Jeremy Hunt insisted he is the PM Nicola Sturgeon ‘fears most’ today – as he took his campaign to Scotland.
The Foreign Secretary gamely drank a can of Irn Bru, scoffed chips and inspected freshly-caught fish on a visit to Peterhead in Aberdeenshire.
The photo opportunities came as Mr Hunt scented an opportunity to gain ground on his rival Boris Johnson, who was recorded having a major bust-up with his girlfriend on Friday that resulted in the police being called.
Mr Hunt today swiped that Mr Johnson – who bluntly refused to answer questions on the episode at hustings yesterday – was dodging scrutiny.
And he painted himself as the leader who could hold the union together – saying he would prioritise that over securing Brexit ‘every time’.
Jeremy Hunt gamely drank a can of Irn Bru – known as Scotland’s national drink – and scoffed chips on a visit to Peterhead in Aberdeenshire today
Mr Hunt toured the Westro, a fishing boat owned and skippered by James West, 42, (pictured left) who told the MP he had had enough of referendums
‘I’m the prime minister Nicola Sturgeon least wants, and for a very simple reason – I believe in the Union with every fibre of my being and I will never allow the Union to be broken up as prime minister,’ Mr Hunt told reporters.
‘Unlike Nicola Sturgeon, I’m on the side of the Scottish people who say they don’t want another divisive referendum, they want their SNP government to focus on health and education and things that matter to ordinary Scottish families, not things that divide them.
‘An independence referendum is not what the people of Scotland want and I listen to the people of Scotland.’
Mr Hunt added: ‘Talking to the skipper of the ship I’ve just been round – he wants to get on and grow his business and not be sucked back into all that bitter division.
‘I think it’s time that Nicola Sturgeon did what the people of Scotland want, which is to focus on health and education and all the things she was elected to deliver.’
A poll today suggested that Mr Johnson becoming PM would make Scots more likely to vote for independence. Miss Sturgeon goated in an interview that the front runner would be a ‘disaster’ for the Tories, saying she believed Scotland splitting from the UK was more likely than ever.
Mr Hunt toured the Westro, a fishing boat owned and skippered by James West, 42, who told the MP he had had enough of referendums.
As the pair ate haddock and chips together, Mr Hunt asked the captain what he wanted in a prime minister and Mr West replied ‘someone who’ll just get on with it’.
Mr Hunt was later due to meet local people in Aberdeen, and pay a visit to his 99-year-old great aunt Betty.
Asked about a recent poll which suggested a majority of Conservative party members wanted Brexit even if it meant Scotland gaining independence, Mr Hunt replied: ‘I don’t actually believe that polling.
‘Conservative party members I know are absolutely passionate about our precious Union.
‘What they are is incredibly frustrated that we have haven’t delivered Brexit, and I think that polling reflects the fact that people are just angry it’s taken so long.’
Asked if he would choose Brexit or the Union, he said: ‘The Union every time.’
Mr Hunt sipped on a can of Irn Bru – known as Scotland’s other national drink – during his visit, which he described as ‘very pleasant’.
Asked if he could taste the difference with the new recipe that was recently introduced, he joked: ‘I’m not a regular Irn Bru drinker and so I’m sure I’d fail a test.’
Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong and Jimmy Buchan, of the Scottish Seafood Association, which represents fish processors, met Mr Hunt for around 20 minutes on Sunday.
Mr Hunt tentatively grabbed a freshly-caught fish in Peterhead market during his visit today
Mr Hunt also had a go on the boat’s communications equipment as he stepped up his Tory leadership campaign
Speaking about the fishing industry’s prospects outside the EU and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), Mr Hunt said: ‘We will be able to negotiate quotas on an annual basis and we’ll get a better deal than under the CFP, because under the CFP we only get to keep 40 per cent of our catch, whereas independent states like Norway get 85 per cent, Iceland gets 95 per cent.
‘We can get a better deal for the UK – that’s what’s going to be different.’
He added: ‘The most important thing for people in Peterhead is to get a deal that means we leave the EU as quickly as possible.
‘Send the wrong person to Brussels, there will be no negotiations, no deal and if we end up tripping into a general election, no Brexit.
‘And that would be a disaster for the fishing industry, because leaving the EU is the biggest opportunity for the fishing industry in 40 years.’
Mr Buchan said: ‘He obviously wants to get a deal in place and he’s come here with an open mind and is engaging with us.
‘I think it’s brilliant that we’ve got a potential prime minister who’s coming right into the heartland to see things first hand.
‘If Mr Johnson wants to come up here he will be treated equally as well. Because this is really important – it’s about getting the right person in that can break this deadlock in Parliament which is paralysing the country.’
Mr Armstrong said: ‘We have the same message for the two prime ministerial candidates, and that is to make us an independent coastal state.
‘Mr Hunt has given us assurances that that will happen. So far the indications are he understands and gets both the opportunities and the challenges.’