Conservative leadership contender Andrea Leadsom has said she would "never say never" to allowing a second Scottish independence referendum, in a significant break with government policy.
The former Leader of the House of Commons said that as a supporter of devolution, she would not want to rule out indyref2, but would "fight against it" and didn't believe a second referendum should be held.
But she said a second independence referendum would be "up for negotiation". Only this morning, in response to comments from Nicola Sturgeon on a visit to Brussels, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said that the 2014 independence referendum was a "once in a generation" event.
Asked at lunch event with Westminster journalists if she would block a formal request from the Scottish Parliament for the powers to hold indyref2 as Prime Minister, she replied: "I think that the Scottish nationalists should actually be spending their time sorting out some of the challenges that there are in Scotland around healthcare, around infrastructure, broadband roll-out and so on, so I think it would be very helpful if they would stop that complete focus on independence at the expense of everything else.
"But in reality all of these things would be up for negotiation. I do believe in sovereignty. I do not think that Scotland should have another independence referendum right now. I don’t think most people in Scotland would want that to happen. But I would never say never."
Pressed on the circumstances under which she would allow a second independence vote, Ms Leadsom added: "The reason I say never say never is because I do not think that there should be another independence referendum in Scotland, I do not think it’s in their interests, but on the other hand I am a big believer in devolution.
“So what I just want to say is I’m not going to stand here and utterly rule it out because I think that is disrespectful, but I would very strongly fight against a second referendum which I don’t think is in the interests of Scotland and it’s definitely not in the interests of the United Kingdom.”
Scottish Conservative MPs reacted with disbelief at Ms Leadsom's comments. Borders MP John Lamont posted on twitter: "We should be standing up to Nicola Sturgeon's grandstanding, not giving in to SNP demands to hold another divisive indyref".