A TOP European diplomat has criticised as “petty” a decision by Jeremy Hunt not to give Foreign Office support to the First Minister when she travels overseas.

The ambassador, who represents one of the EU27 countries in a key European capital, had not heard of the Foreign Secretary’s decision until informed by The National.

He was shocked to hear of the action being taken by Hunt to stop logistical support for Nicola Sturgeon’s official visits abroad, claiming she was presenting an anti-Brexit and pro-independence message.

“At the moment people are looking at the UK and wondering ‘what is going on there?’,” the diplomat said.

“The UK Government has a tiny majority and that could be further whittled down very quickly. It seems a petty decision and the timing of it is rather odd.”

He went on to blast the UK Government, suggesting it had been wasting time since the original Brexit extension was given to the UK ahead of the first deadline on March 29.

He said: “The clock was changed in March and the UK has done nothing with that extra time – that is the reality. It got an extension from March to the end of October and now all it’s doing is having a leadership election in the Conservative Party. People are saying the clocking is ticking and Europe is moving on.”

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Earlier, a spokesman for the First Minister said she will continue to talk about independence on overseas visits despite the Foreign Office withdrawing official support for such trips. The Foreign Secretary said the UK Government was “not going to offer support to Nicola Sturgeon if she goes abroad to drum up support for independence”.

The comments came with Hunt battling former London mayor Boris Johnson to become the UK’s next prime minister.

A spokesman for Sturgeon made clear: “The First Minister is not going to be prevented from saying what she thinks in terms of Scotland’s future. That is the essence of being a democratically elected leader, you are able to chart a course for the country and say how you think it should be governed, that’s part of the job.”

The National:

He hit out after Hunt, pictured above during his visit to Scotland at the weekend, told the Daily Mail: “It had come to my notice that there were trips that the Foreign Office was facilitating that were being used to give a platform for independence. 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 she least wants – because she knows I won’t allow our Union to be broken up.”

Normally, ministers from the Scottish Government can access help from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with travel, setting up meetings or using facilities such as the British embassy network.

In future, it has been suggested this will only happen when Scottish ministers are making trips relating “to areas for which they have a devolved responsibility” and if they “avoid supporting activities intended to campaign for policies contrary to [the UK] Government’s position”.

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Sturgeon’s spokesman said the FM had “simply restated the long-standing position” of the Scottish Government during overseas visits.

He added it would be “naive to think” Hunt’s comments had “nothing to do with the Tory leadership race”.

The spokesman said: “Whatever happens, it is not going to stop the First Minister of the Scottish Government representing Scotland internationally – that is part of the job and that part of the job will continue regardless.

“Let’s wait and see how real this actually is. Jeremy Hunt is in the middle of a leadership campaign against Boris Johnson so this would appear to relate to that.”

He added: “Jeremy Hunt is making our argument for us. It is quite an extraordinary state of affairs for a would-be Tory prime minister who espouses the supposed values of the Union to actively suggest Scotland should not have the same level of representation as the rest of the UK.”

The EU diplomat went on to say the EU would demand its £39 billion “divorce” settlement – which Johnson has said he will only pay if he gets a better deal – as it is money the UK owes the bloc in financial liabilities.