The Scottish Government has undermined the Brexit process so that it can “smash up the United Kingdom”, Michael Gove has claimed.
Speaking after a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) (JMCEN) in Edinburgh, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said he feels members of the Scottish Government are not working in the best interests of the Scottish people, by failing to prepare for leaving the European Union.
The comments come after Scottish Brexit Secretary Mike Russell said the relationship between Westminster and the devolved administrations has deteriorated.
Mr Gove said: “The overriding policy of the SNP is to smash up the United Kingdom and separate families.
“I sometimes wonder if, not just in rhetoric but in policy, the SNP is not thinking in the interests of Scottish citizens first, but are thinking in the interest of their own agenda.
The relationship is very difficult, I've not hidden that, and it's got progressively more difficultMike Russell
“These issues are far too important to be politicised in that way and I hope that the wiser voices in the Scottish Government prevail in order to ensure that people do act where they need to act, in order to make sure that the sovereign decision that the United Kingdom’s electorate came to is honoured.”
He also added that the SNP promised in 2014 there would not be another referendum on independence, saying he would “take them at their word”.
Speaking about the meeting, which included representatives from Wales and the head of the civil service in Northern Ireland, Mr Russell said: “I don’t think this was better than any of the other nineteen meetings we’ve had.
“Nothing in this meeting improved our relationship.
“There’s nothing that changes the position we’ve had.
“The situation is very difficult and it’s difficult for the Welsh as well.
“We’ve had another change of Government and that has become even more difficult, dealing with people who are ideologically fixated on coming out of the EU no matter the cost.
“That is a position that we profoundly disagree with.
“The relationship is very difficult, I’ve not hidden that, and it’s got progressively more difficult.”
Mr Russell also said he does not foresee a no-deal Brexit, and expects there to be an extension to Brexit using the Benn Act followed by a general election, but also said he would not rule out UK Government “defiance” of the Benn Act.
Mr Gove, however, said “progress was being made” on preparations.
He added: “Mike is Mike. He’s a politician, but he’s also a smart guy. In the meeting he had some good, constructive discussions about practical issues.
“I always try to draw a distinction between some of the political positioning that the SNP ministers, MPs and MSPs take.
“There are good ministers in the Scottish Government who do want to operate constructively, but the challenge must always be, not just to the UK Government, but to the Scottish Government, to deliver its side of preparations.”
The meeting was the first of its kind to be held in one of the devolved countries, as well as the first to be chaired by someone other than a UK Government official.
Following Mr Gove’s comments, a spokesman for Mr Russell said: “On the day that England’s Chief Medical Officer warned that people’s lives were at risk because of a no-deal Brexit, it is clearer than ever that Michael Gove and the UK government are not acting in the best interests of Scotland or of the UK. No amount of bluster can deflect from that.
“Mr Gove has completely ignored Scotland’s overwhelming vote to remain in the EU, and has ignored every attempt to find compromise from the Scottish Government – so we will take absolutely no lectures from him on democracy.
“We are preparing as best as we can for Brexit, but no one can fully mitigate the impact of the Brexit chaos that Mr Gove’s government is set to inflict on us.”