Rishi Sunak and Nicola Sturgeon to meet as Gavin Williamson row continues
Rishi Sunak is to meet Nicola Sturgeon for the first time since becoming prime minister, it has emerged.
At Prime Minister's Questions, Sunak said he is "pleased to be meeting the first minister tomorrow, because that, I think, is what the people of Scotland want to see".
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said the talks would provide an opportunity to discuss "the importance of respecting the right of the people of Scotland to choose their own constitutional future".
The PM was responding to pressure from SNP leader Ian Blackford over reports that Scotland Secretary Alister Jack is to enter the House of Lords. Jack is amongst several sitting MPs said to have been put forward for honours by Boris Johnson upon his resignation.
"The prime minister clearly doesn't get how corrupt this all looks to people in Scotland," Blackford said, "because not only do we have a UK Government that denies democracy, we now have a secretary of state that is running scared of it. In the middle of a Tory cost-of-living crisis, the Scotland Office is now to be led by a Baron-in-waiting, biding his time until he can cash in on the £300-a-day job."
Sunak refused to comment on "speculation" and was also forced to defend his handling of Gavin Williamson's resignation. The minister without portfolio resigned last night in the face of serious allegations of bullying.
Former deputy chief whip Anne Milton said he had been "threatening" and "intimidating" during his time as chief whip and a senior civil servant told The Guardian that Williamson had told them to "slit your throat".
Jake Berry, the former Conservative party chair, has said he told Sunak about complaints the day before Williamson was appointed.
The MP has vowed to "clear my name of any wrongdoing", while Sunak thanked him for his "personal support and loyalty".
"Everyone in the country knows someone like the member for South Staffordshire, a sad middle manager getting off on intimidating those beneath him," Labour leader Keir Starmer said. "Everyone in this country also knows someone like the prime minister, the boss who is so weak, so worried the bullies will turn on him that he hides behind them. What message does he think it sends when, rather than take on the bullies, he lines up alongside them and thanks them for their loyalty?"
"I obviously regret appointing someone who has had to resign in these circumstances," Sunak said.
"The message that I clearly want to send is that integrity in public life matters. That is why it is right that the Right Honourable member has resigned, it is why it is right that there is a rigorous process to examine these issues. But as well as focusing on this one individual, it is also right and important that we keep delivering for the whole country and that's why this government will continue to concentrate on stabilising the economy, on strengthening the NHS and on tackling illegal migration. Those are my priorities. Those are the priorities that the British people and this government will deliver on."
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "Ahead of the 38th British-Irish Council this Friday, the first minister will hold bilateral talks with the prime minister in Blackpool on Thursday afternoon and take part in a meeting of the prime minister and heads of devolved government council immediately following that.
"The meeting will be an opportunity to discuss the cost-of-living crisis, the need to avoid damaging austerity in the upcoming autumn statement, and the importance of respecting the right of the people of Scotland to choose their own constitutional future."