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Independence referendum 'only way to protect Scotland from hardest of Brexits'

Holyrood's Brexit minister has insisted a fresh independence referendum is now the only way of protecting Scotland from the "hardest of Brexits".

Mike Russell said the Scottish Government had come to the view it was "hard to see" a deal being done with Westminster that would avoid another vote on leaving the UK.

He spoke out after Prime Minister Theresa May made clear Scotland would be leaving the European Union (EU) as a result of the Brexit vote - regardless of whether or not it becomes independent.

Amid reports - denied by the SNP - that Scotland would seek to join the the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which includes Norway and Iceland and gives access to the single market, rather than rejoin the EU as a full member, Mr Russell said a prospectus for independence would be put forward by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's administration.

He said Scotland had a "right to reject" Brexit and "choose a different future".

His comments came after SNP depute leader Angus Robertson had suggested a deal could still be done to avert a second independence referendum, saying the party was " trying to convince the UK Government to come to a compromise agreement protecting Scotland's place in Europe".

Mr Russell told MSPs: "We remain open to a substantive and positive response to our papers and proposals - but it is hard to see it coming forward."

He added that meant a referendum was now the only way to protect Scotland from the "UK's rush towards the hardest of Brexits".

The Brexit minister said "The damage that will be done will not be completely visible on the day after the UK leaves the EU , but bit by bit its effect will be felt - indeed some of it is beginning to be felt already with increased prices and greater economic uncertainty.

"Our job in this chamber is to find ways to mitigate such damage and, if possible, to avoid as much of it as we can.

"It is the belief of the Scottish Government that that can now only be done by allowing the Scottish people to make an informed choice as to the future they prefer."

Mr Russell's comments came almost immediately after Mrs May warned the SNP that "constitutional game-playing must not be allowed to break the deep bonds of our shared history".

Her insistence that Scotland will leave the EU stems from Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas' statement the "Barroso doctrine" continues to apply.

Former commission president Jose Manuel Barroso set out the legal view that if one part of an EU country became an independent state, it would have to apply for EU membership.

At Prime Minister's Questions, Mrs May said: "Scotland will be leaving the European Union, it will leave the European Union either as a member of the United Kingdom or were it independent, it's very clear with the Barroso doctrine it would not be a member of the European Union.

"What we need now is to unite, to come together as a country and to ensure that we can get the best deal for the whole of the United Kingdom."

Mr Russell said the Scottish Government had "little, if any, confidence in the ability of the UK Government to secure a deal that works for us".

A proposal for Scotland to stay in the single market and for increased powers to come to Holyrood has been on the table for three months, with no formal response from Westminster.

As he result, he said Ms Sturgeon was "ensuring the people of Scotland will get to choose between the Brexit deal, as negotiated by the UK, and independence, on a prospectus that will be brought forward by the Scottish Government".

More than 113,000 across the UK have signed a petition on the UK Government website against a second Scottish independence referendum, meaning Westminster must now consider holding a debate on the issue.

Meanwhile a poll by Survation for the Scottish Daily Mail found 46% of Scots would oppose a fresh ballot on independence taking place before Brexit - with 41% in favour of this.

The poll found 53% of Scots are favour of staying in the UK, with 47% in favour of independence, once ''don't knows'' and those not prepared to vote were excluded.

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