Nicola Sturgeon's independence plan descends into chaos over majority vote claim

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Queen Elizabeth II receives First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon during an audience at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh today - Jane Barlow/PA
Queen Elizabeth II receives First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon during an audience at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh today - Jane Barlow/PA

Nicola Sturgeon could demand independence if the SNP wins less than half the popular vote in Scotland in the next General Election, her deputy has suggested as her new separation route map started to unravel.

John Swinney said Ms Sturgeon would have a mandate to start independence talks with the Prime Minister if the SNP won a majority of Scotland's Westminster seats - 30 out of 59 - without a referendum being held.

But this raised the prospect of the First Minister arguing that Scots had backed separation despite the SNP winning less than 50 per cent of the popular vote.

The SNP won 48 seats in the 2019 election on a 45 per cent share of the vote - the same level of support the defeated Yes campaign achieved in the 2014 referendum.

His intervention contradicted Ms Sturgeon, who told BBC Breakfast in an interview conducted at around the same time that "Scotland can only become independent if a majority of people vote for that proposition”.

Mr Swinney later performed an about-turn and insisted that 50 per cent support would be required, claiming that he had misheard the question in the radio interview in which he specified a majority of seats.

'The wheels are falling off the clown car'

But his flip-flopping over Ms Sturgeon's plan prompted the Unionist parties to argue that "the wheels are falling off the clown car" less than 24 hours after she unveiled her latest "cunning wheeze."

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary and a former MSP, said Ms Sturgeon was "running out of time" and was "desperate" to stage another vote after failing in her day job of delivering improvements to Scotland's schools and NHS.

On Tuesday she published a Referendum Bill for a "consultative" vote to be held on Oct 19 next year, despite polls showing this timetable is opposed by a clear majority of Scots.

She announced Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain, her most senior law officer, had referred it to the Supreme Court for a ruling on whether the legislation was within Holyrood's powers. Constitutional affairs are reserved to Westminster.

Prof Alan Trench, an eminent constitutional academic, warned the court would refuse to even consider the legislation until it had been passed by MSPs.

With most legal experts predicting the Supreme Court would side with the UK Government in any ruling, Ms Sturgeon has said her backup plan was to fight the next general election on the single issue of independence and use it as a "de facto referendum."

'No such thing as a de-facto referendum'

But James Mitchell, professor of public policy at Edinburgh University, said "there's no such thing as a de facto referendum" and pointed out that political parties cannot dictate to voters what issues they consider when casting their ballots in a general election.

It also remained unclear why the Prime Minister would agree to negotiations on a separate Scotland on the back of a general election result, with senior UK Government figures describing the plan as "bonkers."

Senior Scottish Government sources briefed the SNP would have to achieve more than 50 per cent of the popular vote but Ms Swinney was asked during a radio interview on Wednesday whether a majority of Scottish seats would be enough.

He told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "That's correct, yes."

Asked why the SNP had not done this after the 2017 or 2019 general elections, in which the SNP won a minority of the popular vote in Scotland but a majority of seats, he restated the Scottish Government's preference for a "democratic and legal referendum".

Just over two hours after his interview the Deputy First Minister took to Twitter to state that when he was asked about a "majority of seats" in the interview "I only picked up on 'majority'."

'Brainstorming barmy schemes'

He added: "Referenda, including de-facto referenda at a UK general election, are won with a majority of votes. Nothing else."

But Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said: "We’re less than 24 hours into the Nationalists' latest cunning wheeze and already the wheels are falling off the clown car.

"They seem to have conceded that they are heading for a defeat in court and so they are brainstorming barmy schemes for what comes next."

​​Follow the latest updates below.

04:03 PM

That is all for today...

Thank you for joining me for today's politics live blog.

I will be back early tomorrow morning.

04:02 PM

Ex-Covid taskforce head to stay in council chief exec role

The former head of the Government’s Covid taskforce, who apologised over her lockdown leaving drinks, will stay in her job as chief executive of one of England biggest local authorities, the council has confirmed.

Kate Josephs has received a written warning over the event which was held to mark her leaving the Civil Service on December 17 2020, following a five-month investigation, Sheffield City Council said.

Ms Josephs has been on discretionary paid leave from her £190,000-a-year job with the council since the details emerged in January, when she first apologised.

03:54 PM

MOD budget to be 'eroded by inflation'

UK military spending could fall by £1.7 billion in real terms over the next three years as inflation erodes the Ministry of Defence's budget, the Liberal Democrats have said.

The Lib Dems said analysis from the House of Commons Library showed inflation could result in a 5.6 per cent real terms cut to day-to-day spending on defence by the middle of the decade.

