FORMER First Minister Alex Salmond has said Nicola Sturgeon is prepared to call a second vote on leaving the UK shortly after Britain leaves the European Union.

Mr Salmond, who led a failed bid for Scottish independence three years ago, said the current First Minister would have to call for a second referendum swiftly if Britain left the single market in a Hard Brexit - often interpreted as resulting in the giving up of full access to the single market and the removal of the right of freedom of movement between countries.

In a parliamentary statement made to MSPs at the end of June, Ms Sturgeon said she was persisting with plans for a second referendum that could be launched next year.

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The First Minister told MSPs she will “reset” the timetable for another referendum, which she originally wanted between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, but later said it was still "likely" another vote would be held before the May 2021 Scottish Parliament election.

She has since said she did not have a timescale for a second vote.

Theresa May, who has said the EU Withdrawal Bill would be amended to formally commit to Brexit at 23:00 GMT on Friday 29 March 2019 was told by European  business representatives on Monday that a Hard Brexit would be "fatal" for industry.

HeraldScotland: Home Secretary Theresa May

"If it's a hard Brexit we are going to have a very sharp timescale," Mr Salmond said in an interview, adding that Ms Sturgeon would move quickly to help Scotland "avoid" the effects of Britain leaving the single market without a transition deal in place.

"This impacts very much on the timing Nicola will be considering for a second referendum. The nature of Brexit to a great extent dictates the nature of a referendum," the former MP told Business Insider.

"If we had a transitional stage of two years, that dictates the timescale... we have to avoid a situation where we were excluded from the single market."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "As the First Minister has made clear, we believe the people of Scotland should have a choice about our future direction as a country.

"That means that, at the end of the period of negotiation with the EU, when the terms of Brexit will be clearer, we will come back to Parliament to set out our judgment on the best way forward at that time, including our view on the precise timescale for offering people a choice over the country’s future.

"In the meantime, we will redouble our efforts to seek to influence the Brexit talks in a way that protects Scotland’s interests."

The government is under pressure to meet a two-week deadline set by the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Friday for a deal on exit terms ahead of the December EU summit.

European business leaders have urged the British Prime Minister to provide clarity over the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU and to speed up the process.

BusinessEurope, a lobby group that speaks for all-sized enterprises in 34 European countries, including Britain, said last month it was "extremely concerned with the slow pace of negotiations" and called on the British government to rapidly come up with proposals that would speed them up.

The UK is due to leave the European Union after 2016's referendum in which 51.9% of voters backed Brexit.