Nicola Sturgeon will continue to talk about Scottish independence on overseas visits despite reports the Foreign Office could withdraw official support for such trips.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK Government was “not going to offer support to Nicola Sturgeon if she goes abroad to drum up support for independence”.
The comments came as Mr Hunt is battling former London mayor Boris Johnson to become the UK’s next prime minister.
A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon made clear: “The First Minister is not going to be prevented from saying what she thinks in terms of Scotland’s future.
“That is the essence of being a democratically elected leader, you are able to chart a course for the country and say how you think it should be governed, that’s part of the job.”
He hit out after Mr Hunt told the Daily Mail: “It had come to my notice that there were trips that the Foreign Office was facilitating that were being used to give a platform for independence.
“So we are not going to offer support to Nicola Sturgeon if she goes abroad to drum up support for independence and that is exactly why I am the prime minister that she least wants because she knows I won’t allow our union to be broken up.”
Normally, ministers from the Scottish Government or other devolved administrations can get help from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with travel, setting up meetings or using facilities such as the British embassy network.
In future, it has been suggested this will only happen when Scottish ministers are making trips relating “to areas for which they have a devolved responsibility” and if they “avoid supporting activities intended to campaign for policies contrary to (the UK) Government’s position”.
Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman said the First Minister had “simply restated the long-standing position” of the Scottish Government on overseas visits.
He added it would be “naive to think” Mr Hunt’s comments had “nothing to do with the Tory leadership race”.
The spokesman said: “Whatever happens it is not going to stop the First Minister of the Scottish Government representing Scotland internationally – that is part of the job and that part of the job will continue regardless.
“Let’s wait and see how real this actually is.
“Jeremy Hunt is in the middle of a leadership campaign against Boris Johnson so this would appear to relate to that.”
He added: “Jeremy Hunt is making our argument for us.
“It is quite an extraordinary state of affairs for a would-be Tory prime minister who espouses the supposed values of the union to actively suggest that Scotland should not have the same level of representation as the rest of the UK.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have not been notified of any change in policy by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the established practices which have now been in place for 20 years.
“We continue to operate as normal.”