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Foreigners ‘unhappy’ at Scots ministers behaviour

Alister Jack at SAC hearing
Alister Jack said he was working on ‘parameters’

Scottish ministers have again been reprimanded for raising independence issues during meetings with foreign officials.

Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, told MPs that this behaviour when meeting overseas consuls and other representatives “puts them in an invidious position and it is not appreciated”.

Mr Jack expressed his observations during a session of the Scottish Affairs Committee to consider how the UK Government promotes Scotland abroad.

He reiterated his earlier defence of the Foreign Secretary James Cleverly who instructed UK officials to ensure Westminster representatives were present for talks between Scottish ministers and overseas governments.

Mr Cleverly’s intervention was driven by a desire to retain the integrity of UK foreign policy and not allow the SNP to peddle its constitutional agenda.

Giving examples, Mr Jack told MPs that former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon discussed constitutional issues during a meeting with US deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Washington in 2022.

Ms Sherman had personally told him they were not comfortable with Holyrood ministers raising the issue of separation or Scotland’s re-entry to the European Union.

“Consuls of foreign countries have made this point to me directly that they find it uncomfortable when the Scottish Government raise separation, independence or other constitutional foreign affairs issues with them,” said Mr Jack.

“They would no more expect to organise a meeting with, say, the separatists in Catalonia or Corsica with UK Government ministers, nor would they expect us to meet with separatists from other countries.

“They understand that we are one state – the United Kingdom – and it puts them in an invidious position and it is not appreciated”.

He said Scotland’s External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson discussed Erasmus and Brexit with a French EU minister in Paris, and former minister Ivan McKee raised the issue of Scotland rejoining the EU during a visit to Poland.

Angus Robertson: called for the guidance to be withdrawn (pic: Terry Murden)

The issue has been another source of tension between the two Governments. Mr Robertson accused the Foreign Secretary of making “misleading” statements and wrote to Mr Cleverly calling for the guidance to be withdrawn.

He raised concerns that it could damage “Scottish trade, cultural exchanges and education and Scottish interests in general”.

Mr Jack told Scottish Tory leader and Moray MP Douglas Ross, a member of the Commons committee, that he had been trying to “de-escalate” the tension with the Scottish Government.

He said he was working with the Foreign Secretary “on the clear parameters whereby we can all work together constructively”.

However, he said: “We can’t work together constructively when there’s someone in the room talking about independence or re-joining the EU or other approaches to foreign affairs – where we disagree.

“If we can all just stick to our brief and deal with things in the devolved space then we can all get on better together, rather than having this unnecessary tension.”

Also addressing the committee were Scotland Office minister Lord Offord and Foreign Office under-secretary David Rutley.

A spokesperson for the SNP responded: “Scotland’s wannabe governor general Alister Jack can perhaps convince himself that he represents the people of Scotland – but he serves in a Tory government which Scotland did not vote for, imposing upon Scotland a Brexit we overwhelmingly rejected.

“Our excellent record of attracting overseas investment, our leadership on climate change and our promotion of Scotland as an energy powerhouse all demonstrate the value of Scottish Government international engagement.”

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