BREXIT has strengthened the Union and there is no widespread support for a second independence referendum in Scotland, Michael Gove has insisted, as he claimed it was the SNP’s “eternal desire” to cause cross-border friction.

Speaking at the Policy Exchange conference in London on the Union and Unionism, the Environment Secretary described the principle of Unionism as “precious” and sought to contrast its progressive and liberal principles of free speech and respect for the individual to “identity politics, which on the Left was represented by a culture where people were encouraged to “pipe down” and “know their place in the world” while on the Right it was based on faith and origin.

“The identitarians want to move away from liberal principles and equal treatment for all, colour blindness, and respect for individual rights. Instead, they embrace a politics which divides society to contending groups and demands people define themselves by their group membership rather than as autonomous individuals,” explained Mr Gove.

In arguing that those groups most opposed to Unionism tended to be those most susceptible to or animated by identity politics, the Scot mentioned the SNP, which, he said, conflated progressive politics with a “superior virtue, that, apparently, can only really come from living north of the border”.

He went on: “The truth, curious as it may appear to some, is that Brexit has, certainly so far, strengthened Unionist currents in our politics, not weakened them.”

After Nicola Sturgeon at the weekend suggested it was now time to restart the debate on Scottish independence, the Secretary of State insisted Scottish Nationalists would always find an excuse to argue the case for another referendum; if it was not Brexit, it would be something else.

Denouncing the cyberNats as people “driven by a desire to divide and to exclude,” he said: “The truth is for the SNP they will find a reason, a grievance, in order to say there needs to be another referendum. You join the SNP because you want Scotland to be an independent country; ultimately that is their policy and everything else is tactical.”

When it was pointed out how 62 per cent of Scots voted for remain, he replied: “Sixty-two per cent of Scots voted for the UK to stay in the EU and, of course, at the last election people were asked again which political traditions and which political parties they wanted to vote for and we found they voted for Unionist parties.”

Asked if he thought there might be another vote on Scotland’s future, he said: “I don’t think there is support for a second referendum at all…I would bet against it.

“One of the lessons of the last two years is it’s the SNP promising, threatening, holding out the prospect of a second referendum, which has actually been damaging both to their support in Scotland but also to their capacity to govern effectively.”

On the state of Scottish politics, Mr Gove insisted the Nationalists were in retreat.

“Since the vote to leave the EU in 2016 support for Scotland leaving the United Kingdom has diminished. The SNP’s vigorous championing of another independence referendum has led it to drop in the polls, lose seats at the last General Election and now lose momentum and authority in office. It faces further losses in future elections at the hands of all three major Unionist parties: the Liberal Democrats, Labour, and, above all, the resurgent Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.”

He said since the EU referendum, the Scottish Tories had won its best General Election result for 30 years and now represented working class communities from Alloa to Ayrshire for the first time in living memory.

Mr Gove claimed that since the Brexit vote diversity had been strengthened and that Britain had become “more welcoming to migration”.

He explained: “The act of taking back to control has allowed British citizens to show they can be more welcoming to new arrivals; if allowed to be rather than required to be. Now Britain is one of those EU nations with the warmest attitude towards migration, mirroring the attitudes in sister countries across the globe such as Canada and New Zealand.

“Far from weakening Unionism Brexit has delivered its supporters a boost and its opponents a check and in some cases a reverse. That is, at least in part, because the Brexit vote was a vote of confidence in Britain.”

The Secretary of State said the “Unionist mission for our times” was about reinventing patriotism, refreshing the mandate of the UK nation state and reaching a new national consensus.

After his speech at the conference - which later will hear from Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, and Lord Darling, the former Labour Chancellor, but has no SNP speaker – Mr Gove was asked about the First Minister’s bid to relaunch the pro-independence campaign.

He said: “I don’t think we should ever be complacent but the case for the Union is stronger than ever and it’s a mistake for the SNP to try to introduce a greater degree of instability into our constitutional arrangements and voters will think the SNP’s responsibilities should be to fix education and to concentrate on its day-to-day responsibilities instead of stoking this degree of uncertainty.”

Asked if a bad Brexit deal would threaten the Union even more, he added: “It’s always important to get a good Brexit deal but the reason Nicola Sturgeon is reopening this questions because it’s the SNP’s eternal desire to try to create friction in the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK and the really important thing to do is to make sure we get a good Brexit deal but also we continue to govern in the interests for everyone in the UK.”