Boris Johnson has shaken up his team aimed at keeping the Union together, replacing a former Scottish MP with a veteran of the Vote Leave Brexit campaign.
Number 10 said the Prime Minister believes himself to be the “voice of the majority” in Scotland who rejected independence and Downing Street’s Union unit will support him in his efforts to keep the UK together.
But in a sign of his concerns just three months before Holyrood elections where calls for a second independence referendum will be the dominant issue, former Scottish MP Luke Graham has been replaced at the head of the No 10 Union unit by Oliver Lewis.
The Scottish National Party claimed the move was a “Vote Leave takeover” which would drive up support for independence.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman confirmed Mr Graham has “left his No 10 position” just two days after Mr Johnson’s press secretary Allegra Stratton said he was a “very valued member of staff”.
Mr Graham’s exit comes amid concern in government about support for the SNP and the prospect of a push for another referendum.
“The No 10 Union unit will continue to support the Prime Minister in his capacity as the Minister for the Union,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
“We don’t comment on details of personnel matters but the Union is an incredibly important focus of the Prime Minister and the No 10 Union unit will continue to support him on that.”
Asked whether No 10 was now on a war footing ahead of a battle with Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP, the spokesman said: “As the Prime Minister has said himself, he thinks all parts of the Union are stronger together and he will be and continue to be the voice of the majority of the Scottish people who voted to keep the UK together.
“He will always stand against those trying to separate the UK which is why it remains an important focus.”
The departure of former Ochil and South Perthshire MP Mr Graham and the installation of Mr Lewis has fuelled claims that Mr Johnson does not understand the situation in Scotland.
But allies pointed out there were still Scottish people involved in work on the Union, not least Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove.
The SNP’s deputy Westminster leader Kirsten Oswald said: “The Vote Leave takeover of Boris Johnson’s taxpayer-funded anti-independence campaign has spectacularly backfired – and will drive up support for independence even further.
“By installing Dominic Cummings’ Brexit apprentice as head of the so-called ‘Union unit’, the Prime Minister is demonstrating, yet again, that he is completely clueless about Scotland.”