Only yesterday, The National reported that
JEREMY Hunt has taken the unusual step of refusing Foreign Office support for Nicola Sturgeon‘s visit to Brussels as she steps up her campaign for Scotland to become an independent nation in the European Union.
The Foreign Secretary who yesterday launched his campaign to become Tory leader is suspected of denying assistance to the Scottish Government in a bid to win over hard line Unionists including Tory MPs and grassroots Conservative members to help his chances of succeeding Theresa May.
A report in the Daily Telegraph this morning said Hunt told the Scottish Government his officials would provide no help organising the trip, during which the First Minister will meet the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
Foreign Office officials are usually closely involved in organising the First Minister’s trips abroad, including arranging meetings and providing accreditation for buildings she needs to access.
But it is understood the Foreign Secretary is opposed to the UK Government facilitating a visit believing it is focused on furthering the case for an independent Scotland to join the European Union.
A Foreign Office spokesman confirmed Hunt had told the Scottish Government to provide its own “logistical support”.
You may argue that Ms Sturgeon’s line on Independence makes it the UK government actions reasonable?
But it now appears that UK ministers are not providing overseas diplomatic support for today’s Welsh first minister’s Brussels visit
The BBC reports that
The assistance, including government car access, was made conditional on Mark Drakeford not undermining UK government policy.
A Welsh Government source said the move was a “bit pathetic”.
The Foreign Office said it had to be certain its “effort and resources overseas are focused on furthering” the UK government’s objectives.
Mr Drakeford will meet the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and the European Parliament’s Secretary General Klaus Welle as part of his first visit to Brussels as first minister.
Speaking ahead of the visit, Mr Drakeford said he would use the meetings
“to press the point that there are parts of the UK who remain willing to work constructively with EU leaders in recognition of the mutual economic and social benefits this brings.”
He added: “The EU elections showed a country as divided as ever and now we have the added chaos of a Conservative leadership contest and the damaging push for a no-deal Brexit this has brought.
“We are likely to face a straight choice between a no-deal Brexit or remaining in the EU – and we are unequivocal in backing remain.
“To make this happen, we are calling on [the UK] Parliament to legislate for a referendum, with remain on the ballot paper.”
The Welsh Government has a different Brexit stance to the current UK government led by Theresa May and the Conservative contenders to succeed her as Tory leader and prime minister.The Foreign Office usually takes a relaxed view on providing diplomatic support for such visits, with Welsh Government ministers and officials having unconditional use of any spare cars in the UK government’s fleet.
But a Welsh Government spokesperson said the Foreign Office has said it will only provide support in Brussels for this trip “
if we give assurances that the first minister will not undermine UK government policy”.
“We have made it clear that the first minister and Welsh ministers take seriously their duties to the United Kingdom when abroad on official business and not out of deference to the UK government – and still less in return for access to car hire services.
“We refused to give any assurance that would fetter or inhibit the right of the first minister to speak up for Wales’ national interests.
“The first minister will be very content to conduct his business in Brussels via public transport.”
A former Welsh Government minister said:
“Whilst it’s always been the case that Welsh ministers have never gone to Brussels to undermine the position of the UK government, it’s been accepted by everybody that the Welsh Government is entitled to put its view, even if that’s different.
“I’ve never heard of a situation where any minister from the Welsh Government has been told beforehand that they cannot use UKREP [UK Permanent Representation to the EU] facilities unless they promise not to say certain things,” they added.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said:
“The UK government’s extensive network of diplomatic staff regularly provide support to the UK’s devolved administrations for visits relating to areas for which they have a devolved responsibility.
“However a balancence must be struck to avoid supporting activities intended to campaign for policies contrary to Her Majesty’s Government’s position.
“As a responsible government, we must be certain that our effort and resources overseas are focused on furthering the objectives of Her Majesty’s Government.”
It seems rather pathetic for Westminster , to deny official cars , from representatives of devolved legislatures unless they follow UK Government lines even if they have a mandate from their electorate, to pursue another one.
How far away could we be from Westminster insisting that First Ministers are accompanied by a UK Minister , tom make sure the former behave themselves?
The Idea that Mark Drakeford should be accompanied by Alun Cairns or Nicola Sturgeon by David Mundell seems absurd, but as Welsh and Scottish Foreign polices diverge from an increasing xenophobic one from Westminster. it is not an impossible Scenario.