RETAINING access to the single market and rights of free movement have been pinpointed as Scotland’s "red lines" in efforts to maintain ties with the EU.

An expert standing council, convened by Nicola Sturgeon and tasked with offering advice on securing the country’s relationship with the EU following last month’s Brexit vote, met for the first time in Edinburgh on Thursday. 

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It is understood that the First Minister, who opened the meeting and remained throughout, told the group that every option - from full independence to doing nothing - had been considered.

However, she emphasised that the main focus of the group would not be independence but helping secure the best deal for the country after Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU but was outnumbered by England and Wales.

Sources present said it had been agreed that the UK Government would be lobbied strongly to push for access to the single market and rights of free movement of people to be maintained in Scotland following Brexit.

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It was also agreed that efforts to engage with EU institutions and foreign administrations should continue in a bid to highlight the situation facing Scotland. Finally, it is understood the group will consider what the Scottish Government could “salvage” - such as participation in the European Arrest Warrant or Erasmus student programme - should efforts to preserve ties fail.

Anton Muscatelli, the Glasgow University principal and chair of the group paid tribute to the expertise of members and said that in coming months they would “endeavour to offer clear and meaningful guidance to the Scottish Government as it seeks to ensure Scotland’s continuing relationship with Europe”.

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The group met after a row broke out between Ms Sturgeon and the new chancellor, Philip Hammond, over Scotland’s future status in Europe. While Ms Sturgeon has said she will explore all options to deliver the will of Scottish voters, Mr Hammond insisted there could be no special deal.

He said the best future for Scotland is remaining “inside the United Kingdom economy” and that the London administration would “implement the decision that the people of the United Kingdom collectively have made to leave the European Union.” Asked if he could envisage a situation where Scotland has a different relationship than the rest of the UK with the EU, he replied: “No.”

Ms Sturgeon described the comments as “deeply disappointing” and called for a rethink. She added: “I have been absolutely clear on this issue – the people of Scotland voted decisively to stay part of the European Union and their wishes must be respected.”