Senior Tories have been advised to start working on a plan to block an independent Scotland from joining the EU, in a bid to kill off support for separation from the UK.
Ministers have been urged to start pressuring Brussels to make it clear that “there is no viable pathway” for Scotland to rejoin the trading block, according to a leaked memo.
The memo, circulated at the highest levels of government, says a change in tack is needed as the “once in a generation vote” line usually deployed to defend against calls for another referendum is “no longer effective”.
The 21-page document, seen by Bloomberg news, also warns there is “a vacuum of leadership within the Unionist movement which is leaving the campaign rudderless”.
The document goes on to advise that there needs to be “a hard-hitting, attack-focused” campaign against Nicola Sturgeon, in addition to a charm offensive with the EU to seek to block an independent Scotland becoming a member.
Brexit has changed the game and makes the conventional argument against a rerun of the 2014 referendum – that it was a “once in a generation” vote “no longer effective”, it said.
“Put simply, there are not enough Leave voters to convert to the ‘No’ side to make up for the movement of Remain voters into the ‘Yes’ camp,” the report said.
One way of trying to break the link between independence and remaining in the single market is by “co-opting the EU into demonstrating that there is no viable pathway to renewed membership,” the report said.
The recommendation comes as polls continue to show rising support for independence and strong backing for Nicola Sturgeon’s government.
Last week an Ipsos MORI poll found just 42% back staying in the union, with 58% in favour of a breakaway.
The poll was the ninth in a row since June to put Yes ahead. On average, these polls have put Yes on 54%, No on 46%.
The leaked memo comes after we reported last month how Number 10 was preparing a new strategy to take on the SNP, with extra ministerial visits, new investments and changes in messaging all part of the package.
SNP deputy Westminster leader Kirsten Oswald MP said the recommendations in the memo were “undemocratic”.
She said: “This reveals that the Tories are in panic mode because people in Scotland know Boris Johnson’s government can’t be trusted to act in Scotland’s interests.
“The Tory attempt to deny the right of the people of Scotland to decide their own future is completely unsustainable and undemocratic.”
Asked about the memo, Downing Street said: “The issue of independence was settled when the Scottish people voted decisively to remain part of a strong United Kingdom.
“Both sides committed very clearly to respecting the decision in 2014 and the First Minister promised it would be a once in a generation vote and the UK Government will continue to uphold that decisive decision.”
Pressed on whether the UK Government would seek to block an independent Scotland joining the EU, the spokesman said he “hadn’t seen the memo” and didn’t “know the basis for it”.
He added: “What we’re focused on is a strong UK-wide response to coronavirus and ensuring that all parts of the UK can build back better in response.”