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Union unit: What’s Downing Street’s exit strategy as second chief leaves?

Number 10 union unit
Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Boris Johnson’s aides have dismissed reports that there is disunity in Number 10, after the prime minister lost a second union unit adviser.

Oliver Lewis, a veteran of the Vote Leave Brexit campaign, quit on Friday after claiming his position had been made “untenable” by others within Number 10.

Mr Lewis had been hired to replace former Scottish MP Luke Graham as head of the unit earlier in February, just months before Holyrood elections where calls for a second independence referendum will be the dominant issue.

Luke Graham.

Following Mr Lewis’s departure, Nicola Sturgeon said: “Disunity in the union unit. Or maybe just despair at realising how threadbare the case for it is.”

Levelling up

Downing Street rebuffed suggestions of disunity on Monday, telling reporters the unit would continue to advise the prime minister.

The prime minister’s spokesman said: “The union unit will continue to support the prime minister in his capacity as the minister for the union, the prime minister’s commitment to levelling up across all four countries of the United Kingdom stands and he will continue to prioritise that work.”

The spokesman would not comment on reports Michael Gove is set to step in and head the unit.

Fear and Lothian: The story of Number 10’s chaotic union strategy

Allegra Stratton, who acts as Mr Johnson’s political press secretary, later claimed the UK Government’s union strategy is “working very well”, despite the changing personnel in Number 10.

Asked if the government was in disarray over Scottish independence, she said: “Far from it.

“What you’ve seen over the last few months of the pandemic is the Westminster government and Scottish Government working very well together.

“The roadmap will be set out by the PM later and it will be sort of hand in hand with Nicola Sturgeon’s plans.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says there is “disunity” within Number 10 over the union unit.

“But going back further, you have furlough and the support for Scottish businesses, you have test and trace and the help to the Highlands and Islands and, most critically, most recently, making sure, by the Westminster government, that the number of vaccines were there.

“The relationship between the Westminster government and Scotland and the Scottish people is working very well at the moment.”

She added: “What matters is what was felt on the ground by the Scottish people and I think the Scottish people would say that they see support for their businesses, they’ve seen support whether they’re self-employed or not and they’ve also, most brilliantly, seen the vaccine rolled out around Scotland.”

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