SNP MPs yesterday defended Nicola Sturgeon after claims by Alex Salmond she breached the ministerial code by misleading the Scottish Parliament.

In a submission to an inquiry into the Scottish Government’s botched handling of sexual assault claims against him, Salmond said a key statement over when she knew about the allegations was “simply untrue”.

The claim was described as a “bombshell” by opposition politicians, who said the First Minister would have to stand down if it was true.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said he did not believe the allegations were correct.

He told BBC Radio 4: “I believe that the First Minister has acted in an honourable way, she’s someone that I’ve every faith and trust in.

“I can tell you that the approval ratings for the First Minister, the respect that she has right up and down the country of Scotland, is enormous and this is something that will pass – when she appears in front of the committee these matters will be dealt with.”

READ MORE: Alex Salmond: 'Simply untrue' that key meeting with Nicola Sturgeon was not to discuss complaints

SNP MP Kirsty Blackman launched an attack on Salmond on Twitter, saying: “He is now desperately lashing out, trying to take down the best leader our party has had, who has led us to over 50% Yes.”

Her Westminster colleague Pete Wishart warned over the impact of what he called a “sustained attack” on Sturgeon, saying: “The only people who can beat us now are ourselves.”

He tweeted: “The idea that the FM should be brought down because of the behaviour of someone else is absurd. I can understand why the Tories would want this but for indy supporters to back this is just about the most self-defeating nonsense I’ve ever seen.”

Sturgeon initially told Holyrood she first heard of complaints of sexual misconduct against her predecessor at a meeting with him at her home on April 2, 2018.

But in Salmond’s subsequent criminal trial, it was revealed she had been made aware of the allegations in an informal meeting with his former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein on March 29 that year – four days earlier.

Sturgeon later told the inquiry she “forgot” about the encounter.

In his inquiry submission, Salmond said the March meeting had been arranged after Aberdein was told of two allegations made under a new complaints procedure set up in light of the MeToo movement.

Salmond, who was cleared of 13 charges at the High Court in Edinburgh last March, said: “This (preliminary) meeting was for the purpose of discussing the complaints and thereafter arranging a direct meeting between myself and the First Minister.

“There was never the slightest doubt what the meeting was about. Any suggestion by the First Minister to the Scottish Parliament that the meeting was ‘fleeting or opportunistic’ is simply untrue.”

He also said Sturgeon had told Parliament she first learned of the complaints against him on April 1, 2018 but this was “untrue and is a breach of the ministerial code.”

READ MORE: Mark Hirst claims Crown Office abused power in Alex Salmond supporter trial

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said the First Minister and the permanent secretary stood by what has been said to Parliament and in written evidence to the committee.

A spokesperson for Sturgeon said the First Minister “entirely rejected” the claims about the ministerial code.

“We should always remember that the roots of this issue lie in complaints made by women about Alex Salmond’s behaviour whilst he was First Minister, aspects of which he has conceded,” they said.

“It is not surprising therefore that he continues to try to divert focus from that by seeking to malign the reputation of the First Minister and by spinning false conspiracy theories.”