Politics

Boris Johnson forced to admit Scottish devolution ‘not a disaster’

Boris Johnson has been forced to accept devolution in the UK is not “a disaster”.

The Prime Minister caused uproar last year when he dismissed the opening of the Scottish Parliament as Tony Blair’s “biggest mistake”.

Devolution – which meant power was taken from Westminster and handed to devolved governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast – was a key policy introduced by the New Labour government in 1997.

It was bitterly opposed by many Conservatives at the time and suspicion has lingered that Boris Johnson remained against it.

But the Tory leader has now rowed back on his comments and insisted he was a “beneficiary” of devolution when he was first elected Mayor of London in 2008 – another position created by New Labour in the late 1990s.

Johnson said today he had benefited from devolution himself by equating his experience as mayor of London to that of the administrations governing Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The PM was speaking from a mass coronavirus vaccination centre at Cwmbran Stadium in South Wales, as part of a series of Covid-19-related visits in the country on Wednesday.



Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon at Bute House in 2019

He was asked if he considered devolution a “disaster”, following comments he was reported to have made to Conservative MPs in relation to Scotland.

He said: “I think that a lot of people looking at the way the NHS across our whole country has performed, the way the armed services have been so valuable, the way the drugs that we have had been procured nationally, invented nationally, I think people can see the strength of the Union.”

Asked the same question again, Johnson said: “Certainly not overall. Absolutely not. I speak as the proud beneficiary of devolution when I was running London. I was very proud to be doing things that made a real difference for my constituents and my electorate, improving quality of life.”

He added: “I think that devolution can work very well, but it depends very much on what the devolved authorities do.”

Johnson sparked the row in November last year when he reportedly told the Northern Research Group of backbenchers that devolution had been “a disaster north of the border” and “Tony Blair’s biggest mistake”.

At the time, Downing Street sources did not deny the Prime Minister had made the comments but attempted to clarify his position, claiming he has “always supported devolution”, though “not when it’s used by separatists and nationalists to break up the UK”.

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