FOREIGN Secretary Jeremy Hunt has withdrawn support for Nicola Sturgeon's overseas trips, saying he can no longer sign off on help for trips that "give a platform for independence".

The PM hopeful stated the major change to protocol amid a row between the Foreign Office and the Scottish Government.

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Hunt said the First Minister's office would no longer routinely get help from Foreign Office officials to set up meetings with foreign officials and politicians.

It follows the revelation that support was withdrawn for a trip to Brussels earlier this month in response to concerns about Sturgeon's summer visit to the US and Canada last year.

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"I believe in the Union with every fibre of my being and British government policy is to protect, preserve, cherish and enhance that Union," the Foreign Secretary said.

"So we are not going to offer support to Nicola Sturgeon if she goes abroad to drum up support for independence, and that is exactly why I am the Prime Minister that she least wants because she knows I won't allow our Union to be broken up."

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Until now, Scottish ministers have routinely been able to get help setting up travel and meetings, and have had the use of facilities at British Embassies and consulates.

That will now be restricted to trips touching on "areas for which [Scottish ministers] have a devolved responsibility" and where they "avoid supporting activities intended to campaign for policies contrary to [the UK] Government's position".

Sturgeon is due to meet the European Commission president Jean-Claude Junker and the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier today as well as deliver a speech in which she is expected to reiterate her call for Scotland to be an independent country in the EU.

But a spokesman for the First Minister said that while the Foreign Office did provide support for trips to the US or China, visits to Brussels were already handled by Scottish Government staff in Edinburgh and in Belgium.

He said: "The First Minister has already dismissed this as fairly pathetic and childish behaviour.

"Jeremy Hunt is in the middle of a Tory leadership campaign and the Tory leadership contenders appear to be lining up one by one to do our job for us - if it's not Boris Johnson making horrendous gaffes on tax it's Jeremy Hunt saying that Scotland should represent itself internationally.

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"If the FCO is refusing to give Scotland the same level of support and representation as it would the rest of the UK then surely it demonstrates stronger than ever why Scotland should be independent."

A UK government spokesman told the Telegraph: "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."