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LONDON: The British government yesterday intensified its campaign to stop Scotland leaving the United Kingdom, publishing a legal opinion suggesting it would forfeit its membership of international bodies such as the European Union if it chose independence.
The pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) that runs Scotland’s devolved government plans to hold a referendum on the politically sensitive and emotionally charged subject next year, and has played down the impact of a “Yes” vote on Scotland’s international status.
But the 57-page legal opinion — drafted for the British government by two leading independent experts on international law — said the implications could be far-reaching. The overwhelming weight of international precedent suggested Scotland would be legally deemed a “new state”, it said — a scenario that would force it to re-apply to join international bodies such as the EU, the UN and Nato.
“If Scotland became independent, only the ‘remainder of the UK’ would automatically continue to exercise the same rights, obligations and powers under international law as the UK currently does, and would not have to re-negotiate existing treaties or re-apply for membership of international organisations,” the government said.
Its unusual decision to publish such an opinion reflects its concern that Scots may vote for independence, triggering the break-up of a United Kingdom comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Prime Minister David Cameron intervened in the debate on Sunday, conceding that Scotland had what it takes to be an independent nation, but arguing it enjoyed “the best of both worlds” as part of the UK.
“Put simply: Britain works. Britain works well. Why break it?” he wrote in an article published in Scottish newspapers. Cameron’s political future and historic legacy are on the line. He has pledged to contest the next British general election in 2015 and his own Conservative party would never forgive him if he presided over the break-up of the UK. reuters