RISHI Sunak pointedly avoided answering a question on why his Tory government have instructed UK diplomats across the globe “to obstruct the Scottish Government's international engagement”.

The Conservative leader was challenged during Prime Minister’s Questions on why his Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, had penned a letter to all British ambassadors telling them to take a “firm” hand in dealing with the Scottish Government.

The SNP MP Chris Law said: “This week my city of Dundee not only announced its flights will be connecting with Heathrow but also the Scottish Government's commitment to Dundee has been at the forefront of making Scotland a major world economy both bringing investment, jobs and opportunity.

"However, the UK Government seems to have a problem with this.

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“Scotland's international engagement is to be reduced. Despite being paid for through Scotland's wealth and taxes, UK ambassadors and diplomats have been instructed to obstruct the Scottish Government's international engagement with every foreign nation worldwide told not to deal with the Scottish Government directly.”

Quoting an exclusive story in The National, Law went on: "This has already been described as, and I quote: ‘Smacking of a parent trying and failing to control a teenager.’

"So will the Prime Minister assure me and the businesses, wealth creators, and most importantly my constituents that want to see Dundee and Scotland prosper, that whilst Scotland's short time left in this unequal Union remains, Scotland will neither be put back in a box, or will be bending knee."

The National:

Sunak failed to engage with the substance of the question at all, instead claiming his Tory government was “supporting the communities of Dundee” by giving the city some £14 million in levelling up funding for a green transport hub.

Law had been quoting Dr Kirsty Hughes, a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh who formerly worked at the European Commission, who told The National last Friday that diplomats abroad would “see the Scottish Government being treated like children”.

She had been speaking on Cleverly’s letter, which urged UK ambassadors abroad to:

  • "gather information" about any potential foreign trips planned by the Scottish Government and report back to the Tory government in London
  • make sure that any planned contact between SNP ministers and their counterparts abroad goes through his Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)
  • ensure foreign governments know to involve the FCDO in any planned contact with the Scottish Government
  • have a UK Government official sit in on any and all meetings between SNP ministers and their foreign counterparts

The Foreign Secretary said in the letter that he and Scottish Secretary Alister Jack shared concerns that Scottish Government ministers were promoting the cause of independence abroad.

Hughes said of Cleverly’s instructions: “These are serious politicians and diplomats and officials. They don’t need a desperately controlling – embarrassing frankly – message. I’m sure diplomats on the whole may well ignore [it].

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“If host governments see British diplomats running around trying to control the Scottish Government in a micro-managing sort of way … I would think it might create sympathy.

Brexit created more understanding for independence, and this heavy-handed attempt to control and fence in the Scottish Government, I just think it might add to the way foreign diplomats and politicians see the constitutional divide.”

A UK Government spokesperson said previously: “The Foreign Secretary is responsible for the UK’s foreign policy, with our embassies and high commissions overseas tirelessly promoting the interests of the whole nation.

“We have a strong record of working constructively with the devolved governments and will continue to provide appropriate support overseas for devolved policies.”