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Union has better chance of survival now Nicola Sturgeon’s gone, PM suggests

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister - Simon Walker / No10 Downing Street
Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister - Simon Walker / No10 Downing Street

The union has a better chance of survival now Nicola Sturgeon is gone, Rishi Sunak has suggested.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said he was “certainly” feeling more optimistic that he could protect the “precious” bond between the nations as the former Scottish leader tendered her resignation to the King on Tuesday morning.

Mr Sunak now “looks forward” to working with Humza Yousaf - the newly-elected First Minister - on the “shared challenges” faced by the “whole” of the United Kingdom, which he believes should be a “priority” for Scotland.

The remarks suggest the Prime Minister considers Mr Yousaf a less formidable threat to the union than his predecessor, despite the new leader pledging to put the drive for Scottish independence into “fifth gear”.

Mr Yousaf has said he will be asking Westminster for a Section 30 order - which would enable another referendum - “right away”.

But Mr Sunak’s spokesman said he is “confident” the union remains strong. He said it is likely the leaders will speak “soon”, but did not set out a timeframe for the talks.

Asked if the Prime Minister was “more optimistic” about protecting the union as Ms Sturgeon handed in her resignation, the spokesman said: “Certainly.”

Nicola Sturgeon signs her resignation letter to King Charles - Jane Barlow/PA
Nicola Sturgeon signs her resignation letter to King Charles - Jane Barlow/PA

Speaking to reporters prior to Mr Yousaf’s formal election as First Minister, he added: “I think we are confident that the union remains strong. You heard from the Prime Minister yesterday, obviously with regards to the election of a new SNP leader.

“You heard me say yesterday the Prime Minister looks forward to working with him and obviously anticipates working with him as new First Minister on the shared challenges the whole UK faces, which we very much believe are the priority of the people of Scotland.

“I talked about cutting waiting lists and getting the economy growing yesterday. But obviously there is still a bit of a process left to run.”

Mr Yousaf said there was “no doubt at all that Nicola Sturgeon leaves some very big shoes to fill indeed” as he made his case to be the next Scottish leader ahead of a deciding vote at Holyrood on Tuesday afternoon.

The 37-year-old had already won the support of his party to succeed Ms Sturgeon as head of the SNP, but required the backing of a majority of MSPs to take the reins in Bute House.

Challenged by three fellow nominees - including Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross - he succeeded in scoring the necessary votes, and will officially be sworn in as First Minister at the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

He said following his election as head of the party on Monday that “we will be the team, we will be the generation that delivers independence for Scotland”.

But Mr Sunak earlier signalled he would not enter discussions with the new SNP leader on holding a second referendum.

The Prime Minister said during a visit to Essex on Monday morning that he would “fight very hard” to protect the union.

“I am very clear that I passionately believe in our union... I care about our union, I think it is very precious,” he said.

“When my grandparents emigrated to this country they didn’t come to England, they came to the United Kingdom and that is because the UK represented a really powerful set of values and ultimately it is those values that bind us all together. It is not geography.

“That idea that inspired my grandparents to emigrate here, the idea of what the United Kingdom stood for, what we were all about as a society, as a community, that is powerful, it is inspiring and I will fight very hard to protect it every day that I am in this job.”