New prime minister Boris Johnson is travelling to Scotland today as part of an effort to “strengthen the union” of the UK, amid suggestions he could become the last prime minister of the United Kingdom in its current form if he allows a no-deal Brexit to happen.
He is set to announce £300 million of funding for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but some have questioned whether this is a new pledge, or simply “recycled finance”.
Renewing ‘the ties that bind'
Less than a week after winning his party's leadership contest by taking two-thirds of the Tory membership vote, Mr Johnson's first visit to Scotland as prime minister will include a stop at a military base and a meeting with Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, who has expressed her opposition to a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Johnson has said it is essential Britain leaves the European Union by October 31st, with or without a withdrawal agreement in place.
The plan being announced today will see money put towards deals in Falkirk, the Islands and Argyll and Bute in Scotland, with further funding being made available for parts of Wales and Northern Ireland.
Speaking ahead of his visit, the prime minister said the UK is “the most successful political and economic union in history”.
“So as we prepare for our bright future after Brexit, it's vital we renew the ties that bind our United Kingdom,” he added.
“I'm proud to be in Scotland today to make clear that I am a passionate believer in our great union, and I look forward to visiting Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure that every decision I make as prime minister promotes and strengthens our union.”
‘Fiddling while Rome burns'
Mr Johnson could face a less than warm reception in Scotland, with some suggesting the money he is promising was already under negotiation and in the pipeline before he became prime minister.
The Scottish finance secretary, the SNP's Derek Mackay, said: “It's really recycled finance which is a totally unimpressive announcement from a prime minister that wants to reset a relationship with Scotland.”
A spokesman for Mr Mackay likened Mr Johnson's £300 million spending pledge to “fiddling while Rome burns”, since the UK is currently facing the risk of a no-deal Brexit, which analysts have warned could push the country into recession and cost thousands of jobs.
The no-deal threat
The government has acknowledged that a no-deal Brexit is now a “very real prospect”. Writing in the Sunday Times, Michael Gove, who has been given the responsibility of preparing for no-deal, said he still hoped to reach a withdrawal agreement with Brussels, but was “working on the assumption” that Britain will leave the EU without one on October 31st.
Ms Davidson has said Mr Johnson has her “full support” in his efforts to reach a new deal with the EU, but she cannot sanction a no-deal Brexit.
“When I was debating against the pro-Brexit side in 2016, I don't remember anybody saying we should crash out of the EU with no arrangements in place to help maintain the vital trade that flows uninterrupted between Britain and the European Union,” she wrote in the Scottish Mail on Sunday.
The SNP has warned Mr Johnson he could become the “last prime minister of the UK”, since his willingness to accept a no-deal Brexit is likely to result in a stronger push towards independence for Scotland.
Meanwhile, a report from the Confederation of British Industry, the UK's biggest business group, has warned that neither Britain nor the EU are ready for no-deal. It put forward a total of 200 recommendations to help businesses accelerate their planning and mitigate the risks posed by the prospect.
Ongoing Brexit-related uncertainty led to the pound taking another hit today, with sterling falling to a 28-month low on currency markets.