By Martin Kelly
David Cameron’s decision to promote Philip Hammond to the cabinet post of Foreign Secretary has moved the UK closer to an EU exit, First Minister Alex Salmond has said.
The First Minister was commenting after the Prime Minister announced Mr Hammond will replace outgoing Foreign Secretary William Hague in the role, after Mr Hague voluntarily stepped down.
Responding to the UK cabinet reshuffle, Mr Salmond said:
“Philip Hammond’s promotion to Foreign Secretary has put one hand on the exit door leading the UK out of the European Union.
“Mr Hammond is the first person to hold this post who has openly said he is in favour of quitting the EU. As such, this is the clearest signal yet that, under David Cameron, the UK is on the fast-track out of Europe.”
The First Minister’s claim is a reference to comments made by Mr Hammond last year when he confirmed in a BBC interview that, if a referendum was to be held right now, he would vote to take the UK out of Europe.
“If the choice is between a European Union written exactly as it is today and not being a part of that then I have to say that I’m on the side of the argument that Michael Gove has put forward,” he told BBC radio.
His colleague Michael Gove had said: “I am not happy with our position in the European Union but my preference is for a change in Britain’s relationship with the European Union,
“Life outside would be perfectly tolerable, we could contemplate it, there would be certain advantages.”
Mr Salmond added: “The clear risk for Scotland now is that we are dragged out of Europe against our wishes, with hugely damaging consequences for jobs and investment, if we do not take our future into our own hands.
“Only a Yes vote in September can secure Scotland’s place in Europe, giving us a seat and a voice at the top table – Westminster is dancing to a UKIP tune, and that tune is leading only one way.
“It was Mr Cameron’s ill-judged diplomacy over the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission President which has put Westminster on course for an EU exit.
“And Philip Hammond’s elevation to the Foreign Office on the same day that Mr Juncker is being voted in as Commission President will be seen in capitals around Europe as a deliberate and none too subtle signal of London’s intentions.
“Opinion polls show that people in Scotland are more likely to want to remain in Europe – and that the risk of being taken out of Europe by Westminster is likely to boost a Yes vote in September.
“The message now is crystal clear – only a Yes vote can protect Scotland’s future in Europe.”
Meanwhile, comments made by new EC President Jean-Claude Juncker have re-opened the debate over the EU membership of an independent Scotland.
According to the BBC, the EC president today said ‘there would be no new EU member states within the next five years.’
The comments were seized on by the anti-independence campaign Better Together as proof that a newly independent Scotland would be thrown out of the EU and refused re-entry.
Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said: “It is now clear that if we leave the UK, we would be leaving the EU. This would put thousands of Scottish jobs at risk and would be massively damaging to our country.”
However it has emerged that the EC President was referring to the process of enlargement through the inclusion of Balkan states.
Enlargement is the term used when the European Union expands its territory, and citizens, by admitting what are referred to as ‘candidate countries’. The last candidate country to be admitted was Croatia which became the 28th member of the EU in July last year.
The Scottish Government has said it would negotiate the continuation of Scotland’s EU membership after a Yes vote. An independent Scottish state would require no enlargement as Scots are already citizens and Scotland has, as part of the EU, been EU territory for forty years.
EDIT: 19:50 – It has just emerged that Jean-Claude Juncker’s spokeswoman has confirmed that the EC President was NOT referring to Scotland when he made the five year remark. More later…