Keir Starmer calls Boris Johnson ‘single biggest threat to UK’ over devolution comments

Prime minister said Scottish Parliament had been a disaster

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Wednesday 18 November 2020 12:50
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<p>Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer</p>

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

Boris Johnson is the “single biggest threat to the future of the United Kingdom", Keir Starmer has claimed.

During a fiery exchange in the House of Commons the Labour leader accused the prime minister of making Scottish independence more likely “every time he opens his mouth" on the issue of the constitution. 

He lambasted Mr Johnson for his latest reported comments criticising devolution, which he is said to have told Conservative MPs had been a “disaster” north of the border.

But Mr Johnson defended the comments, arguing that the architects of the Scottish Parliament did not see the rise of the Scottish National Party, who he criticised.

Mr Starmer told him: "The single biggest threat to the future of the United Kingdom is the prime minister every time he opens his mouth on this.

"When the prime minister said he wanted to take back control nobody thought he meant from the Scottish people!

“But the prime minister's quote is very clear. He said devolution has been a disaster north of the border.”

The Labour leader said the comments had not been an “isolated inciden”, citing the government’s international lawbreaking  internal market bill, and his “sidelining” of the devolved parliaments over the Covid response.

“The prime minister is seriously undermining the fabric of the United Kingdom,” he added.

“So instead of talking down devolution does he agree that we need far greater devolution of powers and resources across the united Kingdom?”

The prime minister did not dispute reports of his comments, which he allegedly made in private. But he told Mr Starmer: "I think it's Tony Blair himself, the former Labour leader, who has conceded that he did not foresee the rise of a separatist party in Scotland, he did not foresee the collapse of Scottish Labour. 

"I think the right honourable gentleman is quite right, there can be greater advantages in devolution, and I was very proud when I was running a devolved administration in London to do things in which I passionately believe – like improving public transport and fighting crime, improving housing for my constituents, and we had a great deal of success.

“What disappoints me is that the Scottish National Party is not engaging in that basic work. They're instead campaigning to break up the union, an objective that I hope that leader of the opposition will repudiate.”

Mr Johnson’s comments are politically inconvenient for unionists because they could be interpreted as implying that independence is the only way to permanently secure powers for Scotland.

Conservative governments have previously scrapped devolution settlements that return administrations they object to: for instance in London and other metropolitan counties in the 1980s.

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