Senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove has said he “can’t see” Boris Johnson granting a new referendum on Scottish independence before the next general election.
Gove – who is responsible for countering the push for independence – said the Prime Minister’s focus was completely focused on recovery from the pandemic “for the lifetime of this parliament”.
His comments appear to go further than other ministers who have said that this is the wrong time for another referendum.
Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, the next general election is not due until May 2024 – although Johnson is committed to repealing the act which could allow him to go to the country before then.
Asked in an interview with The Daily Telegraph whether there was “any circumstance” in which Johnson would approve a referendum before a May 2024 election, Gove said: “I don’t think so.”
Asked whether his position was that “there will be no referendum before the 2024 election”, he replied: “I can’t see it.”
After pro-independence parties won a majority in the elections to the Scottish Parliament in May, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was “a matter of when, not if” there would be a second referendum.
Gove’s intervention may heighten the chances that the SNP could try to hold a unilateral referendum without the approval of Westminster, which would almost certainly result in a legal battle through the courts.
Gove however insisted that it was “foolish” to talk about a referendum at a time when the country was still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Prime Minister is completely focused on making sure that, for the lifetime of this parliament, we increase economic opportunity, we provide people with the chance to make more of their lives, take control of their futures. And that’s quite rightly what the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom’s focus should be,” he said.
“It seems to me to be at best reckless, at worst folly, to try to move the conversation on to constitutional division when people expect us to be working together in order to deal with these challenges.”