The Prime Minister was reported as telling a meeting of Tory MPs that devolution in Scotland was Tony Blair’s “biggest mistake”. BBC Radio 4 Today host Nick Robinson told Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick that Boris Johnson has given “ammunition” to the SNP with his comments. He asked Mr Jenrick: “It’s a funny thing to say if you’re a supporter of devolution the devolution is a ‘disaster’ and ‘Tony Blair’s biggest mistake’. That is what he said, isn’t it?”
Mr Jenrick replied: “I wasn’t on the call with the Prime Minister but I think the point that he was making was not handing power to the local communities is a bad thing but that it has facilitated the rise of separatist parties.”
Mr Robinson blasted: “It’s Boris Johnson that is facilitating the rise of a separatist party!”
He added: “Boris Johnson has given ammunition to the Scottish nationalists in a critical year and he’s going to have to come out and publicly unsay what he said in private.”
The Tory MP hit back: “No, the Prime Minister hasn’t done anything of the sort. He cares about the Union.
“And you can see that in the decisions that we’re taking every day throughout the pandemic.”
Asked if Mr Johnson regarded devolution in Scotland as a “disaster”, Mr Jenrick also told Sky News: “That is not what the Prime Minister was saying.
“The Prime Minister has always supported devolution but he is at heart a unionist and he is very troubled by the rise of nationalism and separatism.
“Whilst in some parts of the United Kingdom devolution has enabled local people to have greater say over their own destinies, one of the downsides in Scotland has been that it has been misused by the SNP to drive a wedge between those who want to be part of the same country with hundreds of years of history and friendship.
“The PM is very concerned about that. The disaster the Prime Minister is referring to is the rise of separatism and nationalism in the form of the SNP.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is pushing for another independence referendum, criticised Mr Johnson’s comments.
“Worth bookmarking these PM comments for the next time Tories say they’re not a threat to the powers of the Scottish Parliament – or, even more incredibly, that they support devolving more powers,” her tweet said.
The only way to protect and strengthen the Scottish Parliament is with independence, she added.
Under the UK’s delicate constitutional balance, semi-autonomous parliaments and governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland known as the devolved administrations have powers over areas like education, health, policing and justice.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross tweeted, saying devolution is not a disaster.