Tory leadership contender claims flying Union Jack could prevent independence

Matt Hancock. Picture: Getty
Matt Hancock. Picture: Getty
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A Tory MP bidding to replace Theresa May as prime minister has claimed that flying British flags could help protect the Union.

Health minister Matt Hancock also sparked controversy with a disputed claim that he had mandated the flying of the union flag at Edinburgh Festival events.

Setting out his pitch as a pro-union candidate, he told the BBC: "I want to see the UK government doing more to explain the value of the Union - symbols are important, as is the hard policy of improving people's lives."

Mr Hancock - who is publicly supported by two Scottish Tory MPs - also claimed that his greatest achievement when Culture Secretary was "making sure we got Union Jacks at the Edinburgh Festival," an account disputed by the organisers.

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop responded: "One, he didn't. Two, it would be completely wrong for the UK government, or indeed any government, including the Scottish government, to try and hijack [and] appropriate independent arts festivals."

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A spokesman for the Edinburgh International Festival told The Times: "We don't believe that Mr Hancock's comments relate specifically to any International Festival initiative."

Mr Hancock, considered a rank outsider in the race with odds as high as 66/1, also stirred more anger by labelling Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn an 'antisemite'.

He Tory members must choose the right replacement for Theresa May or risk "ending up with the first antisemitic leader of a Western nation" since World War Two.