Boris Johnson risks the future of the Union “every time he opens his mouth”, Sir Keir Starmer has told MPs.
The Labour leader’s comments came after it emerged the prime minister had told Tory MPs on a private zoom call that Holyrood had been “Tony Blair’s biggest mistake” and that devolution had been a “disaster” for Scotland.
Sir Keir slammed the remarks at prime minister’s questions, telling Mr Johnson he was “seriously undermining the fabric of the United Kingdom”.
“When the prime minister said he wanted to take back control nobody thought he meant from the Scottish people,” Sir Keir said.
“The prime minister’s quote is very clear – he said devolution has been a disaster north of the border.
“This isn’t an isolated incident, whether it is the Internal Market Bill, the way the prime minister sidelined the devolved parliaments over the Covid response, the prime minister is seriously undermining the fabric of the United Kingdom.
“So, instead of talking down devolution, does he agree that we need far greater devolution of powers and resources across the United Kingdom?”
‘A sound policy’
Mr Johnson argued his comments were not intended as an attack on devolution itself – but rather the SNP government.
He said: “I think what has unquestionably been a disaster is the way in which the Scottish National Party have taken and used devolution as means not to improve the lives of their constituents, not to address their health concerns, not to improve education in Scotland, but constantly campaign for the break-up of our country.
“To turn devolution, otherwise a sound policy for which I myself personally benefited when I was running London – but turn devolution into a mission to break up the UK. That, in my view, would be a disaster.”
He added: “Tony Blair himself, the former Labour leader, has conceded that he did not foresee the rise of a separatist party in Scotland, he did not foresee the collapse of Scottish Labour.”
Mr Blair’s Labour government brought in devolution for Scotland in 1999.
The move saw the reconvening of a parliament in Edinburgh and a whole swathe of powers transferred from Westminster.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford dismissed Mr Johnson’s defence, saying: “His attack on devolution wasn’t just a slip of tongue – it was a slip of the Tory mask.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford is up, he tells MPs Boris Johnson’s ‘attack on devolution wasn’t just a slip of the tongue, it was a slip of the Tory mask’
— Dan O'Donoghue (@MrDanDonoghue) November 18, 2020
“We know these aren’t just flippant remarks, when Scotland faces the biggest threat to devolution with the Tory Power Grab Bill.
“The chasm between Westminster and the Scottish people has never been bigger. The fact is, Scotland has been completely ignored by Westminster – we now face an extreme Brexit, a power grab, and another round of Tory cuts all being imposed, against our will, by a Tory government we didn’t vote for.”
Mr Johnson, responding, said: “He is totally wrong. What the UK does as a whole is far, far bigger, better and more important than what we can do as individual nations and regions.”