JEREMY Hunt says he would reject a second referendum on Scottish independence, even if the SNP win a majority at Holyrood in 2021.

The Tory leadership contender opened up on his hardline Unionist stance while speaking to journalists ahead of last night’s hustings in Perth. The Foreign Secretary also admitted a no-deal Brexit could “change the situation”, as well as claiming the Scottish Government had been “very disappointing” in their preparations for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The National’s journalist Kathleen Nutt was among those to question Hunt.

Kathleen Nutt: You have suggested you might include Ruth Davidson in your negotiating team when you head to Brussels to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement. What about as a move inclusive gesture including Nicola Sturgeon or someone from the Scottish Government in that team?

JH: Well, the answer to that is no and the reason is is that I want a Brexit that works for the Union. I’m a passionate Unionist and Nicola Sturgeon is trying to break up that Union. And so I don’t believe her role in any Brexit negotiations would help further or strengthen the Union as she is fundamentally against that. I want to be clear I would work constructively and positively and an open mind with the First Minister on every single issue that brings Scotland forward, not on the issue of independence which I profoundly disagree.

KN: I was asking you about Brexit and the Brexit deal. The Scottish Government did put forward a Scotland in Europe proposal which suggested a very soft form of Brexit, remaining in the customs union and single market, so they were open to a soft form of Brexit.

JH: They were also very disappointing in their preparations for a no-deal Brexit which none of us want, but any responsible Government or authority in the United Kingdom should be taking seriously as there is that risk… All of us throughout the United Kingdom have to do more, but to date as I’ve been watching the no-deal preparations, I would like to see more focus on that from Nicola Sturgeon.

Second reporter: What specifically do you think they should be doing?

JH: This isn’t the time to go into details but I think they know and we know the areas where more work can be done.

Third reporter: Theresa May spoke yesterday of her fears for the Union and suggested Nicola Sturgeon couldn’t be trusted. So what will you do to alleviate those fears and what is your strategy of working with Nicola Sturgeon?

JH: I, of course, listen to carefully to what Theresa May has said and she is second to no one in her commitment to the Union. As Prime Minister I will arrive with an open mind and I will engage fully, responsibly and generously with Nicola Sturgeon on everything which helps Scotland move forward but not on her agenda of independence, which will take Scotland backwards, and I will not engage on the issue of a second independence referendum. If she asks for a second independence referendum I will decline in the most British and polite way but it will be a no.

Fourth reporter: You spoke about denying Nicola Sturgeon a second referendum. If the SNP win an outright majority in Holyrood in 2021 as they have done before would you continue to withhold permission?

JH: I’ve made it very clear that I’m a Unionist with every fibre in my being. If there is a request for another referendum the answer will be a polite no.

Fourth reporter: But are you also a democrat? If the SNP on a manifesto pledge of holding a referendum win a majority would you say no in those circumstances?

JH: I’m a democrat and I remember that in that independence referendum the SNP said very clearly that this would settle the outcome for a generation and I think they need to be true to what they pledged the Scottish electorate. We are being true to what we promised the British electorate in delivering Brexit.

Fifth reporter: But don’t you think no deal could change the situation?

JH: If it was handled in the wrong way, yes. But I am going to make sure that if we do end up in a no deal Brexit, it is one where we leave no stone unturned in order to mitigate the impact for farmers, the fishing community and other businesses affected by Brexit north or south of the Border.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford was quick to respond to Hunt’s comments on no deal and Nicola Sturgeon’s “lack of preparations”.

He said: “The people of Scotland overwhelmingly voted against Brexit – yet we face being driven off an economic cliff-edge by a Tory Government which we have also overwhelmingly rejected.

“This high-handed arrogance from Jeremy Hunt may appeal to the Tory faithful but it certainly won’t appeal to the rest of Scotland. No wonder support for the Tories has plummeted in Scotland – and no wonder support for independence is continuing to increase.

“The mandate to hold another independence referendum is not a matter of opinion – it is a matter of fact.”