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by Kirsteen Paterson
11 December 2023
Alister Jack hits out at Yousaf over four more unescorted Cop28 meetings

Alister Jack | Alamy

Alister Jack hits out at Yousaf over four more unescorted Cop28 meetings

The UK Government did not agree that Humza Yousaf should meet the Turkish premier at Cop28, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has said.

Foreign Secretary David Cameron has threatened to stop allowing Scottish Government overseas teams to use British embassy and high commission offices in a row over the meeting.

While foreign affairs are reserved to London, devolved governments are allowed to have international discussions on areas under their control.

But Westminster leaders have previously warned that Scottish minister cannot meet with members of overseas governments without mandarins from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) sitting in.

Now First Minister Humza Yousaf has branded Cameron "petty" and "misguided" over the threat.

Giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee this afternoon, Jack said Yousaf had met with "someone the UK Government didn't believe should be met, which was the president of Türkiye".

And he said several other ministers with high-profile figures had been held under similar circumstances.

Jack said: "All ministers of the United Kingdom, irrespective if they're ministers in a devolved administration or the UK Government, when they're overseas, when they meet ministers from foreign countries they must have - and this is the protocol for all of us - they must have an official, a civil servant from the Foreign Office present to take notes so there can be no confusions. The Scottish Government don't accept that."

Jack said the Scottish Government had "resisted" the rule, telling committee chair Pete Wishart MP: "You're making it out it was a one-off. Without Foreign Office officials present there was a meeting with Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel, the prime minister of Lebanon and the acting prime minister of Pakistan. There were five different occasions where meetings happened with foreign ministers without an official."

He went on: "It's not complicated. If there aren't to be any sanctions, all the Scottish Government have to do is take Foreign Office officials to their meetings. That's all we're asking, which is incumbent on me and every other minister in the United Kingdom and everyone else seems to be able to do it."

When asked if the UK Government is "seriously going to follow through on this threat," Jack replied: "I support it 100 per cent."

Yousaf said the meeting with Recep Tayipp Erdogan had been rearranged by the Turkish leader's office at short notice and he would have had "no problem" with a UK Government official being in attendance.

He said an FCDO official "chose not to stay with the Scottish delegation the whole day and because of that they ended up missing the meeting".

Yousaf said: "Nothing was discussed that hadn't been discussed at other meetings such as the climate crisis and in this particular meeting the issue of the Israel-Gaza conflict."

He told reporters: "For Lord Cameron to say he's basically going to stop Scotland's international engagement because of one meeting where the FCDO official wasn't able to attend, because of course at events like Cop diaries can change quite last minute, is really petty, really misguided.

"I suggest to Lord Cameron that next time, if he has an issue like that, he should just pick up the phone."

However, Jack cast doubt on the first minister's explanation, saying: "As Her Majesty once said, recollections may vary. I've heard directly from the Foreign Office what they feel happened."

In his opening remarks, Jack said the Scottish Government should play an "appropriate role in promoting Scotland overseas".

He said: "Foreign affairs is reserved under the Scotland Act and it is important for the UK, the United Kingdom, to speak on the world stage with one consistent voice. It is wholly unacceptable for the Scottish Government to promote foreign policies which are at odds with those of the United Kingdom Government. It risks causing confusion and it damages the UK's standing in the world."

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