A second Scottish independence referendum will not happen under “any circumstances”, two of the leading contenders to become Britain’s next prime minister have said.
Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove, who are the favourites to face off against Boris Johnson in the final round of the Tory leadership race, slapped down SNP demands for indyref2 at a special hustings in Westminster yesterday.
Mr Gove also spoke of his drive to deliver on the promises of the Brexit referendum for the fishermen of Aberdeen.
He said: “Having been brought up in Aberdeen, as the son of fish merchant, it matters to me that we repair the damage membership of the common fisheries policy has done.
“I would ensure that we left the CFP so that we enjoy the sea of opportunity from January 1 2021.
“Critically I have also underlined in the fisheries bill means by which we can ensure the the fleet across the UK can take advantage of the additional bounty that being outside the CFP could provide.”
On a second independence referendum, the environment secretary said if First Minister Nicola Sturgeon requested the authority to hold one, the answer would be a “flat no”.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was just as strident in his rejection of indyref2 – appearing to row back on a weekend commitment to grant permission if the nationalists met three tests.
Mr Hunt, writing in the Sunday Times, hinted that if the SNP won an overall majority at the 2021 Holyrood election, set a “clear timeline” for ditching the pound and ruled out staging a “wildcat” ballot, he would be minded to grant a section 30 order.
However when pressed on the issue yesterday, Mr Hunt appeared to backtrack.
He said: “I am unionist to my core. I have Welsh blood and Irish blood. I spent part of my childhood in Scotland.
“I will never do anything that would allow our Union to be broken up under any circumstances.”
The comments came as five of the remaining six Tory leadership hopefuls took questions on everything from Brexit to the government’s welfare policies and Donald Trump’s twitter activity from journalists in Westminster.
Mr Hunt, who secured the backing of 43 MPs in the first round of voting, was criticised widely for endorsing Mr Trump’s retweet of comments attacking London Mayor Sadiq Khan at the hustings.
Mr Hunt said he agreed “150%” with the “sentiment” of right-wing commentator Katie Hopkins’ comment about “Londonistan” retweeted by the president – despite it being labelled racist.
Fellow contender Rory Stewart said he disagreed with “both the language and sentiment” of the tweet, while Sajid Javid called the comments “unbecoming”, Mr Gove said they were “a mistake” and Dominic Raab called them “not helpful”.
Mr Hunt also raised eyebrows with staunch criticism of Speaker John Bercow and his role in the Brexit process.
He said: “I profoundly disagree with the way that he has used his office to further a particular political agenda.
“I think the Speaker has to be impartial and that means recognising that the government has a voice in Parliament, not just the opposition.
“The Speaker has to be neutral between the two.”
Boris Johnson, who was the only candidate not to appear at the hustings, was mocked by his fellow Conservatives for ducking questions.
Mr Gove said the hustings without him was like “Hamlet without the Prince”.
Mr Hunt challenged Mr Johnson to “summon Churchillian courage” and face the press, while Mr Raab said facing journalists was “an essential gauntlet for anyone who was to be prime minister”.
Today candidates will enter a second round of voting and will need the backing of 33 MPs to progress.