Guidance backlash

Robertson wants block on foreign meetings lifted

Angus Robertson: misleading assertions (pic: Terry Murden)

Scotland’s External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson has called on the Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to withdraw his block on Scottish ministers meeting overseas diplomats without the consent of Westminster.

Mr Cleverly has ruled that foreign governments will have to go through UK ambassadors to meet SNP ministers in a crackdown on the party pushing its independence agenda abroad.

He has told UK diplomats to take a ‘strengthened approach’ by telling other countries not to arrange meetings with Holyrood ministers without the involvement of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

The ‘heads of missions’ overseas have also been told to gather information about any potential visits and report back to the FCDO, and to ensure UK officials always attend any official talks between SNP ministers and foreign governments.

The tougher approach was announced in a letter from Mr Cleverly to ambassadors and other diplomatic staff.

In his response to the letter, Mr Robertson says there are ‘a number of omissions and misleading assertions’ in the Foreign Secretary’s letter and he is ‘concerned at the damage [the] letter and guidance could do to Scottish trade, cultural exchanges and education, and to Scottish interests in general.

He points out that “Scotland has long benefitted from the investment and domestic benefits our international network has helped to deliver”.

He notes that, according to big four accountancy firm EY, Scotland continues to outperform the UK as a whole for foreign direct investment, driving the creation of new jobs and economic opportunities for local businesses.

“Ministerial engagement to promote Scotland is a key driver of these opportunities, alongside the efforts of our international network, and it is more vital than ever, given the damage of Brexit to the Scottish economy and trade,” says Mr Robertson.

He adds that Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray last week met with a major Japanese company in Osaka to discuss plans for a large subsea electric cable manufacturing plant in the Highlands.

“We will of course resist any move by the UK Government to curtail these types of visits and reduce opportunities to promote Scottish trade and investment opportunities.” says Mr Robertson, known as ‘Air miles Angus because of his regular jaunts overseas.

“There is, rightly, nothing in the Scotland Act that prevents Scottish ministers from undertaking overseas visits to promote Scottish interests.”

Mr Robertson says that “set alongside measures such as the Internal Market Act and the Retained EU (Revocation and Reform) Bill, the new guidance is further example of the UK Government’s intention to undermine devolution and its dismissal of the idea that the UK is a voluntary union.

“The UK Government’s apparent determination to reduce Scotland to the status of a mere administrative unit and for it to be characterised as such by UK Government diplomats is unacceptable.”

Mr Cleverly, however, said he took action after recently meeting Scottish Secretary Alister Jack and sharing his concern at Scottish Government ministers “continuing to use overseas visits to promote Scottish separatism and undermine UKG policy positions.”

He added: “Since my meeting with Angus Robertson in November, such instances are still taking place. I would therefore like you to take a strengthened approach to SG ministerial visits to ensure devolution settlements are respected overseas.”

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