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by Kirsteen Paterson
01 May 2023
Angus Robertson calls on foreign secretary to withdraw 'damaging' blocks to Scottish Government overseas meetings

Angus Robertson calls on foreign secretary to withdraw 'damaging' blocks to Scottish Government overseas meetings

Constitution and external affairs secretary Angus Robertson has accused the UK's foreign secretary of attempting to censor the work of the Scottish Government with "absurd" new rules for diplomats.

In a letter released today, Robertson calls on James Cleverly to withdraw "unacceptable" guidance sent to British diplomats on the handling of meetings between Scottish ministers and overseas governments.

Writing to Cleverly, Robertson says his administration is "internationalist to its core", adding:  "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 the UK Government is unacceptable."

A letter sent to ambassadors and diplomatic staff called for a "strengthened approach" to dealing with the matter, with the meetings arranged through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and UK government officials sitting in on the conversations - and "particularly those where you judge reserved issues may be discussed".

The move aims to ensure Scottish ministers do not use overseas visits to promote independence and undermine UK Government policy.

In his response to the letter, sent to all UK heads of mission in late March, Robertson says the Scottish Government is "not an arm of the UK Government" and says the instruction to diplomats could "damage" Scottish trade, education and other interests.

And he says he was given no notice of the move until he was contacted by a journalist.

The Scottish Government has worked to bolster its international presence, with a presence in Europe, North America and China and frequent trips abroad by Robertson.

In his letter, Robertson says the Scotland Act "does, broadly speaking, reserve international relations" but the guidance states that this "does not have the effect of precluding Scottish ministers and officials from communicating with other countries" as long as they "do not purport to speak for the United Kingdom".

He goes on: "It should be needless to say that Scottish Government ministers would never purport to speak for the UK. The fact that we have very different views on matters such as immigration, asylum and Brexit will be well known to governments overseas, and it would be absurd to think that our such views could be confused with those of the UK Government."

The FCDO said: "The UK has one of the best, most expansive and expert diplomatic services in the world, with people from across the UK representing our interests abroad.

"Asa permanent member of the UN Security Council, the G7, Nato and the Commonwealth, the UK has an unparalleled influence on the international stage.

"We are delivering effectively for the whole of the UK, including by ensuring that Scotland's interests remain at the heart of our international agenda."

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