BORIS Johnson has claimed to “love the SNP” and described his relationship with Nicola Sturgeon as “friendly” at the Covid inquiry.

Speaking under oath at the official probe into the UK’s response to the pandemic, Johnson defended comments he made about refusing meetings with the leaders of the devolved administrations during the crisis.

He delegated them to Michael Gove (below), who then served as the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which was a system he claimed worked well.

The National: Michael Gove

But his witness statement suggested he had believed it “wrong” both in terms of the constitution and of “optics” to hold regular meetings with the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – likening that to being like a “mini-EU”.

Explaining the remark to the probe, he said that one of the considerations was the “risk of pointless political friction and grandstanding because of the well-known opposition of some of the devolved administrations to the Government and to avoid necessary leaks”.

He added that he thought the “way to minimise divergence and tensions was to take the temperature down and to have business-like and practical meetings between the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the [devolved administrations]”.

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And he rejected a suggestion from his former chief of staff Lord Udny-Lister that he had “no real personal relationship” with Sturgeon – insisting they were “friendly”.

The former prime minister said that he had “no ill will whatsoever” with Sturgeon (below).

The National: Nicola Sturgeon

“When I have talked to her, we have got on very well and had a friendly relationship.”

Asked why Lord Udny-Lister, a close aide, would have received that impression, Johnson replied: “Much as I love the SNP, politically there was a certain amount of toing and froing between the SNP and me as prime minister.”

He also rejected an accusation from Danny Friedman KC, who was representing a number of national disabled people’s groups, who said the former prime minister was “shamefully ageist”.

The accusation came in response to comments attributed to Johnson in which he was said to have questioned scientists on why not to let Covid “rip” though the elderly and vulnerable and let the rest of society get on with their lives.

Johnson said: “I was doing my best to reflect what was I’m afraid a debate that was very live and live I may say with a great number of older people, who would make these points to me. And I wanted to get the answers.”

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Lady Hallett intervened to say she had not given permission for the use of the “forensic flourish”.

Johnson was also probed by Samuel Jacobs on behalf of the Trades Union Council about “dismissive” comments he had made about trade unions.

The inquiry was shown an extract from Patrick Vallance’s diary in which he was said to have remarked “we can’t have the bollocks of consulting with employees and trade unions”.

Johnson replied: “This is July 2021, we’ve vaccinated a huge proportion of the population, faster than any other European country, I’m determined to get people back to work if I possibly can.”

He added: “What I didn’t want to see was a drag anchor being put on people getting back into the workplace after the colossal changes that we’d been able to make in the pandemic.”

Leaving the inquiry, he was greeted by protesters shouting “murderer” and “shame on you” as he got into his chauffeur-driven car.