SCOTLAND’S democracy is “collateral damage” in a Tory “culture war”, the leader of the SNP in Westminster has said.

Stephen Flynn accused Rishi Sunak of creeping towards a policy of “direct rule” after the Scottish Secretary took the unprecedented step of blocking gender recognition reforms passed by Holyrood with a cross-party majority of MPs.

Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, Sunak defended the move, saying the Government was acting within the bounds of the devolution settlement and sought to protect the safety of women and girls.

The Prime Minister said: “Let me be crystal clear that the decision in this case is centred on the bill’s consequences in relation to reserved matters, as is laid out in the Scotland Act, which established the Scottish Parliament…and at the time supported by the SNP.

“This bill would have a significant effect on UK-wide equalities matters and so the Scottish Secretary, with regret, has rightly acted.”

Flynn fired back accusing the Tories of disregarding Scottish democracy at the expense of pursuing a "culture war" against trans people. 

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He said: “Let me be crystal clear, this is the Conservative party seeking to stoke a culture war against some of the most marginalised in society and Scotland’s democracy is simply collateral damage."

Flynn said the UK Government's expression of "regret" over the move - which has been criticised across the constitutional divide in Scotland - was phoney and said Sunak's plans to bring in anti-strike laws and other measures "against the express wishes of the Scottish Government" was evidence Westminster was disregarding Scotland's views on a variety of matters. 

He added: “On Monday, the UK Government introduced legislation to ban the right to strike against the express wishes of the Scottish Government.

"On Tuesday, they introduced legislation to overturn the GRR against the express wishes of the Scottish Government and this evening they will seek to put in place legislation which rips up thousands of EU protections against the express wishes of the Scottish Government.

"Are we not now on a slippery slope from devolution to direct rule?”

Sunak responded to say "of course" this was not the case, adding: "This is simply about protecting UK-wide legislation, about ensuring the safety of women and children – this is not about the devolution settlement.

“I would urge [Flynn] and his party to consider engaging with the UK Government on this bill, as we did before the legislation passed so that we can find a constructive way forward in the interests of the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom.”

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Scottish Secretary Alister Jack issued a Section 35 order on Monday to prevent the King formally signing the Gender Recognition Reform bill into law – meaning it will not take effect unless ministers in Edinburgh can successfully challenge the move in court.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the matter would “inevitably” end up in court but has not formally announced whether the Scottish Government will make a legal challenge against Westminster.

The UK Government have said the bill would infringe on UK-wide equalities protections, claiming the Scottish reforms would collapse the distinction between sex and gender.

Despite a line in the Scottish bill claiming it would not affect the operation of the UK Equalities Act, the Scotland Office claimed it would infringe on matters set out in the Act such as rules governing the membership of single-sex clubs, equal pay and the public sector equality duty.