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The SNP’s renewed demands for a second referendum on Scottish independence have “troubled” Boris Johnson, according to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick. Reports have suggested the Prime Minister branded devolution a “disaster” because of the empowering tools provided to the SNP and separatist movements in Scotland. Speaking to Sky News, Mr Jenrick said: “That’s not what the Prime Minister was saying.
“The Prime Minister has always supported devolution but he is, at heart, a unionist, and he is very troubled by the rise of nationalism and separatism in the form of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.
“Whilst in some parts of the United Kingdom devolution has enabled local people to have greater say over their own destinies to make different, and the right, decisions for their communities, one of the downsides in Scotland has been it’s been misused by the SNP to drive a wedge between people who are ultimately part of the same country with hundreds of years of partnership and friendship.”
Mr Jenrick continued: “The PM is very concerned about that and you can see it in the actions the Government’s been taking, whether it’s the Internal Market Bill going through Parliament which sets out to strengthen the union to make it easier and goods and people to travel around the union.
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“Those are the sort of things the Government is going to do to strengthen the United Kingdom.”
And when asked about the possibility of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon securing a second vote on independence in the coming years, Mr Jenrick reminded the SNP they pledge the referendum would be a “once in a generation” opportunity.
The Tory frontbencher said: “I don’t think this is the right time to do that.”
“Any politician who wants to spend time on questions like that at the moment, when we’re in the biggest health crisis for generations and we’re facing a very significant period of disruption, I think is frankly deluding themselves because they should be focusing on the priorities of the public.”
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During a Zoom meeting with MPs last week, Mr Johnson allegedly hit out at his predecessor Tony Blair for bringing in devolution to Scotland during his first Government in 1999.
A Downing Street insider said: “The PM has always supported devolution, but Tony Blair failed to foresee the rise of separatists in Scotland.
“Devolution is great – but not when it’s used by separatists and nationalists to break up the UK.”
Despite Mr Johnson repeatedly committing to the union, his comments could have a serious impact at a time when support for independence across the border has grown significantly over the past few months.
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The SNP is currently the largest party in the Scottish Parliament after winning 61 seats in 2017, with Conservatives following at 31.
Nicola Sturgeon has argued a landslide victory next year would provide her party with an unquestionable mandate for a second referendum on independence.
Commenting on Mr Johnson’s alleged attack on devolution, Ms Sturgeon said: “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.”
Mr Johnson has however maintained he will continue to fight for the unity of the country and will not agree to a new vote.
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