Lord Cameron threatens SNP’s ‘mini-embassies’ after Yousaf’s Gaza talks with Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (r) and First Minister Humza Yousaf
First Minister Humza Yousaf said he had addressed the 'humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza' with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan - Murat Cetinmuhurdar/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Lord Cameron has threatened to shut down SNP ministers’ ‘mini-embassies’ abroad after Humza Yousaf held face-to-face talks about the Gaza crisis with President Erdogan of Turkey.

The Scottish First Minister arranged a meeting at the Cop28 climate change summit with the Turkish president, who has called Israel a “terror state” and Hamas a “liberation group”.

Posting a picture of himself shaking hands with the president, Mr Yousaf tweeted there should be “an immediate & permanent ceasefire now”. This is not supported by the UK Government.

In a letter to the Scottish Government, the Foreign Secretary accused Mr Yousaf of reneging on an agreement to have a UK official present.

Lord Cameron said that foreign affairs are a policy area reserved to UK ministers and it was crucial “that we speak with one voice to the international community”.

The former prime minister warned that any “further breaches” would result in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) withdrawing all “facilitation of meetings or logistical support”.

Humza Yousaf with President Erdogan
Humza Yousaf with President Erdogan

He also threatened to shut down a series of Scottish government international offices in British embassies in key locations including Paris, Berlin and Washington DC.

Sources told The Daily Telegraph that Mr Cameron was angry and bemused that Mr Yousaf had been concocting “a very different foreign policy”, especially for such a sensitive subject as the Gaza crisis.

His threat of a crackdown on SNP ministers goes further than a warning issued by James Cleverly, his predecessor, in October following another incident involving Mr Yousaf.

The Scottish First Minister barred an FCDO official from sitting in on a meeting he held with the Icelandic prime minister during a visit to New York in September.

If there were any further incidents, Mr Cleverly warned at the time, he would instruct his officials “to withdraw from facilitating meetings between Scottish government ministers and ministers of foreign governments”.

It is understood that Lord Cameron wants to take a tougher stance.

Forced to reprimand

FCDO officials regularly support SNP ministers on their trips abroad, using their network of embassies to secure meetings with local dignitaries and political leaders.

They also use the local expertise of UK ambassadors to brief SNP ministers on issues that are on the agenda and background information on those attending.

However, Mr Cleverly was forced to reprimand them for using their taxpayer-funded trips to promote Scottish independence.

Mr Yousaf, whose parents-in-law were temporarily trapped in Gaza during a family visit, posted pictures of himself meeting President Erdogan and Lebanon prime minister Najib Mikati at the UAE summit on Dec 1.

In addition to discussing climate change, he said he had used the meetings to address the “humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza”. He tweeted: “Too many innocent children have died, it must stop.”

In November Mr Yousaf’s wife, Nadia El-Nakla, attended a summit in Istanbul at the invitation of President Erdogan’s wife Ermine, to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

But Roza Salih, a Kurdish-born SNP councillor, said she was “disappointed and disgusted” by the picture as “Erdogan kills #Kurds in Turkey & does not respect human rights”.

Mr Erdogan has said his government was preparing to declare Israel a “war criminal” and last week said he could “never accept Hamas as a terrorist organisation”.

In a letter to Angus Robertson, the SNP’s External Affairs Secretary, Lord Cameron said his officials had informed him of the meeting between the First Minister and the Turkish leader “discussing among other things the situation in Gaza”.

“Despite an assurance being given by Scottish government officials that they would provide sufficient advance notice to allow an FCDO official to attend that meeting, this was not done,” he said.

“A UK official was available, whose contact details were known to your officials on the ground, but the location of the meeting was not shared with them.”

Contravenes the protocols

Lord Cameron said this “contravenes the protocols” around Scottish ministers’ trips abroad and “fails to meet the expectation” set out by Mr Cleverly in October.

“It is critical that the UK presents a consistent message to our international partners and that the devolution settlements are respected,” he said.

“We must ensure that UK foreign policy, a reserved matter, is coherent and that we speak with one voice to the international community.”

Mr Cameron said he was open to talks on a “constructive way forward” but warned: “Any further breaches of the protocol will result in no further FCDO facilitation of meetings or logistical support.

“We will also need to consider the presence of Scottish government offices in UK government posts.”

A spokesman for the First Minister said: “The Scottish Government had no difficulty with an FCDO representative attending the meeting, and indeed the relevant UK official was made aware of it and invited.

“These were exactly the same arrangements as for other meetings that the First Minister had with governments of other countries at Cop28, at which the FCDO official was present.

“However, the nature of events such as Cop is that timings can change at the last minute, and the FCDO representative was elsewhere at the time it was convenient for the Turkish president to meet.

“Any threat by the UK Government to curtail the Scottish Government’s international engagement is misguided and would work against Scotland’s interests.”