Boris Johnson has been forced to row back in the face of a backlash after claiming that “devolution has been a disaster” and was “Tony Blair’s biggest mistake”.
He also said that he did not “see a case” for handing down more powers from Westminster to the nations.
The Prime Minister made the comments in a Zoom call with Tory MPs who are part of the Northern Research Group, which formed over concerns coronavirus lockdowns were unfairly damaging the north of England.
However Downing Street later rowed back from the claim following a backlash, saying that Boris Johnson was only referring to the SNP’s running of Scotland.
“The PM has always supported devolution but Tony Blair failed to foresee the rise of separatists in Scotland,” the source said. “Devolution is great – but not when it’s used by separatists and nationalists to break up the UK.”
The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, also tweeted: “Devolution has not been a disaster. The SNP’s non-stop obsession with another referendum – above jobs, schools and everything else – has been a disaster.”
Labour Senedd Member Alun Davies called for a campaign for ‘Home Rule’ in response to the comments: “We need to renew our campaign for home rule to defeat this English nationalism which seeks to undermine and destroy our democracy.
“The Tories are now the English nationalist anti-devolution party.”
Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price meanwhile compared Boris Johnson’s comments to those by Donald Trump.
“Boris Johnson calling the devolved governments a disaster in the middle of this pandemic is a bit like Donald Trump accusing Joe Biden of being a danger to democracy,” he said.
“Our ‘biggest mistake’ is not leaving the Union sooner so we’re saddled with you as PM – for now, but not for long.”
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, responded on Twitter saying: “Worth bookmarking these PM comments for the next time Tories say they’re not a threat to the powers of the Scottish Parliament – or, even more incredibly, that they support devolving more powers.
“The only way to protect and strengthen the Scottish Parliament is with independence.”
SNP MP Philippa Whitford told BBC Newsnight Mr Johnson’s reported comment was “very odd for a prime minister who claims to be trying to hold the union together”.
“It isn’t just this flippant comment today,” she said. “It comes on the back of the internal market bill, which absolutely removes powers from the Scottish Parliament.”
Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said the reported remark “confirms Boris Johnson doesn’t believe in devolution and would put the future of the United Kingdom at risk”.
He added: “Devolution is one of Labour’s proudest achievements and we will always fight for a strong Scotland in the UK.”