LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Scottish devolution “a disaster” and ruled out any further powers for Edinburgh just as Scottish nationalists push for a second referendum that opinion surveys show could break apart the United Kingdom.
The past 14 opinion surveys have shown that a majority of Scots now support independence after the Brexit crisis and a series of missteps by Johnson’s government over its response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
In a video call with northern English lawmakers from his Conservative Party, Johnson said that devolution, introduced by Tony Blair, had been the former prime minister’s “biggest mistake”, media reported. Johnson’s office did not deny the comment.
Scots rejected independence by 55 to 45 percent in a 2014 referendum but Brexit and COVID-19 have strained the bonds that tie the United Kingdom together.
While the United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave the European Union in the 2016 Brexit referendum, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay while England and Wales voted to leave.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is pushing for another independence referendum, jumped on Johnson’s comments.
“Worth bookmarking these PM comments for the next time Tories (Conservatives) say they’re not a threat to the powers of the Scottish Parliament – or, even more incredibly, that they support devolving more powers,” she said on Twitter.
The only way to protect and strengthen the Scottish Parliament is with independence, she added.
British Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick sought to defend Johnson’s comments, saying the disaster the prime minister was referring to was the rise of nationalism in the form of Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP).
Jenrick said that Scottish nationalists had misused devolution to try to break apart the United Kingdom and that another referendum was not realistic as nationalists had agreed the 2014 vote was a once-in-a-generation referendum.
Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru, Guy Faulconbridge, Kate Holton and James Davey in London, editing by Estelle Shirbon
Image: FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Westminster Abbey in London, Britain November 11, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley