Rishi Sunak vows to ‘fight hard’ to stop Humza Yousaf breaking up UK

SNP leadership election result is announced

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Rishi Sunak vowed to fight hard “everyday” to stop Scotland’s new First Minister Humza Yousaf breaking up the UK. The Prime Minister will block the SNP leader when he makes an immediate bid for a re-run independence referendum.

Mr Sunak said that while the nationalists “will do their thing”, he will battle to protect the “precious” union.

“I am very clear that I passionately believe in our union… I care about our union, I think it is very precious,” he said.

“When my grandparents emigrated to this country they didn’t come to England, they came to the United Kingdom and that is because the UK represented a really powerful set of values and ultimately it is those values that bind us all together. It is not geography.

“That idea that inspired my grandparents to emigrate here, the idea of what the United Kingdom stood for, what we were all about as a society, as a community, that is powerful, it is inspiring and I will fight very hard to protect it everyday that I am in this job.”

The Daily Express is crusading to Unite the Kingdom after strains caused by the rise of nationalism north of the border.

Mr Yousaf, who was chosen by SNP members to succeed Nicola Sturgeon, said a formal application for fresh poll will be made “right away”.

He wants powers under Section 30 of the Scotland Act to allow the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a referendum on independence.

Downing Street insisted its position of refusing the attempt to trigger another vote is “well established”.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said the government is instead focused on the “issues that matter”, such as the cost of living crisis.

Ms Sturgeon’s successor was elected following a “bruising” leadership contest that saw bitter clashes with rival Kate Forbes.

Mr Yousaf failed to win a majority in the first round of voting, but won 52.1 per cent of the votes after second preference votes from Ash Regan, who came third, were redistributed.

He becomes Scotland’s sixth and youngest first minister and its only Muslim leader.

Mr Yousaf pledged to “dedicate every waking moment” to serving the people of Scotland.

He added: “There will be no empty promises, or easy soundbites when the issues in front of us are difficult and complex, because Government is not easy and I won’t pretend it is.”

Mr Yousaf, a key ally of Ms Sturgeon, has also promised to try and revive her failed gender reform legislation after the Prime Minister blocked it.

During the campaign, he vowed to challenge the decision if legal advice says he has a winnable case.

The Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which would have made it easier for people to legally change genders, has been blamed for fuelling the 30,000 strong exodus of SNP members over the last year.

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Ms Sturgeon said: “I pay tribute to all three candidates for the SNP leadership for rising to the challenge.

“Most of all I congratulate Humza Yousaf and wish him every success. He will be an outstanding leader and First Minister and I could not be prouder to have him succeed me.”

Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond told the new leader that “continuity won’t cut it”.

He said that opponents Ms Regan and Ms Forbes “fought brave campaigns against the full force of the SNP establishment” and given they received over half the votes “the new leader would do well to listen to what they had to say in the campaign”.

“Continuity won’t cut it. It’s time to hold Westminster’s feet to the fire.”

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross said Mr Yousaf’s election as leader shows that the SNP are moving further and further away from the real priorities of the Scottish people to “obsess over independence”.

He said: “I congratulate Humza Yousaf on his election, and on becoming the first leader of his party from an ethnic minority.

“We encourage him to govern for all of Scotland and abandon his divisive plans to push independence relentlessly as the self-styled ‘First Activist’.

“As the main opposition party, we will hold Humza Yousaf to account when he lets the Scottish people down.

“Unfortunately, we have serious concerns about his ability. For the good of Scotland, we hope he does not lurch from failure to failure as he did when he was Nicola Sturgeon’s health secretary, justice secretary and transport minister.”

Communities Secretary Michael Gove congratulated Mr Yousaf on being elected SNP leader and joked the 52 per cent -48 per cent result, the same result as the Brexit referendum, means “there is no need for another vote”.

After claims that 7,000council jobs in Scotland are under threat from SNP cuts to local government, Mr Gove said: “There are excellent SNP councillors in Scotland but they are being let down by the Scottish Government … in contrast to here in England where we’re working in partnership with local government to devolve more powers to the front line.”

He added: “I’m afraid that local government in Scotland has been let down by the SNP. It was a key feature of Kate Forbes’ leadership race that she said that more powers should be devolved within Scotland. I hope the new first minister will take note.”

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