Westminster will not block a second Scottish independence referendum if it is the ‘settled will’ of voters, Michael Gove has said.
The Cabinet Office minister insisted a vote ‘will occur’ if the public are in favour of it.
But Mr Gove said he believes it is not the right time to ask the question again – and suggested voters agree.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in May that it would be ‘absurd and completely outrageous’ for Number 10 to stand in the way of a second referendum.
Mr Gove responded by urging the Scottish National Party leader to ‘concentrate on recovery’ from the coronavirus pandemic.
But he told today’s Sunday Mail: ‘The principle that the people of Scotland, in the right circumstances, can ask that question again is there.
‘I just don’t think that it is right, and the public don’t think it is right, to ask that question at the moment.
‘If it is the case that there is clearly a settled will in favour of a referendum, then one will occur.’
Boris Johnson has repeatedly rejected calls for a second Scottish independence vote – hailing the UK as a ‘fantastically strong institution’.
Following six months of consistent polling in favour of independence – with one showing 58% backing separation from the UK – support is said to have been declining since 2021.
A recent survey by Panelbase Sunday Times found 48% of 1,287 respondents were behind Scotland leaving Britain.
SNP Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said he believed the election in May to be an indication that the ‘settled will’ of Scotland is pro-independence.
The party missed out on a majority in Holyrood by just one seat and is now in talks with the Scottish Greens over a potential alliance.
And Mr Blackford warned Number 10 not to send the message that Scotland’s opinion ‘does not matter’.
He said: ‘It should not be news that the Tories are finally waking up to the fact that the people of Scotland have expressed their democratic wishes in an election that they want their future to be put into their hands.
‘The fundamental point Michael Gove missed is that the people of Scotland have spoken and expressed their settled will that they want to hold a referendum when they elected a majority of independence-supporting MSPs to the Scottish Parliament just over two months ago.
‘If Boris Johnson continues to ignore the mandate given by the people of Scotland to hold a referendum then he will continue to tell the people of Scotland that their opinion does not matter.
‘That will only push support for independence up.’
Mr Gove also vowed not to run for a third time for the Conservative leadership – having failed to secure the top job in 2016 and 2019.
‘Historically, people who have run to be prime minister in the Tory Party and don’t make it don’t subsequently make it,’ he added.
‘I’ve had two goes and got bronze both times. I don’t think I’ll get the gold medal and I have to recognise that.
‘I think Boris will be Prime Minister for a good while yet and there is a crop of younger people coming up who would be much better equipped than me.
‘I won’t spoil their future by naming them but there comes a point where you have to recognise you’ve had your shot.’
Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected]
For more stories like this, check our news page.