The UK government has been accused of “awkward control-freakery” after a letter sent to decentralized nations insisted that London be made aware of any contact with the EU.
In his letter, Cabinet Secretary David Frost, who has never won a democratic election, demanded that he be informed of any contact of decentralized governments with EU institutions.
Frost stressed that he had “overall control” over “the UK’s relations with the EU,” a position to which he was raised after being made a life peer by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He was previously the UK’s chief negotiator during the Brexit process.
The letter from the highest conservative was sent to the governments of Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, as well as to the chief ministers of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
He cautions these various administrations against contacting the EU without informing Westminster of its “content”, which Frost claims to help the UK conduct its “international affairs” effectively.
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Reacting to the letter, Kirsty Hughes, founder and director of the Scottish Center on European Relations, said Frost’s real aim was to ‘inhibit’ Scotland’s attempt to link with other countries after Brexit , lest it strengthen the arguments for independence.
The political commentator accused the British government of “control-freakery madness”.
In a series of tweets, Hughes (above) said it was “perfectly normal” for regions and sub-states to have international offices and said the UK government’s need to be kept informed of everything what was happening was “more about endemic Tory trade unionism, and fear of Scottish government para-diplomacy”.
She said this type of diplomacy, with Scotland already having hubs in Brussels, Berlin, Dublin and Paris, could “easily indirectly promote independence”.
Hughes continued: “Scotland as a serious little European country / decentralized government focused on trade, climate, rights, [and] well-being builds positive external relationships and shows [an independent] Scotland will be an asset of the EU. ”
She added: “Scotland is popular in the EU, the UK is not.”
Concluding his Twitter thread, Hughes wrote: ‘The UK government wants to prevent the Scottish government from doing its best to build positive European and international relations despite Brexit.
“Ironically, this awkward control panic will only increase Scotland’s international understanding and appreciation.”
Stephen Gethins (above), professor at St Andrews University and former SNP MP (above), praised Hughes’ contributions, adding: can and cannot do.
Good thread here. Amazing that we have an unelected and unaccountable bureaucrat (serving as a minister in the Lords) trying to tell the elected ministers responsible to the decentralized administrations what they can and cannot do. https://t.co/fiWRBjw2P3
– Stephen Gethins (@StephenGethins) May 29, 2021
The Scottish Conservative MSP and external affairs spokesman Donald Cameron accused the SNP government of trying to ‘undermine’ Frost’s Brexit negotiations.
He said this “remains the case as we continue our trade relations outside the European Union”, adding: “The best chance of making positive deals will come with a commitment from the SNP to work closely with the government. British in the future in relation to any discussions with the European Union. ”
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Cameron also asked Hughes to show “the part of Frost’s letter that mentions European / International offices?” after she said the UK government “was preparing to put pressure on Scottish administrators and other devolved on European and international offices”.
Cameron’s comments come just days after his party’s chief whip, Stephen Kerr, attacked the SNP’s money spent on such overseas offices.
Kerr called the spending “a waste” and urged the UK government to “make sure we no longer see the Scottish government spending more on new additions” to their international network.
Frost also invited Scottish External Affairs Minister Angus Robertson and Wales Minister for the Constitution Mick Antoniw to a summit next month.
Frost said his team would get in touch with Scottish and Welsh officials ahead of the first Joint Partnership Council meeting with the EU in early June.
A Scottish government spokesperson said: ‘The Scots have overwhelmingly supported staying in the EU and despite the unfortunate reality of Brexit, the Scottish government believes it is in everyone’s interest that the EU and the United Kingdom have as close a relationship as possible.
“The Scottish Government will continue to be a voice for mutually beneficial cooperation and of course we will continue to promote the interests of Scotland at all times.”
A Welsh government spokesperson added: ‘We have received the letter and will respond in due course.’