*We are resharing this piece from our archives as Rishi Sunak looks set to be the next PM. First published July 13, 2022*

RISHI Sunak suggested holding a Scottish independence referendum after Brexit as he admitted it would be “hard” to block another ballot, unearthed comments from just five years ago have revealed.

Until just last week, Sunak served as chancellor under Boris Johnson – who has repeatedly rejected the Scottish Government’s requests for a Section 30 order to allow indyref2 to go ahead legally with Westminster’s consent. 

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Sunak has talked up the strength of the Union at Scottish Tory conferences, and according to MP Andrew Bowie is “passionate” about protecting the bond between the four nations.

Recently, he told First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – who wants to hold indyref2 in 2023 – to focus on the cost of living crisis rather than holding another referendum.

A post-Brexit independence referendum?

But comments unearthed by The National reveal that the Tory leadership hopeful was not entirely against holding another referendum just a few years ago.

The multi-millionaire told the Express in 2017: “It seems hard to block a referendum but we should push the timing until after Brexit so the choice is clearer for people. A good deal will strengthen the case for the Union.”

The National:

The National asked Sunak if he still supports holding indyref2 now that Brexit has happened. He did not respond to our request for comment.

The 'unsustainable' stance

Kirsten Oswald, the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader, said Sunak’s comments prove that the Tories’ total refusal of indyref2 cannot last.

"The Tories' anti-democratic stance is unsustainable and even Rishi Sunak in his own words knows it,” she said.

The National:

"The question for all Tory candidates is whether they will be the continuity candidate by looking down on the people of Scotland and rejecting their democratic decision for an independence referendum or if they will respect democracy.”

She went on: "As the Tory leadership descends into a toxic race to the right it's clear that whoever wins, Scotland loses - with Scotland saddled with a Tory government we didn't vote for imposing damaging policies we don't support.

"The Scottish Government has been given a cast-iron democratic mandate by the people to hold an independence referendum – and that is what we intend to do on 19th October 2023."

Meanwhile, Greens MSP Gillian Mackay said "for once" Sunak is right - "the choice is much clearer" now than it was before Brexit.

The National:

“What we have seen in real time is the catastrophic economic damage done by a devastating Tory Brexit that Scotland didn’t vote for," she told The National. 

"We have seen prices soaring and bills skyrocketing. We have seen young people losing the right to work, live and study in Europe

“Scotland’s future is not a choice for Rishi Suank or any of his Tory rivals. It is a choice for the people of Scotland. It is becoming increasingly clear that it is a choice between a hard Tory Brexit and even more years of cuts and austerity from Downing Street, or a much better future as a fairer, greener and independent Scotland in Europe.”

The words he didn't say

The revelations come after Sunak failed to mention the Union while presenting his leadership launch.

The politician seems to be opting for the show-not-tell Unionist strategy apparently adopted by Michael Gove over the previous “muscular Unionism” of the UK Government.

The National:

The former chancellor told journalists after his speech that his actions in government had shown the strength of the Union.

“If I was to be honoured with the privilege of serving as prime minister, I will continue to focus on delivering for all nations in our country,” he said. “I will not indulge in divisive political point scoring which pits communities against each other.”

A passionate Unionist?

Sunak’s commitment to the Union appears to be in doubt among Scottish Tories, who are split on which candidate to back. Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont is backing Penny Mordaunt, arguing she is a “strong supporter” of the Union, while Stephen Kerr believes Tom Tugendhat will put the Union “front and centre” if successful.

Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie hit out at Sunak for his lack of a voice on the Union, saying his silence is “deafening”.

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It is not the first time his Unionist colleagues have questioned his passion for the project. When he first became chancellor, Sunak was forced to deny reports in the Financial Times that he felt “England should break away” from the UK.

A Conservative colleague had told the paper that Sunak felt the UK “doesn’t make financial sense”.

In a tweet, Sunak said he did not make the comment. “There are some comments about the Union falsely attributed to me in the FT today.

“My parents moved to the United Kingdom, not England, because the Union represented an idea of opportunity. I am a strong believer in our union of four nations. Hope that clarifies that!”