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Boris Johnson 'called Scottish devolution disaster'

Boris Johnson has come under fire for reportedly telling a virtual meeting of Conservative MPs that devolution had been a "disaster" in Scotland.

Mr Johnson also reportedly described it as predecessor Tony Blair's "biggest mistake".

The SNP and Labour have both criticised the prime minister.

But Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said Mr Johnson has "always supported devolution".

"What he does feel strongly, and I would agree, is that devolution in Scotland has facilitated the rise of separatism and nationalism in the form of the SNP, and that that's trying to break apart the United Kingdom," he told BBC Breakfast.

"Anybody, like the prime minister, who loves the UK wants to keep it together thinks that that's a very, very dangerous and disappointing outcome that we need to battle against."

Mr Johnson was in a Zoom meeting with Tory MPs representing dozens of seats in northern England on Monday when he is said to have made the remarks.

The Sun newspaper reported the PM had told the MPs "devolution has been a disaster north of the border".

Mr Johnson was in a Zoom meeting with Tory MPs representing dozens of seats in northern England on Monday when he is said to have made the remarks.

The Sun newspaper reported the PM had told the MPs "devolution has been a disaster north of the border".

Mr Blair's Labour government brought in devolution for Scotland in 1999, including the setting up of a parliament in Edinburgh.

A Downing Street source 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."

Former Conservative Scottish secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said Mr Johnson's comments were "typical" of the "rather loose language" the prime minister sometimes uses.

"What he should have said is devolution has become a disaster because the Scottish national government, the SNP government in Scotland, are using the Scottish Parliament and the power they've got to try and destroy the United Kingdom," Sir Malcolm told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said the SNP has been "pretty useless" on domestic Scottish issues and have become "obsessed with demands for referendums".

"What I'm absolutely certain of is that it was not meant to be an attack on the principle of devolution," he said.

Holyrood elections in May

Elections for the Scottish Parliament take place next May. The SNP is currently the largest party with 61 MSPs and the Conservative Party is the second-largest with 31 - eight seats ahead of Labour.

Ms Sturgeon's SNP says a second referendum on independence - following Scotland's vote against it in 2014 - should happen if her party wins. But Mr Johnson has ruled this out.

In response to Mr Johnson's reported remarks to Tory MPs, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: "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."

She added that the "only way to protect and strengthen" the Scottish Parliament was through independence for Scotland.

SNP MP Philippa Whitford told BBC Newsnight Mr Johnson's reported comments were "very odd for a prime minister who claims to be trying to hold the union together".

"It isn't just this flippant comment today," she said. "It comes on the back of the internal market bill, which absolutely removes powers from Scottish Parliament."

The bill sets out rules for the operation of the UK internal market - trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - after the end of the Brexit transition period in January.

Labour's shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said the reported remarks confirm "Boris Johnson doesn't believe in devolution and would put the future of the United Kingdom at risk".

He added: "Devolution is one of Labour's proudest achievements and we will always fight for a strong Scotland in the UK."

But the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, tweeted: "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."

It has been suggested by some taking part in the MPs' Zoom meeting that Mr Johnson was answering a question that had been put to him about devolution in England.

Source: BBC

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