Boris Johnson angers Scottish nationalists after labelling devolution 'a disaster'

17 November 2020, 07:29 | Updated: 17 November 2020, 08:24

Boris Johnson has angered Scottish nationalists after labelling devolution "a disaster"
Boris Johnson has angered Scottish nationalists after labelling devolution "a disaster". Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Boris Johnson has come under fire for labelling devolution "a disaster north of the border" in comments he reportedly made to Conservative MPs on Monday.

It was immediately met with anger by Scottish nationalists, with SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon criticising the Prime Minister and suggesting the Conservative Party was a "threat" to the Scottish Parliament.

Reports suggest that in conversation with MPs, Mr Johnson said handing greater powers to the four nations had been "Tony Blair's biggest mistake" as PM.

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Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross was also quick to slap down the comments and insisted that "devolution has not been a disaster" in response to his boss' remarks - but also attacked the SNP for suggesting his party were a "threat".

Downing Street sources did not deny the PM made the comments, first reported by the Sun, during a discussion with the Northern Research Group (NRG) - a newly-formed pressure group of Conservative MPs in the North of England.

But No10 insiders insisted "the PM has always supported devolution", but "not when it's used by separatists and nationalists to break up the UK", with the context of his remarks unclear.

In response to the comments, which also included Mr Johnson saying he could not "see a case" for handing down more powers, Scotland's First Minister suggested independence was the best answer for the devolved administration.

"Worth bookmarking these PM comments for the next time Tories say they're not a threat to the powers of the Scottish Parliament - or, even more incredibly, that they support devolving more powers," Ms Strugeon tweeted.

The Moray MP, who plans to stand in the vote to become an MSP in May, said: "Devolution has not been a disaster.

"The SNP's non-stop obsession with another referendum - above jobs, schools and everything else - has been a disaster."

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Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray criticised Mr Johnson's remarks as he defended devolution as "one of Labour's proudest achievements".

"This confirms that Boris Johnson doesn't believe in devolution and would put the future of the United Kingdom at risk," the Labour MP said.

Only last month the UK's three devolved administrations raised concerns over the Westminster Government's UK Internal Market Bill, with the Scottish Government describing the legislation as a "power grab".

The House of Lords Select Committee on the constitution warned the Bill could "destabilise" devolution, with peers suggesting ministers listen to the concerns and amend it - or scrap the relevant powers entirely.

Analysis of a study examining public opinion at the beginning of November also suggested the pursuit of Brexit is undermining support for Scotland remaining in the UK.

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Mr Johnson continues to work from Downing Street, where he is self-isolating after coming into contact with a colleague who later tested positive for coronavirus.

It comes as he tries to "reset" his leadership, with mixed results so far, after a turbulent year from coronavirus and in-fighting at No10 last week.

He is attempting to unify the party after facing sustained criticism throughout the pandemic and angering his colleagues by defending, until very recently, his controversial chief aide Dominic Cummings.