THE UK Government has been told to withdraw its new rules aimed at curtailing Scottish ministers’ overseas work.

It emerged last month that Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had issued a letter to all UK diplomats with four demands on handling Holyrood ministers’ foreign visits and discussions.

The rules were as follows: All ambassadors must “gather information” on news of Scottish ministers’ foreign trips, all Scottish Government communication with foreign countries must go through the UK, all ambassadors must tell foreign countries to go through the UK and not talk directly to Scottish representatives and, finally, a UK official must sit in on meetings with Holyrood officials and foreign counterparts.

The letter was condemned by experts including Dr Kirsty Hughes, a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh who previously worked at the European Commission, who said foreign diplomats would clearly see that Scottish Government ministers were “being treated like children”.

Now, External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson has written to Cleverly calling on him to withdraw the guidance – warning he is “concerned at the damage [it] could do to Scottish trade, cultural exchanges and education, and to Scottish interests in general”.

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Robertson said he first became aware of the guidance from a newspaper journalist, rather than a UK Government figure. He expressed concerns over “a number of omissions and misleading assertions”, telling Cleverly that the guidance would be “unworkable”.

The minister argued that as an ancient nation, Scotland has a long history of international engagement – but said seeking to curtail that work is further example of Tory plans to roll back on devolution.

“The UK Government’s apparent determination to reduce Scotland to the status of a mere administrative unit and for it to be characterised as such by UK Government diplomats is unacceptable,” Robertson told Cleverly.

Elsewhere in the letter, Robertson questions UK ministers’ fears that the Scottish Government could be “encroaching” on reserved issues during international meetings.

The National: Angus Robertson, now Constitution Secretary in Holyrood, led the SNP in Westminster between 2007 and 2017 (Jane Barlow/PA)

He pointed out that international relations being reserved does not have a legal effect of stopping Scottish ministers from communicating with foreign officials or bodies, as long as they do not “purport to speak for the UK or to reach agreements which commit the UK”.

“It should be needless to say that Scottish Government ministers would never purport to speak for the UK,” Robertson said. “The fact that we have very different views on matters such as immigration, asylum and Brexit will be well known to governments overseas, and it would be absurd to think that our such views could be confused with those of the UK Government.”

Robertson concluded the letter by accusing the UK Government of an “attempt to censor Scottish ministers”.

“[The letter and guidance] give an inaccurate picture of both the way the Union itself is supposed to operate and of devolution. And above all, they will damage the Scottish economy and a range of Scottish interests,” he wrote.

“It is for these reasons that I ask you to withdraw both the guidance and your letter.”

An Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said: “The UK has one of the best, most expansive and expert diplomatic services in the world, with people from across the UK representing our interests abroad.

“As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the G7, NATO and the Commonwealth the UK has an unparalleled influence on the international stage.

“We are delivering effectively for the whole of the UK, including by ensuring that Scotland’s interests remain at the heart of our international agenda."

Commenting on his letter, Robertson described ministerial work abroad as a “key driver” of opportunities in areas like foreign investment.

It came just days after Japanese firm Osaka announced it would be building a large electric cable manufacturing plant in the Highlands, as Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray paid a visit to the country.

Outside of London, Scotland leads the UK in attracting inward investment – with Foreign Direct Investment in the country increasing by 14% since 2020, compared to just 1.8% across the UK as a whole.

“We will of course resist any move by the UK Government to curtail these types of visits and reduce opportunities to promote Scottish trade and investment opportunities,” said Robertson.