Boris Johnson replaces Downing Street's Union unit

Boris Johnson poses for a 2019 photograph in front of a Union flag

Boris Johnson poses for a 2019 photograph in front of a Union flag - Credit: Getty Images

Boris Johnson has launched a new union strategy committee which has been described as a "step up" from the government's union unit that it replaces.

The committee was set up after Oliver Lewis left his position as the head of Downing Street’s Union unit last week.

Lewis, a veteran of the Vote Leave campaign, had been in the job for less than a fortnight and had replaced former Scottish MP Luke Graham.

The new ministerial cabinet committee will include the prime minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Scotland secretary Alister Jack said the new committee was “good news” for the Union.

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He told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “It’s very good news that that level of focus on strengthening the United Kingdom is at that high level of government.”

Asked what had “gone wrong” with the Union unit, after the departures earlier this month, he said: “The union unit has been replaced … by a cabinet committee chaired by the prime minister and members include the territorial secretaries of state and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

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“It is a step up. Covid is beginning to come to an end hopefully with the vaccine programme, Brexit is now in the rearview mirror, we’ve decided focusing on our levelling-up agenda across the whole of the United Kingdom is very important to us.

“It’s absolutely the right thing to do, the prime minister wants to build back better, he wants to strengthen the United Kingdom and this cabinet committee will be doing that.”

A Downing Street spokesman rejected the suggestion the creation of the new unit was a sign of “confusion and panic around the Union”.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “No, I think it demonstrates our commitment to the Union and the focus the PM has on ensuring that we deliver for all countries of the United Kingdom.”

The spokesman said that No 10 officials would continue to work in the Union unit but the new Union strategy committee would build on existing structures.

Scotland Office minister Iain Stewart was also asked about the new committee when he appeared at a Westminster committee.

He said: “I know these staff changes excite a lot of political commentators but the government’s commitment and priority for the Union is undiminished and unchanged.

“The prime minister is the minister of the Union.”

The SNP said it showed the UK government’s stance on Scottish independence had become “shambolic”.

SNP MP Kirsten Oswald said: “This is utterly humiliating for Boris Johnson.

“The only thing his failed Union unit has delivered has been a sacking, a resignation and now its reported collapse within a matter of weeks.

“The entire shambolic episode is the perfect analogy for the Tory government’s undemocratic anti-independence stance – crumbling under the first sign of any pressure.

“The reality is that no amount of rebranding or merging can take away from the fact the Tories’ are in turmoil and their anti-independence campaign in disarray.”

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