JEREMY Hunt has taken the unusual step of refusing Foreign Office support for Nicola Sturgeon's visit to Brussels as she steps up her campaign for Scotland to become an independent nation in the European Union.

The Foreign Secretary who yesterday launched his campaign to become Tory leader is suspected of denying assistance to the Scottish Government in a bid to win over hard line Unionists including Tory MPs and grassroots Conservative members to help his chances of succeeding Theresa May.

A report in the Daily Telegraph this morning said Hunt told the Scottish Government his officials would provide no help organising the trip, during which the First Minister will meet the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

Foreign Office officials are usually closely involved in organising the First Minister's trips abroad, including arranging meetings and providing accreditation for buildings she needs to access.

But it is understood the Foreign Secretary is opposed to the UK Government facilitating a visit believing it is focused on furthering the case for an independent Scotland to join the European Union.

A Foreign Office spokesman confirmed Hunt had told the Scottish Government to provide its own "logistical support".

Scottish Government sources downplayed the inconvenience the refusal would cause, saying they had their own officials in Brussels who could organise her meetings.

The First Minister will hold talks with Juncker and Barnier during today's visit.

She will also deliver a speech on future relations with the EU during which she is expected to reiterate her call for Scotland to become an independent member state.

The Foreign Office normally helps provide support for such visits for the Scottish Government, with British ambassadors sometimes helping secure meetings with high-ranking officials.

Civil servants and advisors in Edinburgh received help when the First Minister visited the United States in 2015, emailing the US ambassador and Foreign Office staff to say: “We simply could not have delivered such a successful programme without you.”

A UK Government spokesman said: “The UK Government’s extensive network of diplomatic staff regularly provide support to the UK’s devolved administrations for visits relating to areas for which they have a devolved responsibility. However a balance must be struck to avoid supporting activities intended to campaign for policies contrary to HMG’s position.

“On this occasion, the Foreign Secretary has requested that the Scottish Government provide its own logistical support for this visit.

“As a responsible Government, we must be certain that our effort and resources overseas are focused on furthering the objectives of Her Majesty’s Government."