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Boris Johnson insists he’s a supporter of devolution after claims he described it ‘disaster north of border’

The Independent logo The Independent 21/11/2020 Ashley Cowburn
Boris Johnson wearing a suit and tie © Provided by The Independent

Boris Johnson has insisted he is a supporter of devolution after reportedly describing it as a “disaster north of the border” in comments that provoked cross-party condemnation.

In an address to the Scottish Conservative Party virtual conference, the prime minister also appealed for unity between political parties to tackle the threat of coronavirus and put aside constitutional arguments.

The remarks came after Mr Johnson faced intense criticism over reports suggesting that during a Zoom call with northern Tory MPs he referred to devolution as former prime minister Tony Blair’s “biggest mistake”.

Sir Keir Starmer seized on the comments in the Commons earlier this week, claiming Mr Johnson was the “single biggest threat to the future of the United Kingdom” and making Scottish independence more likely “every time he opens his mouth”.

Addressing the reports on Saturday, Mr Johnson claimed: “I know that comments I made on devolution the other day are being widely reported – leaked – not entirely accurately.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) gestures during a visit to a tesco.com distribution centre in London with Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (L) on November 11, 2020. (Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth / POOL / AFP) (Photo by KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) © Getty Images Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) gestures during a visit to a tesco.com distribution centre in London with Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (L) on November 11, 2020. (Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth / POOL / AFP) (Photo by KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

“But never mind since there were no press in there I’ll give you my round unvarnished view: the way the SNP have handled devolution in Scotland has been a disaster.


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“It’s an abysmal record. The key is to have policies that show how devolution can work for Scotland, the people in Scotland rather than the SNP obsession with making devolution work against the rest of the UK.”

But he went on: “Just because I criticised the performance of devolution doesn’t mean I want to oppose devolution as a concept, of course not. I’m a former mayor of London and I know how effective devolved powers can be, for example in making transport greener.

“Devolution should be used not by politicians to break away an area of the UK from the rest, but should be used as a step to pass power to local communities and businesses to make their lives better.”

The prime minister, however, stressed that “political wrangling” over the contentious issue of Scottish independence must not disrupt efforts to suppress the virus across the UK.

“This is not the moment frankly for division or distraction about our national constitution,” he said. “In order for us to tackle the shared and common threat that is Covid-19 the focus on separation has got to stop.”

He added: “For it to stop, so must the divisions. So I want to thank the Scottish government for the way it has worked with all of us, with the UK government, with other devolved administrations to try to tackle this virus over these past few years. I want to thank Nicola [Sturgeon], I want to appeal to them to continue to work with us, making use of the vaccine stocks … that come from being part of one of the world’s leading scientific superpowers.

“Covid-19 doesn’t care about constitutional arrangements, and whatever our political differences we all need to work together at this time to protect the health and jobs of the people of Scotland.”

During his speech from No 10, Mr Johnson also claimed there is “hope on the horizon” in tackling the virus, later adding: “I believe with continued and sustained effort we can and will defeat coronavirus and that we can turn the page on this troubled chapter of our history.”

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