DONALD Tusk has predicted an independent Scotland would get an “enthusiastic” welcome from the EU if it applied to rejoin, but would not be let in automatically.

The former President of the European Council said he felt “very Scottish, especially after Brexit” and that other EU states felt “only empathy” towards Scotland.

However he also said the EU would be “cautious” about the legal aspects, and Scotland would need to go through a formal application process like other would-be members. 

The SNP said it showed an independent Scotland would be welcomed in Europe, while the UK Government condemned it as “irresponsible.”

Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants an independent Scotland to rejoin the EU to avoid economic damage from Brexit, but lacks the power to hold a legal independence vote.

Boris Johnson has refused to grant Holyrood the power to hold Indyref2, saying the No result of 2014 was a once-in-a generation decision.

In an interview on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show, Mr Tusk was asked if the EU would look favourably on an expedited membership for an independent Scotland. 

Mr Tusk said he had to stop himself from “saying something too blunt,” because, touching his heart, “sometimes I feel that I am a Scot here”.

He said: “I am very Scottish now, especially after Brexit. But at the same time I know how important the word sovereignty, integrity was in the internal debate in the United Kingdom.

“It’s not my role to intervene, despite my sympathies.

“If you are asking about legal circumstances, we have to be here very cautious. We have our own treaty, which I understand well.

"Of course, you can always interpret treaties in very different ways. But if I understand well, the only justified interpretation is that, if something like, for example, the independence of Scotland happens, then we need a new, regular process [for joining].

“There is no automaticity. [If] it’s a new situation, new country, then it means a new process.”

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Asked if Edinburgh would get neverthless “a bit of help” from Brussels in scuh circumstances, the Polish politician said: “Emotionally I have no doubt that everyone will be enthusiastic here in Brussels, and more generally in Europe.

“But we have still treaties and some formalities

"If you ask me about our emotions, and genuine feelings, you will witness I think only empathy."

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the comments “rather un-European and rather irresponsible”, and claimed they could encourage “separatist tendencies" across the EU.

He told the Marr show: "I'm not sure European leaders, let alone here in the UK, would actually welcome that comment.”

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The SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford tweeted: "Thank you, Donald Tusk, for the warm words on Scotland. #weareallscottish We will take our responsibilities and will secure a referendum providing the road map for an independent Scotland to re-join the European mainstream".

SNP Shadow Foreign Secretary Alyn Smith MP said: “Donald Tusk’s comments underline the reality that Scotland would be welcomed back into the EU with open arms as an independent country. What senior Europeans are saying in public is what they have been saying in private for some time.

“Scotland has been taken out of the EU against our will by a Tory government with no mandate here - but Scotland remains a European country with European values, and we can protect our place at the heart of Europe with independence.

“There is now an unstoppable momentum for an independence referendum. People in Scotland must have a choice over our future - instead of having it imposed on us by Westminster.

“The SNP won a landslide victory at the general election on a cast-iron mandate to hold an independence referendum. Civic Scotland is backing a referendum. The Scottish Parliament has voted for a referendum. Boris Johnson must stop denying democracy and accept Scotland’s right to determine our own future.

"Sadly the UK is no longer an EU member state but a welcome side effect of that is Scotland's independence is no longer something our European friends feel is not a matter for them to voice a view upon. We'll see more of this."

Last year, Mr Tusk's predecessor Herman Van Rompuy said there was “sympathy” towards an independent Scotland in the EU.

The European Policy Centre think-tank, of which Mr Van Rompuy is president, published an analysis on independent Scottish membership of the EU.

It concluded that the EU should "engage positively" with Scotland in the event of independence if there had been a properly constituted referendum.

Also on the Marr show, Mr Tusk said upcoming trade talks with the UK would be focused on “damage control”.

He said there would be “great consequences” for “both sides” if Boris Johnson decided to move away from Brussels’ regulations.

He said: “There is no desire for punishment. For Brexit, and the negotiations after Brexit, this is a process of only damage control.

“The problem is, objectively, that there will be some losses and damages, no doubt, on both sides – but not as an intentional ‘game’.”

He said he did not think Britain would return to the European Union in his lifetime and called for Remain voters “not to dream about another referendum”.

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “Empathy alone is not enough to avoid the rules, and that means no automatic route into the EU for a separate Scotland.

“We would have to commit to joining the euro, explain what sweeping cutbacks to public services would be made to get our deficit down from 7 per cent to 3 per cent, and accept the EU’s trade deal with the UK – risking a hard border with England.

“Nicola Sturgeon needs to start being honest with voters about this, because it’s clear that whatever you think of Brexit, we are stronger together in the UK.”