Jamie Stone, the Lib Dems' defence spokesman, said: "The Conservatives are playing fast and loose with our armed forces with these real terms cuts. Soaring inflation risks gutting our defence spending, undermining our ability to stand with our allies in Europe and around the world.

“National security must be of the utmost importance for any Government. In the face of the threat posed by Vladimir Putin, I urge the Conservatives to reverse the armed forces cut immediately."

03:19 PM

Angela Rayner accuses Dominic Raab of 'snobbery'

Dominic Raab today accused Angela Rayner of being a "champagne socialist" for attending an opera festival (see the post below at 13.35).

Ms Rayner has now hit back. She said in a statement: "My advice to the Deputy Prime Minister is to cut out the snobbery and brush up on his opera.

"The Marriage of Figaro is the story of a working-class woman who gets the better of a privileged but dim-witted villain.

"Judging by his own performance today, Dominic Raab could learn a lesson about opening up the arts to everyone, whatever their background.”

03:12 PM

PM hails 'great step forward' as Sweden and Finland poised to join Nato

Boris Johnson held talks with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at the Nato summit in Madrid today.

Downing Street said the PM described the two countries joining the alliance as a "great step forward".

No 10 said: "The Prime Minister reiterated his staunch support for Sweden and Finland’s Nato membership aspirations. He described their accession as a great step forward for Nato and welcomed the progress made since his visits to Sweden and Finland last month.

“The Prime Minister said that the membership of two more pro-peace democracies will permanently strengthen our defensive Alliance, helping to keep us all safe."

02:57 PM

Privileges Committee calls for evidence as it starts partygate probe

The Privileges Committee has issued a call for evidence as it starts its probe into whether Boris Johnson misled Parliament over partygate.

The committee is seeking witness information which could include material relating to "Mr Johnson’s knowledge of the activities in 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office under Covid regulations, from the occurrence of those events until now" and "any briefing given to, or inquiries made by, Mr Johnson relating to those events".

The committee is planning to take written and oral evidence during the course of its inquiry. It has also confirmed it is "willing to take oral or written evidence from people who wish to remain anonymous".

Harriet Harman, the veteran Labour MP and "Mother of the House", has been confirmed as the committee's chair.

The committee intends to appoint the Rt Hon Sir Ernest Ryder, former Lord Justice of Appeal and Senior President of Tribunals, as an adviser.

Oral evidence sessions are expected to start in the autumn with the call for evidence due to close on July 29.

02:48 PM

PM praises Turkey's efforts to get grain out of Ukraine

Boris Johnson and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish President, have met for talks in Madrid as they attend a Nato summit. Mr Johnson praised Mr Erdogan for his efforts to get grain out of Ukraine.

A Downing Street readout of the meeting said: “The Prime Minister praised President Erdoğan’s leadership on the issue of getting grain out of Ukraine. The Prime Minister stressed that President Putin’s ongoing blockade of Ukraine’s ports is creating an international humanitarian crisis, both in Ukraine and around the world."

Boris Johnson and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during the NATO summit in Madrid today - Reuters
Boris Johnson and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during the NATO summit in Madrid today - Reuters

Mr Johnson also "welcomed the announcement that Turkey, Sweden and Finland have agreed a memorandum agreement, paving the way for Finland and Sweden’s accession to the alliance".

No 10 said: "He said Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO will make the alliance stronger as we look ahead to a more dangerous decade."

02:38 PM

'It's not for a political party to dictate the terms of an election'

James Mitchell, professor of public policy at Edinburgh University, has said "there's no such thing as a de facto referendum" and pointed out political parties cannot dictate to voters what issues they consider when casting their ballots in a general election.

Nicola Sturgeon has said the next general election will be a "de facto" referendum on Scottish independence if she is unable to proceed with her plan to hold a breakaway ballot in October next year.

Prof Mitchell told ITV Border's Representing Border programme that elections were not "a referendum - a de facto referendum or any other kind of referendum" as voters can choose what issues are important to them when casting their ballots.

Arguing that Ms Sturgeon could not get an independence mandate from a general election, he said: "It doesn't have to be about one issue - it rarely is about one issue. It's not for a political party to dictate the terms of an election."

02:35 PM

David Lammy apologises for opposing BA strikes

David Lammy has reversed his position on opposing British Airways strikes after admitting he was “not across the detail”.

On Sunday, the shadow foreign secretary said that he was “categorical” in his opposition to BA check-in staff going on strike, despite them being represented by the Labour-affiliated Unite union.

