The Prime Minister has told senior MPs that the UK should not be run like a “mini-EU” as he looked to crush further talk of a Scottish independence referendum.
Boris Johnson, as part of a hearing on a wide range of issues, faced questions at the Liaison Committee on Wednesday about his role in keeping the United Kingdom together.
Stephen Crabb, a former cabinet minister and chairman of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, pressed Mr Johnson on whether it had been the right call to have Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove manage the relationship with the devolved administration leaders during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Johnson said he was “sorry” to hear that Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford had complained about having little contact with the Downing Street incumbent and that he would look to rectify the situation.
But the Prime Minister said, while he held regular conversations with the devolved leaders, he did not want to adopt a more federal model for managing the country.
In an interview in 2015, however, Mr Johnson, then mayor of London, said the country “may have to think about a federal structure for the UK” in response to growing support for the SNP.
Addressing the Liaison Committee, Mr Johnson said: “I’m very much in favour of the Council of the Isles, for instance, where we come together, represented across the whole of the British Isles, to talk about issues that matter to us.
“On the other hand, I don’t think we want to turn our deliberations into a kind of mini-EU, if I may say so.
“Obviously I need a good relationship with everybody and I’ve talked many times to (devolved leaders) Nicola (Sturgeon), Mark (Drakeford), Michelle (O’Neill) and Arlene (Foster) and continue to do so – that’s the way it should be.
“What I don’t think would necessarily be right is to have a sort of permanent council, as it were, of the kind that is taking place tomorrow in Brussels.
“I don’t think that is the model we are after.”
Mr Johnson clashed with SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil over Scottish independence as he reiterated his assertion that the 2014 vote was a “once in a generation” event.
Responding to Mr MacNeil’s question about whether the Prime Minister would respect a future vote in favour of independence in Scotland or Wales, he said: “When you ask people to vote on a highly controversial and divisive issue, an issue that breaks up family relationships, that is extremely toxic and divisive, and you tell them this is going to happen only once in a generation, I think you should stick to it.”
Taking questions on a host of topics, Mr Johnson said:
– ”No decision” had been taken on the Office for Veterans’ Affairs budget after reports suggested it would see its spending cut from £5 million to £3 million.
– It was “news to me” about claims that former prime minister David Cameron had lobbied a No 10 special adviser over a bailout for a financial firm he was advising.
– The Government was lobbying on a bilateral basis to ensure musicians and others in the cultural sectors could tour and work in Europe, with the coronavirus pandemic providing “time” to sort out visa issues following the signing of the UK-EU trade deal.
– He was prepared to look at sending troops into Yemen but stressed the situation would have to look “very different” to how it currently does in the war-torn country.
– He could confirm the Government was “involved at all levels in doing the deal” for the £400 million UK investment to buy the satellite company OneWeb.