THE SNP and the Green party have condemned Jeremy Hunt for saying changing the law on fox hunting would not be his “priority” as prime minister.

The Conservative leadership hopeful told the Daily Telegraph that he would repeal the ban on fox hunting in England and Wales because it is “part of the countryside” but performed a U-turn just hours later.

He sought to play down his comments when he appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, saying: “The law is not going to change on fox hunting.

“There isn’t a majority in the House of Commons and I don’t see there ever being one – I was just restating the position in our manifesto from 2017 that there should be a free vote if it ever looked like that majority would change."

Boris Johnson has voted against banning foxhunting at Westminster and, as London mayor, even suggested introducing foxhunting to London to curb their numbers.

While the hunting of foxes with hounds was banned in Scotland in 2002, the Scottish Government has recently made clear its intentions to legislate to strengthen existing laws further.

Borders Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton, who is backing Hunt, has faced considerable criticism for her foxhunting connections – riding with the Lauderdale and Buccleuch hunts – both of which have been accused of animal rights abuses by the League Against Cruel Sports.

SNP MSP Ruth Maguire who has campaigned fervently for the strengthening of foxhunting legislation, said: “The Tories in Scotland talk a good talk about protecting animal rights and ending cruel sports.

“But in trying to woo the right wingers in their own party, both candidates to be the next PM have backed lifting the ban on foxhunting.

“Nobody who is serious about the welfare of animals should countenance a return to the dark ages, where hounds were let loose to tear defenceless animals to shreds in the name of fun.

Ruth Davidson’s candidate for the top job seems to be the biggest advocate for repealing the ban. She should condemn this profoundly stupid idea for what it is. 

“Meanwhile at Holyrood the SNP is strengthening protections for wild animals by closing loopholes in existing law. That’s the modern Scotland people want to see – not the ‘view halloo’ Victorian playground where Tory toffs get their kicks from inflicting misery on animals.” 

Ten hunts still operate around Scotland due to loopholes in the law. Green MSP Alison Johnstone has launched a consultation on a proposed Fox and Hare Bill, which would close these loopholes for good.

She said: “Jeremy Hunt let the mask slip in his interview with the Telegraph. He was pitching to the tiny electorate who will decide who becomes the next Prime Minister.

“We’ve no reason to believe Boris Johnson would be any different.

“By the time Hunt realised the rest of the country is watching, the cat was out the bag.

“Scotland banned fox hunting before England and Wales, but fox hunting still goes on. That’s why just placing restrictions on the number of dogs permitted is not enough.

"Scotland needs to be unequivocal about this, especially with the prospect of a rolling back to the dark ages south of the border.

“My proposed bill would give Scots the certainty that whatever happens in England and Wales, killing wild foxes for sport is not acceptable – or legal – in Scotland.”