Senior Tories have been advised to start working on a plan to block an independent Scotland from joining the EU, in a bid to kill off support for separation from the UK.
Ministers have been urged to start pressuring Brussels to make it clear that “there is no viable pathway” for Scotland to rejoin the trading block, according to a leaked memo.
The memo, circulated at the highest levels of government, says a change in tack is needed as the “once in a generation vote” line usually deployed to defend against calls for another referendum is “no longer effective”.
The 21-page document, seen by Bloomberg news, also warns there is “a vacuum of leadership within the Unionist movement which is leaving the campaign rudderless”.
The document goes on to advise that there needs to be “a hard-hitting, attack-focused” campaign against Nicola Sturgeon, in addition to a charm offensive with the EU to seek to block an independent Scotland becoming a member.
Brexit has changed the game and makes the conventional argument against a rerun of the 2014 referendum – that it was a “once in a generation” vote “no longer effective”, it said.
“Put simply, there are not enough Leave voters to convert to the ‘No’ side to make up for the movement of Remain voters into the ‘Yes’ camp,” the report said.
One way of trying to break the link between independence and remaining in the single market is by “co-opting the EU into demonstrating that there is no viable pathway to renewed membership,” the report said.
The recommendation comes as polls continue to show rising support for independence and strong backing for Nicola Sturgeon’s government.