NICOLA Sturgeon has said any Brexit concessions allowing Northern Ireland to stay in the single market would make it “even more vital” for Scotland to follow suit.

The First Minister welcomed news that Britain and the European Union were close to an agreement on issues surrounding the Irish border.

But she insisted any “special status” for Northern Ireland would make a similar solution for Scotland “even more vital”.

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Her comments came as European Council president Donald Tusk said yesterday's Brexit talks with Theresa May had seen "significant progress".

However critics accused the SNP leader of “weaponising” Brexit to further her goal of independence – and insisted the UK’s internal market must not be disrupted.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Despite the fact that no deal on the Irish border issue has been reached today, and while full details of any such deal are still to become clear, I welcome the fact that there now appears to be the outline of an agreement which would ensure that there is no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.

“The potential for a hard border has been one of the most concerning aspects of Brexit, and the UK Government’s position to date on protecting the terms of the Good Friday Agreement has left much to be desired.

“While I welcome the proposed commitment for Ireland and Northern Ireland – and while the particular circumstances in Scotland are distinct and separate from those in Ireland – today’s developments show very clearly that if one part of UK can retain regulatory alignment with the EU and effectively stay in the single market, there is no good practical reason why others cannot do the same.

“Indeed, any special status for Northern Ireland would make a similar solution for Scotland even more vital. For Scotland to find itself outside the single market, while Northern Ireland effectively stays in would place us at a double disadvantage when it comes to jobs and investment.”

Derek Mackay, the SNP finance secretary, said Scottish independence will become “increasingly irresistible” if Scotland is taken out of the European single market.

Trade talks between Britain and the EU previously stalled as Ireland sought guarantees that there would be no return to a strictly-controlled border after Brexit.

An agreement that would have aligned Northern Ireland's regulations with the Republic was thought to be close before intervention from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) yesterday.

Ms Sturgeon insisted the “simplest answer to the Brexit problem is for the whole UK to stay in the single market”, but said the Scottish Government had already put forward its own proposals for Scotland to stay.

She added: “Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and the Scottish Government will continue to make the case, as strongly as ever, for that democratic choice by the people of Scotland to be respected and for our place in Europe to be protected.”

But the Scottish Tories accused Ms Sturgeon of trying to “weaponise Brexit to further her obsession with independence”.

John Lamont MP said: “Her overriding concern since last June has been to use this issue to leverage another independence vote, rather than recognising Scotland's biggest market is the rest of the UK.

“It is not in Scotland's interest to disrupt Britain's internal market which is four times more valuable than that of the EU.

“If Nicola Sturgeon is trying to further her constitutional goal by creating different regimes on either side of the border, then she is selling Scotland short.”

Meanwhile, Labour said the real reason both sides failed to reach an agreement yesterday was “the grubby deal the Government did with the DUP after the election”.

Scottish Greens Europe spokesman Ross Greer said any “special arrangements” for Northern Ireland would demonstrate that the final Brexit deal can be “flexible”.

He said: "If these reports are confirmed it will show that other parts of the UK can avoid the worst of the Tories' hard Brexit disaster as well.

“In Scotland, where we voted overwhelmingly to remain, there is an overwhelming desire to keep as close a relationship with the EU as possible.

“There is now no good reason why Scotland cannot remain within the single market for example.”