Scotland and England could end up with a hard border for the first time in three centuries if an independent Scotland were to join the European Union, according to a report published today.

The report, from the Institute for Government (IfG), analysed the implications of Scotland rejoining the EU after gaining independence, but warned the process could take ten years.

It also said Scotland would become a customs and regulatory border for the EU - meaning the border between Scotland and England would need to be closed.

The report reads: “Joining the EU would mean Scotland joining the single market and customs union – and as a result the Anglo-Scottish border would become a new external customs and regulatory frontier for the EU.

"Even a looser model of integration with the EU, such as Scotland joining the European Economic Area (EEA), could not grant frictionless access to both the EU and the UK markets, so long as the UK–EU relationship continues to be governed by the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement.”

It went on: “The process of Scotland’s separation from the UK could easily last longer than the five years it took for the UK to exit the EU and the EU accession process would likely last at least two further years.”

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However, the report added that it seemed “more probable” that Scotland could “avoid any commitment, even in principle, to joining the Schengen area, within which there are no border checks”.

The UK and the Republic of Ireland previously opted out of the Schengen area, but maintained the existing Common Travel Area that allows free movement between the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

Akash Paun, a senior fellow at the institute and co-author of the report said: ”Scotland was taken out of the EU against the will of a majority of its citizens, so it is understandable that many voters want the opportunity to vote again on independence, so that Scotland could then re-join the EU.

“That is a choice for Scotland to make. But it should make that choice in the knowledge that it will not be able to maintain open borders with both the EU and with the rest of the UK.”

Last night’s televised debate between Scotland’s political leaders was dominated by talk of a second independence referendum.

As Scotland looks to move on from the coronavirus pandemic, Ms Sturgeon promised to be an “experienced hand at the wheel” with her SNP party bringing forward “bold policies to drive our recovery”.

But she insisted that when the crisis has passed, people should have a “choice on independence”.

She added Scots needed to “get ourselves back into the European single market so that we can trade across Europe freely again, which of course is seven times the size of the UK market”.

The SNP wants that vote to take place in the first half of Scottish Parliament’s five-year term.

However, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross insisted: “We can’t have a recovery and a referendum.”

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Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said the move could lead to significant impacts on the job market.

She said: “The reality of leaving the UK is scrapping the pound and building a hard border with our main trading partner, with devastating consequences for jobs.“It would also mean a border between friends and families.

“We are stronger together as part of the UK, ensuring we can work together to build a successful future for every community as we recover from Covid.”

SNP Europe Minister Jenny Gilruth said it was the UK Government "putting up borders" due to its Brexit policy, but added there "is no reason an independent Scotland would not remain in the Common Travel Area."

She added: “The EU’s founding values – such as democracy, equality, freedom and the rule of law – are Scotland’s values and we are keen to make our contribution to the shared endeavour that the EU represents."

You can read the report in full here