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Sturgeon must do more to prepare for no-deal Brexit, says Hunt

The Tory leadership candidate was speaking ahead of a hustings with rival Boris Johnson in Perth.

Conservative party leadership contender Jeremy Hunt ahead of a hustings in Perth (Joe Giddens/PA)
Conservative party leadership contender Jeremy Hunt ahead of a hustings in Perth (Joe Giddens/PA)

Scotland’s First Minister needs to do more to prepare for a no-deal Brexit as current preparations are “very disappointing”, Jeremy Hunt has said.

The Conservative leadership candidate said a no-deal Brexit could change the situation on independence in Scotland but vowed to reject any request for a new vote on the issue.

He spoke out after a private meeting with Tory members at the Royal George Hotel in Perth ahead of hustings in the city with leadership rival Boris Johnson.

If she asks for a second independence referendum, I will decline in the most British and polite way, but it will be a no Jeremy Hunt

Mr Hunt said: “All of us have to do more but to date as I’ve been watching the no-deal preparations I would like to see more focus on that from Nicola Sturgeon.

“(The Scottish Government) have been very disappointing in their preparations of a no-deal Brexit, which none of us want, but any responsible Government or authority in the United Kingdom should be taking seriously because there is that risk.”

Questioned what more the Scottish Government should be doing, he said: “This isn’t the time to go into details but I think they know, and we know, the areas where more can be done.”

He added: “I will engage fully, responsibly and generously on everything that helps Scotland move forward but I will not engage with (Nicola Sturgeon) on the issue of independence, which will take Scotland backwards.

“If she asks for a second independence referendum, I will decline in the most British and polite way, but it will be a no.”

Mr Hunt was pressed to set a timeline on this and asked if he would continue to refuse the Scottish Government the power to hold a second independence referendum if the SNP win an outright majority at the next election on a manifesto pledge of having a further vote on the issue.

He said: “I’m a democrat and I remember in that independence referendum the SNP very clearly said that this would settle the outcome for a generation and I think they need to be true to what they promised the Scottish electorate just we are being true to we what we promised the British electorate in delivering Brexit.”

Questioned if a no-deal could change the situation on independence, the Foreign Secretary said: “If it’s handled the wrong way, yes.

“But I’m going to make sure if we do end up with a no-deal Brexit that it’s one where we leave no stone unturned in order to mitigate the impact for farmers, the fishing community, other businesses affected by Brexit whether north or south of the border.”

Mr Hunt was also asked about 1,000 free milkshakes being handed out at Perth restaurants ahead of the hustings after Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson were targeted with the drinks during the European election campaign.

Businessman Frank Burger-Seed said his restaurants would be handing out the free drinks and urged people to “drink responsibly”

Mr Hunt said: “Personally I quite like milkshakes with a burger and so do my kids but I think they should be consumed and not used as projectiles.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford responded: “The people of Scotland overwhelmingly voted against Brexit – yet we face being driven off an economic cliff-edge by a Tory Government which we have also overwhelmingly rejected.

“This high-handed arrogance from Jeremy Hunt may appeal to the Tory faithful but it certainly won’t appeal to the rest of Scotland.

“No wonder support for the Tories has plummeted in Scotland – and no wonder support for independence is continuing to increase.

“The mandate to hold another independence referendum is not a matter of opinion – it is a matter of fact.”

He added: “The SNP Scottish Government continues with its preparations to protect against the threats from Brexit but no amount of preparation or funding can completely mitigate all the impacts of leaving the European Union – particularly a catastrophic no-deal Brexit.”

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