This provoked a backlash from the left of the Labour Party and unions, with Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, calling his support for “bad bosses” a “new low” for Sir Keir Starmer’s party, and that it was a “direct attack” on the airline workers.

Mr Lammy has now written to constituents, apologising for his comments, and saying that he had “mistakenly understood” that BA staff were seeking above-inflation pay rises.

You can read the full story here.

02:33 PM

Boris Johnson slaps down British Army chief on troop numbers

Boris Johnson has slapped down the head of the Army after he called for a rethink of a cut to troop numbers.

General Sir Patrick Sanders, the Chief of the General Staff, said it would be “perverse” to cut troops by almost 10,000 at a time Russia had boots on the ground in Eastern Europe.

On Tuesday he argued it was not possible to “cyber your way across a river” and that a future review should focus on the hard power of the military.

You can read the full story here.

02:31 PM

Analysis: Making an independent Scotland an EU member would be a nightmare

James Crisp, The Telegraph's Europe Editor, has taken a look at how difficult it could be for an independent Scotland to join the EU:

Getting Brexit done was a major headache. But taking Scotland out of the UK and into the EU would be the mother of all migraines.

Nicola Sturgeon’s dream of an independent Scotland rejoining the EU would make the problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol look simple in comparison. 

Brussels would insist Scotland treats England as a "third country", which means fresh English sausages, live mussels, and unfrozen lasagne would be banned north of the border.

You can read the full piece here.

01:41 PM

PM holds talks with Turkish President

Boris Johnson has met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the margins of the Nato summit in Madrid.

With Turkey’s strategic location controlling access to the Black Sea, the pair were expected to discuss getting grain shipments out of Ukraine’s blockaded ports.

Asked how he would get the grain out, Mr Johnson said: “We’re working on it.”

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan; US President, Joe Biden, and British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson talk at the Nato summit in Madrid today - Juan Carlos Hidalgo/Shutterstock
Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan; US President, Joe Biden, and British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson talk at the Nato summit in Madrid today - Juan Carlos Hidalgo/Shutterstock

01:36 PM

'Everybody should be able to enjoy arts and culture'

Downing Street has insisted that Boris Johnson wants “everybody” to enjoy arts and culture after Dominic Raab made a jibe at Angela Rayner for attending the opera at Glyndebourne (see the post below at 13.35).

A No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister is clear that everybody should be able to enjoy arts and culture, and other such things across the UK.”

01:35 PM

'Imagine how I feel'

Dominic Raab appeared to wink at Angela Rayner during Prime Minister's Questions earlier today as he accused her of being a "champagne socialist" for attending an opera festival.

Mr Raab winked and then said: "She talks about working people. Where was she when the comrades were on the picket line last Thursday? Where was she when the Labour frontbench were joining them rather than standing up for the public?

“She was at the Glyndebourne music festival sipping champagne, listening to opera. Champagne socialism is back in the Labour Party.”

Ms Rayner has now responded on Twitter:

01:28 PM

'A mess entirely of the Government’s own making'

Labour has backed the extension of steel safeguards but has criticised the way in which the Government has made the decision.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow international trade secretary, told the House of Commons it is "regrettable that resolution of this issue has once again gone to the eleventh hour".

He added: “Quite simply, if there is to be a challenge at the WTO it will be a mess entirely of the Government’s own making… the last-minute rush to extend safeguards in no way makes up for the shortcomings in support for the steel industry from this Government.”

01:16 PM

Boris Johnson 'will attend G20 despite Putin invite'

Boris Johnson has indicated he will attend the G20 summit in Bali later this year even if “pariah” Vladimir Putin is at the event.

Indonesia is hosting the summit in November and the Russian President, as a member of the Group of 20 leading economies, is invited.

Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attend a round table meeting at the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, today - Reuters
Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attend a round table meeting at the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, today - Reuters

The Prime Minister said that boycotting the event in protest at the invitation extended to Mr Putin would hand a “propaganda opportunity” to the Russian leader.

He said the West needed to attend the meeting to help win over nations who might otherwise fall under the influence of Russia or China.

01:13 PM

Steel decision taken 'in the vital public interest'

Anne Marie-Trevelyan, the International Trade Secretary, said the decision to retain steel tariffs has been taken "in the vital public interest" (see the post below at 12.49).

She told the House of Commons: "The Government has a duty to use its democratic mandate to the greatest possible effect to protect the interests of the British people and provide leadership in these challenging times.

"So on balance we have therefore decided that it is in the vital public interest that government acts to protect the steel sector which is why we have taken the steps that we have.

"We believe that this approach is in the public interest and the decision has been taken collectively and with reference to the ministerial code noting the conflict outlined above."

01:02 PM

Steel decision 'departs' from UK's international legal obligations

The Government's decision to keep steel tariffs in place will mean the UK "departs from our international legal obligations", Anne-Marie Trevelyan has told MPs (see the post below at 12.49).

However, she said that "from time to time issues may arise where the national interest requires action to be taken which may be in tension with normal rules or procedures".

Speaking in the House of Commons, Ms Trevelyan said: "The Government wishes to make it clear to Parliament that the decision to extend the safeguards on the five product categories departs from our international legal obligations under the relevant WTO agreement as relates to the five product categories.

"However, from time to time issues may arise where the national interest requires action to be taken which may be in tension with normal rules or procedures.

"The Government has therefore actively engaged with the interested parties including those outside the UK on the future of the UK safeguards and has listed to the concerns raised."

12:51 PM

Pictured: Queen Elizabeth II holds audience with Nicola Sturgeon

Queen Elizabeth II receives First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon during an audience at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh - Jane Barlow/PA
Queen Elizabeth II receives First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon during an audience at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh - Jane Barlow/PA

12:49 PM

UK Government retaining steel tariffs

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the International Trade Secretary, has announced the Government will keep steel tariffs in place for another two years to try to protect the domestic industry.

She told the House of Commons: “The TRA [Trade Remedies Authority] has since completed additional analysis for my consideration. I have now considered their report of findings and concluded there would be serious injury or the threat of serious injury to UK steel producers if the safeguard on the five additional categories of steel were to be removed at this time.

“Given the broader national interest significance of this strategic UK industry and the global disruptions to the energy markets and supply chains that the UK currently faces we have concluded that it is in the economic interest of the UK to maintain these safeguards to reduce the risk of material harm if they were not maintained. “I am therefore extending the measure on the five steel categories for a further two years until the 30th of June 2024 alongside the other 10 categories.

“This means the safeguard will remain in place on all 15 categories, updated from the 1st of July to reflect recent trade flows.”

12:32 PM

SNP claims UK Government is 'scared of democracy'

Ian Blackford said the Tories "don't have the right to block Scottish democracy" as he said the UK Government should not stand in the way of another referendum on independence.

The SNP's leader in Westminster said: "Why is the UK Government scared of democracy? Or is it simply that they have run out of ideas to defend the failing Westminster system?"

Dominic Raab said the SNP has imposed a "huge tax burden" in Scotland, its record on science and maths attainment levels has "dropped below England and Wales" and the country also has the worst drug death rate in Europe.

The Deputy Prime Minister said: "I think the people of Scotland expect their government in Holyrood and in Westminster to work together to tackle the issues facing them in their day to day lives."

12:27 PM

'It is not the right time for another referendum'

Ian Blackford, the SNP's leader in Westminster, said Nicola Sturgeon has "set the date" for a second independence referendum on October 19 next year.

He said: "In the weeks and months ahead we will make the positive case for independence, will the opposition, if they can, make the case for continued Westminster rule?"

Dominic Raab said: "It is not the right time for another referendum given the challenges that we face as one United Kingdom... I think actually the people of Scotland want their two governments to work together and we are keen, willing, enthusiastic, to do so."

12:24 PM

Dominic Raab accuses Angela Rayner of 'auditioning for leadership'

Angela Rayner asked Dominic Raab: "When will the Deputy Prime Minister finally grow a backbone and tell the Prime Minister the game is up?"

Mr Raab said: "I can't help thinking that the right honourable lady is auditioning for the leadership contest on that side, not really referring to anything on this side."

Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, is pictured at PMQs today - BBC
Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, is pictured at PMQs today - BBC

12:20 PM

Angela Rayner claims PM is 'at war' with Ben Wallace

Angela Rayner referred to Tory MPs expressing concerns about Boris Johnson suggesting he wants to serve three terms as PM.

She then claimed Mr Johnson is "at war with his own Defence Secretary" over defence spending. She said that under the current Government there will be "less troops, less planes and less ships".

"The only thing the Prime Minister's interested in is defending his own job," she said.

Mr Raab rejected the criticism and said: "In fact there is a £24 billion increase for our armed forces, spending for the armed forces is rising to 2.3 per cent of GDP, again making us the  largest military spender in Europe and frankly we will take no lessons from the right honourable lady when it comes to the security of this country."

12:14 PM

Dominic Raab attacks Labour over rail strikes stance

Angela Rayner pointed to increasing food bank use and asked Dominic Raab: "How many more working people will be pushed into poverty by his Prime Minister before he says enough is enough?"

Mr Raab would not be drawn on the issue and instead raised last week's rail strikes in his response.

The Deputy Prime Minister said: "If the Labour Party wants to help working people they should be clear on standing up against these militant, reckless strikes by RMT."

12:11 PM

'Call a general election and see where the people are'

Angela Rayner has challenged Dominic Raab and the Tories to call an early general election.

She said: "I'd revel in the opportunity for the people of this country to have more than just by-elections to see what they think of this Government opposite.

"Call a general election and see where the people are."

Mr Raab would not be drawn on the demand.

Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, is pictured during PMQs today - BBC
Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, is pictured during PMQs today - BBC

12:09 PM

Angela Rayner and Dominic Raab clash over tax

Angela Rayner imagined a situation where Boris Johnson is still Prime Minister in 2030. Pointing to the tax rises which have been imposed in recent years, she said that "at this rate the British public will have endured 55 tax rises" by the end of the decade.

She asked Dominic Raab: "How many more tax rises will this Government inflict on families before he says 'enough is enough'?"

Mr Raab rejected the criticism and said the Government is "cutting taxes next month on National Insurance".

12:06 PM

Angela Rayner claims PM has 'fled the country'

Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, started by congratulating the winners of the Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton by-elections - both seats lost by the Tories last week.

Ms Rayner said it is "no wonder the PM has fled the country and left the honourable member to carry the can".

Dominic Raab winks at Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner as he speaks during Prime Minister's Questions - PA
Dominic Raab winks at Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner as he speaks during Prime Minister's Questions - PA

She said that Boris Johnson intends to "limp on" into the 2030s and asked whether the Cabinet intends to "prop him up" for that long.

Mr Raab hit back and said: "I gently point out to her that we want this Prime Minister to go on a lot longer than she wants the leader of the Labour Party to go on..."

12:01 PM

PMQs now underway

Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, is standing in for Boris Johnson at today's edition of Prime Minister's Questions.

Mr Raab will face a grilling from Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader.

11:55 AM

Cabinet minister apologised to MPs for missing hearing

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the International Trade Secretary, pulled out of a select committee appearance on this morning to prepare for an announcement on steel tariffs, a spokesman has said (see the post below at 11.52).

The spokesman for the Department for International Trade said: “The International Trade Secretary is in the process of finalising a finely-balanced decision on the steel safeguard by June 30. This is an issue of national strategic importance and she has had to ensure she is able to review the final advice from the department before updating Parliament today.

“She informed the chair of the International Trade Committee last night, apologised for having to cancel and immediately offered an alternative two-hour slot next week. We await the response from the committee."

Ms Trevelyan is expected to make a statement on the steel safeguards to the House of Commons this afternoon.

11:52 AM

MPs accuse Cabinet minister of 'disrespect'

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the International Trade Secretary, has been accused of showing “disrespect” to MPs after failing to appear before a select committee this morning.

Ms Trevelyan did not attend a meeting of the International Trade Select Committee to discuss the UK's free trade agreement with Australia.

Deciding to “empty chair” Ms Trevelyan, committee chairman Angus Brendan MacNeil said her decision not to attend had provoked “the unanimous disappointment of all the members of the committee”.

He said: “We feel that this is a disrespect to the committee. We are very disappointed.”

11:48 AM

Sir Keir Starmer: Labour rail strike rebels have been 'dealt with'

Sir Keir Starmer told Labour frontbenchers not to join rail strike picket lines last week but a handful defied the instruction.

Sir Keir has now confirmed that the rebels have been spoken to by the Labour chief whip Alan Campbell - but it appears they have only received a slap on the wrist.

Sir Keir Starmer is pictured at the Sanatan Mandir temple in Crawley, West Sussex, today  - Jonathan Brady/PA
Sir Keir Starmer is pictured at the Sanatan Mandir temple in Crawley, West Sussex, today - Jonathan Brady/PA

Asked why they had not been sacked from their frontbench roles, the Labour leader said: "I was very clear that a responsible government gets the negotiating parties around the table and that is why I took the approach that I did.

"The Chief Whip has now dealt with those that didn't follow the advice and that is a perfectly satisfactory outcome."

11:35 AM

'Already the wheels are falling off the clown car'

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said "already the wheels are falling off the clown car" as he responded to John Swinney's comments (see the post below at 11.26).

He said: "First sources close to Nicola Sturgeon suggested she wanted a majority of votes in a future general election to act as a mandate to kick off separation negotiations. Now the Deputy First Minister suggests he wants a majority of Scottish MPs.

“We’re less than 24 hours into the Nationalists' latest cunning wheeze and already the wheels are falling off the clown car."

11:32 AM

'SNP is making it up as it goes along'

Pamela Nash, chief executive of the Scotland in Union campaign group, has responded to John Swinney's comments on what would constitute an SNP victory at the next general election (see the post below at 11.26).

She said: “It took less than 24 hours for Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to plunge into confusion – although she probably wasn’t expecting her top lieutenant to be responsible.

“John Swinney might claim he misheard, but it’s clear that the SNP is making it up as it goes along in a desperate attempt to placate ultra-nationalists. The SNP has given up all pretence of governing."

11:30 AM

Indyref2 case 'might be decided this autumn'

Lord Sumption, a former Supreme Court justice, told BBC Radio Scotland he expected the court would give the referendum case a "high degree of expedition and might be decided this autumn" as "it clearly can't be allowed to drag on for that much longer".

He said: "The Scottish Government's main difficulty is that the constitutional relations of Scotland with the rest of the UK are a reserved matter, which means that the Scottish Parliament has no power to legislate about it."

He predicted Ms Sturgeon would argue it was only a "consultative" referendum that would not in itself change the relationship between Scotland and the UK.

But he cited a recent Supreme Court ruling that the SNP had overstepped its powers by attempting to enshrine treaties on child rights and local government into Scots law.

He said: "The difficulty is that the Supreme Court decided last October that whether a matter was reserved, that meant not simply that the Scottish Parliament couldn't directly legislate upon it, it also meant that they couldn't legislate in a way that was intended to bring pressure upon the UK authorities on a reserved matter.

"I suspect that that will probably be the principal difficulty in the way of Ms Sturgeon's application."

11:26 AM

Confusion over Nicola Sturgeon's Indyref2 plan

Nicola Sturgeon has said she will treat the next general election as a "de facto" referendum on Scottish independence if her actual referendum cannot go ahead next year.

That position has prompted questions about what the SNP would consider a victory. Senior Scottish Government sources briefed the party would have to achieve more than 50 per cent of the popular vote.

But John Swinney, the Scottish Deputy First Minister, suggested this morning that winning a simple majority of Westminster seats - 30 of 59 - would be sufficient to demand talks with Boris Johnson.

Mr Swinney was asked during an interview on the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme if winning a majority of Scottish MPs would give Ms Sturgeon a mandate to start talks with the PM and he said: “That is correct, yes.”

That raised the prospect of the First Minister demanding independence talks despite winning less than 50 per cent of the popular vote.

Mr Swinney subsequently rowed back, tweeting: "When @BBCGaryR asked me about a "majority of seats" this morning on #bbcgms, I only picked up on "majority". Referenda, including de facto referenda at a UK General Election, are won with a majority of votes. Nothing else."

10:28 AM

Pictured: Nato leaders pose for family photograph in Madrid

Boris Johnson and other Nato leaders pose for a family photograph in Madrid, Spain today - Susana Vera/Reuters
Boris Johnson and other Nato leaders pose for a family photograph in Madrid, Spain today - Susana Vera/Reuters

10:04 AM

Ben Wallace: Putin has 'small man syndrome'

Boris Johnson has said Vladimir Putin is an example of “toxic masculinity” and the Russian President would not have invaded Ukraine if he was a woman.

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, was asked this morning if he agreed with Mr Johnson's assessment of Mr Putin.

He told LBC Radio: "I certainly think President Putin's view of himself and the world is a small man syndrome, macho view."

He added: "I also think you rarely hear the phrase small woman syndrome, you always hear small man syndrome, and I think he has certainly got it in spades.

"I think that the real challenge here is the Russian system's view that somehow some states are lesser than others, their rights don't count and if they want to paint themselves into a new history they seem to think the way to do that is through violence and invasion and I think that's something to worry about."

09:19 AM

'Nicola Sturgeon has some brass neck'

Lisa Nandy, Labour's shadow levelling up secretary, has criticised Nicola Sturgeon's new push for another referendum on Scottish independence.

Asked if Labour supported the move, Ms Nandy told Sky News: "No. I think Nicola Sturgeon has some brass neck. She and her friends in the SNP were the ones who said that the independence referendum was a once in a generation chance to settle the question and what she has done in the last 24 hours is nothing to do with the interests of Scotland it is to do with the interest of the SNP.

“She is launching an election bid. There are 700,000 people on waiting lists in Scotland for NHS treatment. If I were in charge in Scotland I would be looking very seriously at how to tackle that crisis. This is the thing that is keeping families in Scotland awake at night and she ought to be focusing on that.”

09:06 AM

Liz Truss warns Beijing against Taiwan 'miscalculation'

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, has warned China that any attempt to invade Taiwan would be a "catastrophic miscalculation”.

Speaking at the Nato summit in Madrid, Ms Truss said Beijing was in danger of making the same mistake that Russian President Vladimir Putin made in Ukraine.

She said that Western allies needed to ensure Taiwan – which China has long claimed – has the means to defend itself from attack.

“I do think that with China extending its influence through economic coercion and building a capable military there is a real risk that they draw the wrong idea that results in a catastrophic miscalculation such as invading Taiwan,” she said.

09:03 AM

PM: Putin 'proved completely wrong' on Nato

Boris Johnson said Vladimir Putin had been “proved completely wrong” in his hopes to reduce Nato dominance as Finland and Sweden moved a step closer to joining the defence alliance.

Arriving at the Nato summit in Madrid, the Prime Minister said: “The first lesson really from today is that if Vladimir Putin was hoping he would be getting less Nato on his western front as a result of his unprovoked, illegal invasion of Ukraine, he’s been proved completely wrong – he’s getting more Nato.

Boris Johnson speaks as he arrives at a Nato summit in Madrid this morning - Nacho Doce/Reuters
Boris Johnson speaks as he arrives at a Nato summit in Madrid this morning - Nacho Doce/Reuters

“This is a historic summit in many ways, but we’ve already got two new members coming in, Finland and Sweden, a huge step forward for our alliance.

“And what we’re going to be doing now is talking about what more we can do as an alliance to support the Ukrainians but what we also need to do to make sure that we think about the lessons of the last few months and the need for Nato to revise its posture on its eastern flank.”

You can read the latest on Finland and Sweden joining Nato here.

08:55 AM

'Stronger mandate' for Indyref2 than there was for Brexit vote

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, has claimed that there is a "stronger mandate" for a second referendum on Scottish independence "than there ever was" for holding a vote on leaving the European Union.

She told Sky News: “This is about democratic choice. It is not up to me whether Scotland becomes independent but it is up to me to fulfil the promise I made to people in Scotland and was elected on to offer people that choice.

“You can quote opinion polls, I can quote opinion polls back at you but what I am actually standing on is the outcome of a democratic election.

“There is a stronger mandate for an independence referendum in the Scottish Parliament than there ever was for a Brexit referendum in the UK Parliament. A majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament support a referendum so if we are a democracy then that should be respected.”

08:48 AM

'Circumstances have changed since 2014'

Nicola Sturgeon has defended her push to hold another referendum on Scottish independence as she said "circumstances" have changed since the first vote in 2014.

Told that the first vote was supposed to be a "once in a generation" event, the SNP leader told Sky News: “In 2014 at the last referendum, now almost a decade ago, those of us arguing for independence, yes, said to people make sure you don’t lose this opportunity, we might never get the chance again.

“But no politician can stand in the way of democracy. Democracy is not a single fixed moment in time.

“People in a democracy have the right to change their minds if circumstances change and nobody can argue that circumstances have not changed since 2014.”

08:43 AM

Pictured: PM holds talks with Australian counterpart

Boris Johnson has held talks with new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the Nato summit in Madrid, Spain.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The leaders agreed on the importance of supporting Ukraine and ensuring Putin’s vainglorious conquest ends in failure. Protecting human rights and territorial sovereignty is in everyone’s interests, and the ramifications of Putin’s action and our response will be felt around the world.

Boris Johnson meets Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain - Reuters
Boris Johnson meets Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain - Reuters

“The Prime Minister and Prime Minister Albanese both welcomed the AUKUS pact, which is promoting stability and security across the Indo-Pacific. They looked forward to working more together to boost prosperity and create jobs in both our countries, including when the UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement comes into force.

“The Prime Minister welcomed Australia’s enhanced climate NDC. The leaders agreed that Australia has incredible potential to be a world-leader in the use of renewables and make the hyper leap away from coal and other fossil fuels. The leaders also agreed on the need to help developing countries grow in a clean and sustainable way.”

08:38 AM

Defence Secretary confirms No 10 made changes to speech

The Telegraph revealed that Downing Street intervened to water down calls for higher defence expenditure from a speech delivered by Ben Wallace yesterday.

Mr Wallace told Times Radio that No 10 had simply wanted to ensure that he did not pre-empt something which Boris Johnson was due to say at the Nato summit in Madrid.

