Nicola Sturgeon accuses Boris Johnson of lacking guts as he dodges protesters

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NICOLA Sturgeon has accused Boris Johnson of lacking the “guts” to meet voters in Scotland after he snuck out the back door of her official residence and avoided protesters.

The First Minister also revealed she challenged the new Prime Minister to a live TV debate on independence after the pair had a “very robust” discussion behind closed doors.

Mr Johnson was booed by crowds as he arrived at Bute House in Edinburgh during his first trip north of the Border since securing the keys to Number 10.

Speaking to journalists after talks which lasted almost an hour, Ms Sturgeon said the Prime Minister had “set the UK on an almost inevitable path to a no-deal Brexit”.

She said: “Behind all of the bluff and bluster, this is a government that is dangerous. I think the path that it is pursuing is a dangerous one for Scotland and for all of the UK.

“He says publicly – and he said it to me again today – that he wants a deal with the EU, but there is no clarity whatsoever about how he thinks he can get from the position now where he’s taking a very hard line…to a deal.

“If I listen to all of that and listen to what’s not being said as well as what is being said, I think that this is a Government that is pursuing a no-deal strategy, however much they may deny that in public.”

She added: “If he was in this room he would deny this vehemently, but I think he wants a no-deal Brexit.”

 Johnson appears unsure of number of Scottish independence votes

Earlier, Mr Johnson visited Faslane naval base near Glasgow, where he insisted he will “reach out” to Brussels to secure “profound” changes to the Brexit deal struck by Theresa May.

However, a Number 10 spokesman indicated the Prime Minister would refuse to sit down with EU leaders until they agreed to scrap the Irish backstop.

Ms Sturgeon said her party and government would do everything they could to “thwart” a no-deal outcome.

She said the Scottish Government’s preparations will ramp up as the October 31 Brexit deadline approaches, but warned it is impossible to completely mitigate against such an outcome.

The First Minister also took aim at Mr Johnson after a visit to Scotland which saw him shuttled between a military base, the Scottish Parliament and Bute House.

She said: “I’m slightly surprised that he didn’t have the chutzpah or the guts to actually go and meet people in Scotland.”

Asked whether the two had discussed independence, she said there was a “very lively exchange of views”.

She added: “At one point I suggested to him we didn’t have that debate in Bute House – [that]we took that debate out to the public and let the public decide.

“I even suggested we might debate it live on television – at which point his adviser said it was probably time that he left.”

Around 200 people gathered outside Bute House ahead of the meeting, with some holding placards and flags.

Mr Johnson was met with a chorus of boos as he walked up the steps to shake hands with Ms Sturgeon, and later left by the Georgian townhouse’s back door.

Ms Sturgeon told reporters she could not remember either David Cameron or Theresa May doing this.

She said: “To be clear about this, it was not me or the Scottish Government or anybody in Bute House who said he had to leave by the back door.

“But people have a right to protest peacefully. I briefly was on the doorstep and saw the crowds there. I heard them making their presence heard.”

During his visit to Faslane, Mr Johnson was asked why he was “so deeply unpopular in Scotland”, with a -45 point approval rating.

 Analyis: No-deal Brexit split is forcing Scottish Conservatives to take sides

Blaming the SNP for whipping up ill-will towards him, he said: “I think that there is a campaign to destroy the Union and it is represented by the Scottish Nationalist Party [sic].

“I think that my ambitions to take the UK out of the EU whole and entire and perfect clearly contradict the ambitions of the SNP, and I think that their policies are entirely nonsensical.”

Asked why he had visited a secure military site on his last two trips to Scotland, yet posed for selfies in the street in Birmingham last week, he said he was too busy to meet voters on the streets of Scotland on this occasion.

Boris in Scotland

  • Analyis: No-deal Brexit split is forcing Scottish Conservatives to take sides
  • Watch: Boris Johnson booed as he meets Nicola Sturgeon at Bute House
  • Johnson appears unsure of number of Scottish independence votes
  • PM tries to heal Brexit rift with “fantastic” Ruth Davidson
  • Johnson sees ‘no reason’ for Scotland holding second independence vote
  • Sturgeon tells Johnson: Brexit offers ‘no democracy’ for Scotland
  • Johnson pledges to strengthen Union as he prepares for clash with Ruth Davidson

“Unfortunately I’ve got a very heavy timetable, and I’ve got to go and meet Ruth and Nicola Sturgeon and various other people, and my commitments are very heavy,” he said.

Speaking after the meeting with Ms Sturgeon, a Number 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister said he was a passionate believer in the power of the Union and he would work tirelessly to strengthen the United Kingdom and improve the lives of people right across Scotland.

“On Brexit, the Prime Minister said that while the government’s preference is to negotiate a new deal which abolishes the anti-democratic backstop, the UK will be leaving the EU on October 31 come what may.”

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