THE Foreign Secretary has said that all meetings between SNP ministers and overseas governments must be organised through the UK Government and attended by its own officials.

Top Tory James Cleverly told senior officials abroad to “confidently” represent “the strengths of the Union” amid fears that the Edinburgh government is successfully using trips abroad “to promote Scottish separatism”.

The Scottish Government said the Tories are trying to “censor” its ministers by “undermining” their right to speak to foreign governments.

The latest move represents a step up from reports that UK officials had been asked to hold follow-up meetings with any foreign dignitaries who meet with Scottish ministers.

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Cleverly has written to the UK’s heads of missions – senior diplomats to nations or organisations generally called ambassadors or high commissioners – urging them to:

  • "gather information" about any potential foreign trips planned by the Scottish Government and report back to the Tory government in London
  • make sure that any planned contact between SNP ministers and their counterparts abroad goes through his Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)
  • ensure foreign governments know to involve the FCDO in any planned contact with the Scottish Government
  • have a UK Government official sit in on any and all meetings between SNP ministers and their foreign counterparts

The Foreign Secretary wrote: “I recently met with the Secretary of State for Scotland [Alister Jack] and share his concerns at Scottish Government ministers continuing to use overseas visits to promote Scottish separatism and undermine UK Government policy positions.

“Since my meeting with [Scottish External Affairs Secretary] Angus Robertson in November, such instances are still taking place. I would therefore like you to take a strengthened approach to Scottish Government ministerial visits to ensure devolution settlements are respected overseas.”

The letter, reported by the Scottish Daily Mail, goes on to urge ambassadors to “ensure a senior official attends Scottish Government ministerial meetings, particularly those where you judge reserved issues may be discussed”.

The National:

He urged officials to make sure that foreign governments were aware that any meeting with Scottish ministers had to be planned in conjunction with the UK Government.

Cleverly said this was to ensure “devolved governments do not encroach on matters legally reserved to the UK Parliament and UK Government when engaging with international interlocutors”.

The Tory government is urging UK officials to take a “firm” and “strengthened” approach to be sure the Scottish Government is constrained to devolved matters.

The Scottish Government accused its UK counterpart of looking to undermine its “legal right” to engage with foreign governments.

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External Affairs Secretary Robertson said: “The Scotland Act does not preclude the Scottish Government from international engagement. We already work constructively with FCDO staff on a regular basis and the Foreign Secretary was unable to provide a single example of ministers acting inappropriately when I met him in November.

“There will clearly be issues where the UK Government and Scottish Government disagree, but there are important areas of shared interest such as Scotland’s energy sector, which the UK Government must do more to promote, instead of undermining Scotland’s legal right to advance its interests by attempting to censor Scottish ministers.”

Cleverly’s letter comes with John Lamont, a junior minister in the Scotland Office, in New York City for Tartan Week.

It comes against a backdrop of growing tensions between London and Edinburgh due to the international activities of External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson – who is also in the US for the celebrations.