NICOLA Sturgeon has accused her critics of "gurning from the sidelines" as she defended her second overseas trip this month. 

The First Minister will address politicians in France later today at exactly the same time as a Holyrood vote which will widen the income tax gap between Scotland and England for the middle class to £1500.

The Scottish Tories said Ms Sturgeon was “running away” from her unpopular policies, with only SNP MSPs set to back the move. 

But Ms Sturgeon insisted it was her job to sell Scotland across Europe. 

She said: "France is Scotland's third biggest export partner. It is really important we underline the importance of those relationships, that's why we've opened a new Scottish Government hub here in Paris. 

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon accused of 'running away' from tax vote 

"It's never been more vital to get that message across, notwithstanding Brexit, which we regret, which the European Union rejects, there's a real desire to strengthen those relationships."

She added that the situation at Honda is the starkest possible reminder of the damage Brexit will do. 

When asked about the criticism from her opponents who branded her trip to Paris "a jaunt", the First Minister said: "My opponents back home seem to have descended into the worst possible parochialism and provincialism.

"First Ministers have always as part of the job we are elected to do, gone out to sell Scotland internationally."

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon defends trip to France after 'jaunt' jibe 

She added: "By coincidence, I ran into Jack McConnell at Edinburgh Airport when I was arriving to come here today and we were reminiscing about his visit as First Minister to France and to other countries. 

"I think it says more about our opposition than it does about me or the Scottish Government that at a time when we absolutely need to be selling Scotland across Europe and internationally, they're gurning from the sidelines."

Ms Sturgeon is due to address deputies of the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament, about Brexit and EU nationals living in the UK this afternoon.

It comes as Holyrood votes on the Scottish Rate Resolution for 2019/20, a vital part of the budget process that sets the rates and thresholds for income tax north of the border.

Under SNP plans, the threshold for the higher rate of income tax will be frozen at £43,430 while it rises to £50,000 south of the border from April. 

This means around 120,000 high earning Scots face an effective marginal tax rate of 53p in 2019/20, leaving them around £130 a month worse off than their English counterparts.

Scottish Tory finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said the First Minister had "broken her promise to the Scottish people and is raising taxes - running away will not fool anyone". 

Labour MSP James Kelly said: “Nicola Sturgeon has spent more time on business class flights than she has in working-class communities lately, and missing the income tax vote to be in France is just the latest example."