Leading Tories back Gordon Brown’s plan to save the UK

Former prime minister Gordon Brown - Jane Barlow/PA
Former prime minister Gordon Brown - Jane Barlow/PA

Leading Tories have backed Gordon Brown’s plan to save the UK, after the SNP told Boris Johnson that a new referendum would happen on Nicola Sturgeon’s timetable.

William Hague, the former Conservative leader, said that Mr Brown’s proposal for a permanent forum to hand the UK nations and regions more influence “merits serious consideration”. Andy Street, the West Midlands mayor, also backed the idea.

The former Labour Prime Minister this week launched a new campaign to persuade “middle Scotland” to stick with the UK and declared he is not afraid of a new referendum, following the SNP’s landslide election win. He believes "patriotic" Scots, who are neither nationalists or committed unionists, will decide the future of the country and can be persuaded to reject separation.

The UK Government does not plan to allow a new referendum to take place, but Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, dodged questions over whether Tory ministers would seek to block a new vote organised by Holyrood in the Supreme Court.

Mr Brown believes a new body should be set up which would see the Prime Minister, UK First Ministers and regional mayors collaborate on key priority areas for Britain.

“The Prime Minister may be stalling but support for change is growing,” Mr Brown, who welcomed support from the two Conservatives, said. “That forum, if made permanent, could be a first step to a new constitutional settlement for the UK.”

In the Commons on Tuesday, Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said there was a clear mandate for a new referendum. He added: "It's the people of Scotland and our Parliament that will determine when that independence referendum will take place."

He told Mr Johnson: "The Prime Minister needs to reflect on this reality. A fight with democracy is a fight he will never, not ever, win."

The SNP won 64 of Holyrood’s 129 seats last week – one short of a majority – although eight pro-independence Scottish Green MSPs were also elected.

Ms Sturgeon plans to seek permission for a new vote from Westminster, once the Covid crisis has passed, but has made clear she will attempt to run her own referendum if the UK refuses to agree.

Mr Johnson told the Commons that the Union has "seldom proved its worth more emphatically" than during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: "Everything we do will be done as one United Kingdom, combining the genius of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

"The United Kingdom – the fifth biggest economy in the world – had the power to invest over £407 billion to protect jobs and livelihoods and businesses everywhere in these islands, including one in three jobs in Scotland safeguarded by the combined resources of Her Majesty's Treasury under the Chancellor."