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Alister Jack accuses Nicola Sturgeon of discussing independence with US Government

Left-right: Nicola Sturgeon and Angus Robertson with Pete Wishart and John Swinney. Pic: Euan Cherry/

Alister Jack accuses Nicola Sturgeon of discussing independence with US Government

Nicola Sturgeon, Angus Robertson and Ivan McKee all undermined the UK Government abroad by talking about Brexit and Scottish independence, Alister Jack has claimed.

Jack, the Scottish secretary, has previously defended foreign secretary James Cleverly for guidance issued over the SNP administration's talks with overseas governments.

Advice to ensure Scottish ministers did not discuss reserved matters like the constitution drew fire from Holyrood leaders, with Robertson - Scotland's constitution, external affairs and culture secretary - calling on Cleverly to withdraw the "unacceptable" directions.

Today Jack told MPs he could not reveal every example of the "sensitive" discussions with foreign governments.

However, he said Robertson, ex-trade minister McKee and former first minister Sturgeon had all taken part in conversations about matters reserved to Westminster.

Pete Wishart, chair of the UK Parliament's Scottish Affairs Committee, called the examples "meagre fayre".

But Jack said Scottish ministers had made their overseas counterparts "uncomfortable", telling MPs: "They understand that we are one state, the United Kingdom, and it puts them in an invidious position and it's not appreciated."

When asked for examples by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, Jack said a 2022 tweet by Sturgeon made it "clear that she discussed the constitution with the US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman during a visit to Washington DC", which stated that she "discussed the situation in Ukraine and the resulting refugee crisis, the Northern Ireland protocol, and the constitutional future of the United Kingdom during a meeting". 

He said a Freedom of Information (FOI) response from the Scottish Government showed Robertson had discussed the EU's Erasmus student scheme and the UK's similar Turing programme with "the French EU minister" and commented that "there was no alternative other than Scotland to be part of the EU again".

Robertson is also said to have "said that Scotland would rejoin the EU as an independent nation and criticised the impact of EU exit on student exchange programmes to Scotland" at a St Andrews Day reception in "a European capital".

Jack said Robertson had also called Brexit a "calamity" which "posed additional challenges for Scotland, not least because Scotland was pro-EU".

And the Tory minister said McKee had described Brexit as a "mistake" at a trade event in Poland attended by a European secretary of state, where he also said he "looked forward to Scotland joining the EU as a full member in due course and showing the rest of the UK the benefits of membership".

Another FOI response from November showed Scottish Government overseas offices "had been used to correspond with the EU on constitutional matters which are reserved", Jack said.

He told the panel: "We have to draw the line because we are one United Kingdom and we have to give people confidence to invest in Scotland, and confidence investing in Scotland comes from knowing the country they're investing in and feeling confident of its future, if I can put it that way. 

"Business likes certainty and going abroad and talking about breaking up the United Kingdom does not create certainty."

SNP MP Wishart said "most people in Scotland think Brexit's a mistake", asking Jack: "We've had this huge fallout because of this?"

Jack declined to provide further examples, telling Wishart: "I explained to you that they were sensitive discussions, minister to minister, and they wouldn't be published because they're part of the Foreign Office's work. 

"You probably know as well as I do that it is going on.

"It is wrong to do it."

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