THE Scottish Conservatives have expressed “concern” over Nicola Sturgeon’s “eager embrace” of the Sinn Fein vice-president after she was hosted at Bute House on Friday morning for historic talks.

Michelle O’Neill, who is set to be Northern Ireland’s next first minister, secured a historic victory in the local elections earlier this month – with Sinn Fein becoming the biggest party with 27 seats, pushing the DUP into second place.

Despite the success, the DUP is currently blocking the re-establishment of Stormont’s power-sharing institutions in protest at the post-Brexit protocol, which has created economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

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After meeting with Northern Irish party leaders and Irish Taoiseach Michael Martin to discuss the impasse in Belfast on Friday morning, O’Neill headed over to Edinburgh for a meeting she requested with Sturgeon.

The pair discussed the problems with the Protocol, Brexit more widely and the cost-of-living crisis too.

The Scottish Tories accused the First Minister of being willing to work “anyone” who wants to “break-up” the UK in her pursuit of independence.

The party’s constitution spokesperson Donald Cameron criticised Sturgeon for the meeting, saying: "People across Scotland - including those who support independence - will be concerned about Nicola Sturgeon's eager embrace of Michelle O'Neill and Sinn Fein.

"For many, the party's associations will be far from the civic nationalism that Nicola Sturgeon claims to champion, but it seems that the SNP will work with anyone so long as they support the break-up of the UK."

The National:

But after the meeting, it was made clear that Sturgeon had also written to Alliance and DUP leaders to stress that they too were welcome for similar talks.

She also said the future of Scotland and the island of Ireland should be treated on their own merits rather than drawing comparisons.

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However, the First Minister acknowledged that the Brexit process has “brought to the fore some very fundamental questions” over the system of governance in the UK.

“Scotland, and indeed Northern Ireland – we both voted against Brexit but we are both now dealing with the very negative consequences of Brexit,” Sturgeon said.

The National:

“That really brings to the fore that that system of government that’s been at play in the UK for some time now is not serving all of our interests.

“You hear these questions in Scotland, you hear them in Northern Ireland. Increasingly, you’re hearing these questions being asked in Wales, as well.

“I don’t think these questions are going to go away.”

The First Minister also said an intervention by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the Protocol “was not a surprise”, telling journalists the senior American politician had expressed such sentiments when the pair met in Washington earlier this week.

Pelosi said the US Congress will not support a free trade agreement with the UK if the British Government persists with “deeply concerning” plans to “unilaterally discard” the protocol, and she urged “constructive, collaborative and good-faith negotiations” in order to uphold peace.

Sturgeon said: “I’ve heard her make these comments before and I think they reflect the position of the US administration.

“The importance of maintaining peace on Ireland is more important than anything else, and I think that should be the sentiment that really governs all of the decisions around this.

“It is deeply concerning, and I think deeply reckless, for Boris Johnson’s government to threaten unilateral action because that could trigger a chain of events that will have a seriously detrimental impact on all of us across the UK.”