Speaking after the SNP claimed a new mandate for a vote on Scotland’s future, despite falling just short of an overall majority at Holyrood, the Cabinet Office minister said it was a “massive distraction” to talk about future disputes.
It comes as Boris Johnson heads for a constitutional clash with Nicola Sturgeon, who cemented her place once again as first minister of Scotland in the election, which could result in a Supreme Court showdown.
Pressed on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday whether the UK government would look to block legislation from the Scottish Parliament pushing for a second referendum, Mr Gove insisted: “No, what’re working on doing at the moment is working together to deal with all the challenges that we face across the whole United Kingdom.”
“If we get sucked into a conversation about referenda and constitutions then we are diverting attention from the issues that are most important to the people in Scotland and across the United Kingdom,” he added.
Quizzed again, the senior minister went on: “To my mind, I’ll put it gently, a slightly skewed set of priorities to imagine that that is the most important issue.
“Nicola Sturgeon to her credit said that the most important thing was making sure we dealt with this pandemic and that’s what we’re laser focused on.”
Asked a third time, Mr Gove added: “No, we’re not even going there at the moment. What we’re concentrating on is making sure we work on recovery.
“We’re not going to go there,” he said. “To go down this route, to start speculating about this type of legislation, or that type of court hearing and all the rest of it, is just a massive distraction.”
Speaking after Mr Gove’s comments, the Scottish first minister said it would be “absurd and completely outrageous” if the UK government went to court in an attempt to block a second referendum.
“It would mean a Conservative government had refused to respect the democratic wishes of the Scottish people and the outcome of a democratic election and tried to go to the Supreme Court to overturn Scottish democracy,” Ms Sturgeon told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
With all results declared north of the border, the SNP had increased its representation at Holyrood by a single MSP — to 64 — one less than the 65 needed for an overall majority.
Alongside eight MSPs from the Scottish Greens, who also committed in their manifesto to a referendum, Ms Sturgeon insisted the results clearly demonstrated that a fresh vote is “the will of the country”.
Under Article 30 of the Scotland Act, the first minister must seek authorisation from the UK prime minister for a referendum, something which Mr Johnson is likely to withhold.
But she has pledged to “proceed with the legislation that is necessary”, warning that if it is passed by the Scottish parliament, the PM would need to go to the Supreme Court to stop it.