NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of being “detached from reality” after touting the troubled Northern Ireland Brexit protocol as a “template” for independence.

The First Minister told the Irish Times that the Northern Ireland arrangement could act as a model for a future trade border between England and Scotland.

“I think that does offer some template,” she said.

Opposition parties said the comment was “delusional”, “bizarre” and a vain attempt to mask the border problems that would come with independence because of Brexit.

The protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland inside the EU’s customs union and single market for goods, meaning checks and controls on goods between NI and Great Britain.

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However it also proven hugely controversial, with violence on the streets in Northern Ireland, political instability, and disagreements and legal threats between the EU and UK.

NI First Minister Arlene Foster was yesterday forced to resign from the post and quit as DUP leader after a rebellion in her party, which sees the protocol as undermining the Union.

Ms Sturgeon has said she wants a second independence vote by 2024, Covid permitting, then independence in 2026, followed by Scotland rejoining the EU.

If Scotland did rejoin the EU, it would mean its border with a post-Brexit England would also be a tightly regulated external EU border.

Ms Sturgeon has admitted that would raise “practical difficulties” for trade, as current EU regulations would demand border posts and checks on goods and livestock.

She has said that negotiations with the UK could ensure businesses did not “suffer” as a result, but has not offered any specific solutions.

The obvious way to reduce trade barriers would be for an independent Scotland in the EU and England to be closely aligned, but that would require the UK Government to roll back Brexit, which is highly unlikely.

Ms Sturgeon told the Irish Times that measures in the Northern Ireland protocol to limit checks on goods moving across the Irish Sea could be a model for how to reduce friction on a future border between Scotland and England.

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She said: “In terms of goods and services, if we are an independent country within the European Union, of course we have to comply with the rules and regulations

“But what we’ve got to understand is that Brexit has created border issues, and our businesses right now are paying the price for that. What we’ve got to decide is how best we arrange all of these things for maximum advantage. 

“The Northern Ireland protocol, if there are easements there, yes, I think that does offer some template.

“But we work in a proper planned way to make sure that any rules that have to be applied are applied in a way that absolutely minimises any practical difficulties for businesses trading across the England-Scotland border.

“But the benefit of doing that is that we again open up free trade across the whole of the European Union, the world’s biggest single market. 

“Brexit had all been about narrowing Scotland’s horizons, in a trading sense but also in terms of people. Independence is about opening up those horizons again and seeing Scotland firmly as a country playing its full part in Europe and the world.”

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Labour MP Ian Murray, the shadow Scottish Secretary, said: “The First Minister’s comments simply beggar belief and demonstrate the bizarre positions that Nicola Sturgeon is forced to adopt in a vain attempt to mask the economic threat caused by Scottish separation.

“With our economy already threatened by Brexit, the idea that we jump out of the frying pan and into the fire by leaving the UK is completely contrary to the interests of the people of Scotland.

“What the First Minister is proposing would lead to customs checks for goods entering and leaving Scotland – this would be a disaster for our economy. 

“It seems that the First Minister is not a keen observer of Northern Irish politics and has an almost Faragesque relationship with reality.

“It’s high time that the First Minister remembered that she has a duty to protect the Scottish economy and ditches the nationalist posturing.”

Dumfriesshire Tory MP Oliver Mundell said: “Nicola Sturgeon and senior SNP politicians seems to harbour a Trump-like desire to build walls.

"They can offer no honest or sensible explanation because the reality is that in the event of independence, Brussels would make a hard border between Scotland and England a condition of re-joining the EU.

"The truth is the SNP are so blinded by their divisive ideology they would willingly risk the devastation that would inevitably cause to Scottish jobs and the economy.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael added: “The polite term for this would be delusional. The Northern Ireland protocol was hastily cobbled together and badly thought out. Already we are seeing the devastating consequences of that decision.

“Nicola Sturgeon’s border plan would separate families and devastate trade. 

“She is singing from the Brexiteer songbook.

“The SNP’s civic nationalism is fraying at the edges and their true colours are coming through. Scotland needs a government focused on helping the economy recover from the pandemic, not one whose idea of boosting employment is more border guards.”

The row is the latest to have hit the First Minister this week about Europe, suggesting the SNP remains unclear on how independence would interact with Brexit.