Spain has dropped its plan to veto an application by an independent Scotland to join the EU.
The Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis remains opposed to the disintegration of the UK and an independent Scotland but the move shows that Madrid is ready to soften its stance.
Spain has long opposed the breakup of the UK as it fears this would give a boost to separatists in Catalonia, who have been putting pressure on the conservative government of Mariano Rajoy for an independent state.
The Guardian reports that when asked directly whether he would veto an independent Scotland of joining the EU, Mr Dastis said: “No, we wouldn’t”.
Mr Dastis also said that Edinburgh would have to apply for EU membership, standing by his guns that Scotland would have to join “the back of the queue”, risking to spend a long period of time outside of the union waiting to rejoin.
“We don’t want it [Scottish independence] to happen. But if it happens legally and constitutionally, we would not block it. We don’t encourage the breakup of any member states, because we think the future goes in a different direction,” he told European reporters.
Mr Dastis appears to have changed its tone since the Brexit vote. In 2014, he warned Scottish independence would disintegrate the EU but there is now a general sense of compassion from EU leaders for Scotland, which voted to remain in the union at 62 per cent.
Meanwhile, in Brussels there is not much appetite to speculate on the future of Scotland, when EU officials insist that the UK has to agree the divorce package before negotiating trade talks.
This comes as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the UK will stand up for Gibraltar after it called “unacceptable” Spain’s lobbying over the territory’s future as part of the Brexit negotiations.
Documents published by the European Council showed that decisions affecting Gibraltar would be referred to the Spanish Government.
The small territory in southern Spain voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the UK in a referendum in 2002. In last year’s EU referendum, 97 per cent of its citizens voted Remain.
Spain and all 27 remaining EU countries are able to veto the UK’s Brexit deal, but it is uncertain what that could mean in practice.