“There were some words in my speech that were taken out because the Prime Minister is going to say them today,” he said.

“I think the centre just wanted to make sure that he said it before the Defence Secretary said it. It is perfectly legitimate. It was his words. There is nothing conspiracy in it, I’m afraid.”

08:29 AM

Ben Wallace criticises 'desperate' Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon is "desperate" to hold another referendum on Scottish independence as soon as possible because "time is running out" as more people realise staying in the United Kingdom is a "better option", Ben Wallace claimed this morning.

Ms Sturgeon yesterday announced she is referring her bid to hold another vote to the Supreme Court and that she hopes to hold the ballot on October 19 next year (you can read the full story here).

Mr Wallace said Ms Sturgeon "hasn’t actually done her job of delivering for the people of Scotland" and continued: “Instead she is desperate, I think, now to have a second referendum even though all the promises, the referendum is a once in a generation, well, there was a referendum it was all pretty much handed over to the Scottish parliament to decide on everything from its wording to its timing.

“They had the referendum, they lost the referendum and instead of then saying ‘ok, hands up, let’s try and see if there is a better way, let’s try and better the people of Scotland’s experience with public services’ she has just banged on on the same one trick pony.

“I think the problem for Nicola is time is running out and I think she knows because for all the sort of spin she put on separation she knows that every day that goes past, every day further away from her referendum zeal or the division that she stoked up the first time around, the people are feeling that belonging to the United Kingdom is probably a better option.”

08:22 AM

Ben Wallace: UK must remain 'leader in the pack'

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said he wants to make sure the UK remains the "leader in the pack" when it comes to meeting the pledge for Nato members to spend at least two per cent of their GDP on defence.

He said: “Overall, we have been the leader, I am determined that we stay the leader in the pack of that defence spend and that is why I am keen we address the post-2024 period.”

08:19 AM

UK military needs 'greater investment' post-2024

Ben Wallace said he is locked in discussions with Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak about what should happen to the defence budget beyond 2024.

The Defence Secretary said if the UK wants to "maintain its leadership role" on the world stage in the future then "we are going to have to see probably greater investment".

He told Sky News: “Post-2024 is really the discussions I have with the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. I feel and I said in a speech yesterday that the security of this country is vital, the work the men and women of our armed forces do is incredibly important.

"We have all basked in their success in helping with Covid, with Afghanistan Op Pitting, and now leading from the front on Ukraine and I think that means that Britain wants to maintain its leadership role post-2024 we are going to have to see probably greater investment.

“We have spent 40 years nearly taking a peace dividend out of the end of the Cold War, sometimes it is important to invest.”

08:16 AM

'In the here and now, absolutely, we have enough money'

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, insisted that at the moment the Minister of Defence's budget is sufficient - he is looking for more money in the middle of the decade.

He told Sky News: "I am the Defence Secretary in a department, all departmental heads will say they want more money, of course.

“In the here and now, absolutely, we have enough money, we have enough money for next year as well. What you discover in government in different departments is despite getting sums you have got to then spend them properly and I have been determined to make sure we are spending our money and getting it out the door.

“I think what you will see across a whole range of government departments is that despite settlements you can’t immediately start building a hospital or immediately start building roads.

“That is no different for defence. So look, for the here and now and for that comprehensive spending review settlement we are absolutely in the right place."

08:13 AM

Ben Wallace piles pressure on PM with fresh call for more defence spending

Boris Johnson will today call on other Nato members to "dig deep” and increase defence spending targets beyond the current level of two per cent of GDP (you can read the full story here).

But his rallying call threatens to be undermined by a domestic row over how much the UK should spend on defence.

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, yesterday publicly called for a funding boost which Mr Johnson is resisting.

Mr Wallace repeated the call this morning, telling Sky News: "I am just really keen that we recognise that my settlement was done before Russia invaded Ukraine.

"Russia is very, very dangerous now on the world stage, the world is less secure than it was two, three years ago and is not looking likely to change for the rest of the decade.

“I think that’s an important moment in the middle of the decade to say we should commit to increase funding.”

08:09 AM

Good morning

Good morning and welcome to today's politics live blog.

The main issue of the day is defence spending with Ben Wallace piling the pressure on Boris Johnson to boost investment in the UK's armed forces as both men attend a crunch Nato summit in Madrid.

Meanwhile, there continues to be fallout from Nicola Sturgeon's announcement yesterday that she has referred her bid to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence to the Supreme Court.

We also have PMQs at noon which will see Dominic Raab face a grilling from Angela Rayner as he stands in for the PM.

There is lots going on and I will guide you through the developments.