DOWNING Street’s shadowy Union Unit reportedly demanded the Oxford vaccine kit be branded with the UK’s flag.

According to the HuffPost, the newly formed group asked the Government’s vaccine task force to insist the manufacturers of the vaccine use the Union flag. 

The plan had strong backing from Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Business Secretary Alok Sharma. 

A UK Government spokesperson said there were currently no plans to brand the doses: “Manufacturing for some of the leading potential vaccines is already underway so they can be rolled out quickly if approved.

“Manufacturers are well-versed in the best way to package products like this.”

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon: Indyref2 'should come in earlier part' of next Holyrood term

One Whitehall official told the website: “There has been a renewed interest on the impact of policy decisions on the union, and ensuring it is in no way detrimental to the devolved nations,” she said. 

“It is something we have to constantly be mindful of. They are trying hard to keep the union intact.” 

The plot was met with incredulity. 

An SNP spokesperson said: “If true these reports suggest utter desperation from the Tories.

"The creation of a vaccine is a global effort with scientists and countries coming together to share their expertise to tackle Covid-19.

"Politicians of all kinds should be focussed on getting the vaccine to the right people at the right time."

SNP staffer Ross Colquhoun tweeted: "This seems to be the Westminster Government’s answer to everything.      

"I wonder if it’s sensible at a time when they are trashing the UK’s international reputation. 

"Trust in a vaccine is vitally important."

Former Scottish Labour MP Ged Killen called the plan stupid. He said: "Politicising a vaccine isn't going to save the union. The last thing we need is a repeat of party-political stupidity we've seen in the US over measures like mask wearing. "

News of the vaccine branding came as Nicola Sturgeon announced her intention to hold a second Scottish independence referendum soon after the Holyrood election in May.

The First Minister said she anticipates that a vote will take place “in the earlier part” of the next Scottish parliament.

She told BBC Scotland: “I’ve not put a date on it yet. I have not ruled it out nor I have ruled it in. I think that is right not least because of the challenge the country is facing coming out of and rebuilding from Covid.

“Scotland should have the opportunity to choose whether to become independent in the earlier, rather than the later, part of the next parliament.”

She said that “before the election, in the manifesto, I would anticipate putting a more precise timescale on what we believe should happen”.