UK's Johnson allegedly brands powers for Scotland a disaster

FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2020 file photo Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reaches out during a virtual press conference on the coronavirus pandemic at 10 Downing Street in central London. Johnson is self-isolating after being told he came into contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said Sunday Nov. 15. "He will carry on working from Downing Street, including on leading the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic," a statement from his office said. (Tolga Akmen / Pool via AP, File)

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has inflamed Scottish discontent with his Conservative government by reportedly saying that giving governing powers to Scotland had been a “disaster.”

British media reported that Johnson made the remarks during a video meeting with Conservative Party lawmakers on Monday evening, in which he also said Scottish devolution had been former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “biggest mistake.”

Scotland has an Edinburgh-based government and parliament, set up in 1999, with broad powers in areas including health and education. Wales and Northern Ireland also have their own legislatures and regional administrations.

Johnson’s office did not deny he made the comments. But it said he was not criticizing devolution, only its use “by separatists and nationalists to break up the U.K.”

The Scottish National Party, which wants Scotland to become an independent country, leads the government in Edinburgh. It is strongly critical of the U.K.’s Conservative government over the decision to leave the European Union. Brexit was championed by Johnson and supported by a narrow majority of U.K. voters in a 2016 referendum, but strongly opposed in Scotland.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has also been critical of Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Britain has seen more than 52,000 deaths from the virus, the highest toll in Europe.

Scotland voted to remain in the U.K. in a 2014 independence referendum that was billed as a once-in-a-generation event. But the SNP claims Brexit has fundamentally changed the situation by dragging Scotland out of the EU against its will, and is pushing for a new independence vote. Recent opinion polls suggest a majority of Scots now favor independence.

Sturgeon tweeted that Johnson’s remarks showed his government was “a threat to the powers of the Scottish Parliament.”

“The only way to protect & strengthen @ScotParl is with independence,” she said.