Boris Johnson heads to Scotland on Monday on an early bid to boost support for his premiership – with his new government’s readiness to countenance a no-deal Brexit likely to be strongly challenged in a nation which voted heavily to remain in the European Union.
The prime minister will promise funding of £300m (€333m) designed to increase growth in the devolved nations, which also include Wales and Northern Ireland.
Ahead of his visit, Johnson described the four-nation union as “the most successful political and economic union in history”.
“So as we prepare for our bright future after Brexit, it’s vital we renew the ties that bind our United Kingdom”, he said.
But Johnson’s call for unity comes as divisions are exposed within the ruling Conservative Party north and south of the border.
The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, stated clearly at the weekend that she was opposed to a no-deal Brexit.
“When I was debating against the pro-Brexit side in 2016, I don’t remember anybody saying we should crash out of the EU with no arrangements in place to help maintain the vital trade that flows uninterrupted between Britain and the European Union,” she wrote in the Scottish Mail on Sunday.
“I don’t think the Government should pursue a No Deal Brexit and, if it comes to it, I won’t support it,” she added.
In a joint letter with her Welsh counterpart last week, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned “there should be no doubt that the consequences would be catastrophic for all parts of the UK”.
Many, not only in Scotland, believe the new Johnson government’s invigorated drive to pull the UK out of the EU without an agreement may boost the campaign for Scottish independence.
Whereas the United Kingdom as a whole voted by 52% to 48% to leave the EU in the referendum in June 2016, 62% of Scottish voters cast their ballots for remain.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown said earlier this month that the Union was “hanging by a thread”, and that Boris Johnson risked being “the last prime minister of the UK”. He singled out the new prime minister’s unpopularity in Scotland, attacking his “anti-European conservatism, which has got no resonance in Scotland”.
A YouGov survey last week found that 65% of respondents thought that Boris Johnson would be either a “poor” or a “terrible” prime minister – well above the 50% who shared that view across the UK as a whole.
“The new Tory leader is deeply unpopular among Scots and he has proven himself to be completely unfit for office, time and again,”, Ian Blackford – leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) at Westminster – told the Daily Record last week.
“It is clear that we face the most extreme Tory Government since Thatcher,” he added. The former UK prime minister was derided in Scotland – her unpopularity exacerbated by the early introduction of the hated “poll tax”, which contributed to a collapse in Tory support north of the border that lasted for years.
Ruth Davidson and other Scottish Tories were reportedly infuriated by Johnson’s sacking of David Mundell as Scottish secretary in his cabinet reshuffle upon taking office.
The Scottish Conservative leader says she still backs Boris Johnson as prime minister. Last year a campaign among her allies to try to stop a leadership bid from the former foreign secretary was reportedly codenamed “Operation Arse”.
Opinion polls published over the weekend suggested that in the UK as a whole, the Conservatives have enjoyed something of a “Boris bounce” since Johnson became prime minister – with a number of surveys putting them several points ahead of the main Labour opposition.