SCOTLAND and Northern Ireland could both remain in the EU pending an independence referendum, according to papers published by a European Parliament committee.

The details emerged as the UK government confirmed the start of the formal Brexit process this week, stating it would make sure "control of our laws lies in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast".

Downing Street said a White Paper on the Great Repeal Bill will be published on Thursday, in a week it claimed would "mark a defining moment in this country's history".

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The dramatic move came ahead of speculation that Theresa May will visit Scotland before triggering Article 50, the formal process for leaving the EU is triggered, on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the First Minister said Nicola Sturgeon "would be happy to meet her [May] if and when this [visit] takes place".

The Scottish Parliament is also expected to vote for a second independence referendum on Tuesday, despite the Prime Minister ruling out such a vote before Brexit.

However, the European Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee published research saying there was enough "constitutional flexibility" for Scotland and Northern Ireland to remain in the EU ahead of independence referendums being held.

Last night, the Scottish government said the findings showed a desire in Brussels for Scotland to remain in the EU.

A Scottish government source said: “It’s quite clear from the tone that Brussels is open to the idea of Scotland keeping its place in Europe, in line with the way people here voted, even if that was conditional on the outcome of the independence referendum. That openness contrasts with the Tory intransigence we have seen from Westminster.

"But the bottom line is that people in Scotland will be given a choice on this country’s future, in line with the cast-iron democratic mandate which exists for holding the referendum, which we hope will be strengthened when parliament votes on the issue this week.”

Meanwhile, the UK government said the day after Article 50 is triggered its White Paper "will lay out how control over UK law will be returned to our Parliament - thereby ending the supremacy of EU lawmakers".

The UK government went on to state that "our laws will not be made in Brussels, but in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast" and that it would "ensure that more decisions are devolved" after Brexit.

However, the Westminster government refused to state what powers would be devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland after Brexit.

A UK government source said: “Next week will mark a defining moment in this country's history, when the Prime Minister invokes Article 50 and opens the way for formal negotiations to leave the European Union and build a truly global Britain.

“But a strong, sovereign country needs control of its own laws. That, more than anything else, was what drove the referendum result: a desire for the country to be in control of its own destiny.

“So next week we will get on with the job, and set out the steps we will take to ensure control of our laws lies in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.”

The European Parliament committee-commissioned report pointed out that Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man had separate arrangements with the EU. The territories, which are British dependencies, are not in the EU, but have access to the Customs Union.

However, the research commissioned by the committee suggested this meant there was scope for Scotland and Northern Ireland to remain in the EU ahead of an independence referendum in the two countries.

In his report, 'Detoxifying the UK's Exit from the EU', political scientist Brendan O'Leary said there was "merit" in such an approach, but that it would be resisted by Westminster.

It said: "An exponent of constitutional flexibility argues that given the status of these dependencies, separate arrangements can also be made for other parts of the UK when England and Wales leave the EU.

"Northern Ireland and Scotland could remain within the EU, at least pending the resolution of their UK status via a border poll (Northern Ireland) or an independence referendum (Scotland).

"Their current status as parts of the UK union have been altered by the decision to leave the EU - a decision rejected by both countries - and as such it would be unfair to forcibly remove them from another union, i.e. the European one. This view may hold merit but has no traction with the Westminster government."

European Union leaders have said that member states should be allowed to pursue integration at different paces. The comments were made as the 27 other EU leaders were marking the union's 60th anniversary at an informal summit in Rome without the Prime Minister, and as thousands joined an anti-Brexit march in Westminster.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker called Brexit a "tragedy" while European Council president Donald Tusk called for sustained unity after May invokes Article 50 on Wednesday.