The departure of the head of the Union Unit will lead to a less “confrontational” approach to saving the UK, according to a Times columnist.
Rachel Sylvester wrote in the London-based paper that Oliver Lewis quitting Downing Street was about “tensions” within the Tory party about how to prevent the UK from breaking up, “not just about petty personality politics”.
Polls have consistently shown a majority in support of Scottish independence for months, and according to current projections, the SNP is on course to win a landslide in the upcoming Holyrood election, which it says would give it a fresh mandate for a vote on secession.
Lewis is said to have favoured doing “anything to avoid a new independence vote”, whereas others inside No10 believe the “just say no” approach is becoming “unsustainable”.
It has previously been reported that Lewis, who is an ally of Boris Johnson’s controversial former advisor Dominic Cummings, because he felt his position was being made “untenable” by others in No 10.
He worked with Boris Johnson on Vote Leave, his leadership campaign and helped him strike the Brexit deal with the EU. It is claimed that the UK Prime Minister called Lewis into office and “bo***cked him” over alleged leaks, which he denied.
The resignation follows that of Luke Graham, the former MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, who left after what was described as a “brutal” row.
Sylvester said that since Brexit “the Union looks more fragile than ever” and that Boris Johnson is being urged to “prepare the ground for a second referendum on condition that the terms of the separation are agreed in advance”.
She said: “There’s a particular irony in the fact that a prime minister who is committed to preserving the United Kingdom cannot preserve the team he appointed to help him to do it.
“Two heads of the Downing Street ‘Union unit’ have quit in less than a month, most recently Oliver Lewis (nicknamed ‘Sonic’ on account of his resemblance to the hedgehog of video game fame) who resigned on Friday after being accused of briefing against Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister.
“One of his former colleagues suggested to me that he had walked out in a ‘hissy fit’.”
She added: “This is not just about petty personality politics. There are growing tensions within the Conservative Party over how to prevent the break-up of the United Kingdom. Since Brexit, the Union looks more fragile than ever.
“Polls consistently show a majority of voters in Scotland favour independence and the nationalists are threatening to hold an indicative vote if the Westminster government refuses to endorse a referendum.
“Strategic differences have begun to emerge in Whitehall about how to respond. Lewis, like his Vote Leave mentor Cummings, favoured a confrontational approach to the SNP.
“As the architect of the threat to break international law during the Brexit negotiations, he was ready to do anything to avoid a new independence vote.
“Other senior Tories and civil servants have started to argue that the ‘just say no’ strategy is becoming unsustainable.
“They are urging Johnson to prepare the ground for a second referendum on condition that the terms of the separation are agreed in advance.
“In a memo to the prime minister last year, Lord Sedwill, who was then cabinet secretary, warned that if the SNP continued to retain popular support it would become increasingly difficult to hold out indefinitely against another referendum.
“He intends to use his position in the House of Lords to make sure the nationalists do not dictate the terms of any vote.
“The Cabinet Office has already drawn up a list of questions that need to be addressed: everything from what currency an independent Scotland would use, to whether it could rejoin the EU and who would vote in a referendum.
“Gove has also built bridges with the leaders of the devolved administrations, including Sturgeon, in a weekly Wednesday afternoon call.”