: ''I said yesterday that people from other EU countries that have done us the honour of choosing to make Scotland their home are welcome here and I repeat that again today.

``I want to make sure that that is a message we get across strongly in the weeks and months ahead.

''To that end, I will be inviting the consul generals of all EU member states to a summit here in Bute House over the next two weeks to discuss how we engage with their communities here and make clear how highly we value the contribution they make to Scotland's economy, society and culture.''

Opposition parties in Scotland have warned against rushing into a second referendum.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the 1.6 million votes cast in favour of remaining in the EU ''do not wipe away the two million votes that we cast less than two years ago''.

She said: ''We do not address the challenges of leaving the European Union by leaving our own Union of nations, our biggest market and our closest friends.''

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said fundamental questions asked during the independence campaign, such as those over currency, remained unanswered.

Ms Dugdale said: ''Labour's manifesto ruled out a second referendum in the lifetime of this Parliament - we won't be changing our minds any time soon.''

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