JEREMY Hunt has withdrawn UK Government support for all of Nicola Sturgeon’s overseas trips in case she promotes independence.

The Foreign Secretary said he was denying the First Minister consular and logistical help because she was trying to break up the Union.

He implied Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) support would be restored if Ms Sturgeon stopped discussing her life-long ambition.

The First Minister’s official spokesman said Mr Hunt was helping to make the case for independence and Ms Sturgeon would not be gagged.

"She's not going to takea vow of silence," he said.

He added it would be “naive to think” Mr Hunt’s comments had “nothing to do with the Tory leadership race”.

The spokesman said: “Whatever happens it is not going to stop the First Minister of the Scottish Government representing Scotland internationally – that is part of the job and that part of the job will continue regardless.

“Let’s wait and see how real this actually is.

“Jeremy Hunt is in the middle of a leadership campaign against Boris Johnson so this would appear to relate to that.”

The spokesman said Mr Hunt’s comments appeared to be part of his Tory leadership bid, and might “fizzle out” in a few weeks’ time saying “Jeremy Hunt is making our argument for us.

“It is quite an extraordinary state of affairs for a would-be Tory prime minister who espouses the supposed values of the union to actively suggest that Scotland should not have the same level of representation as the rest of the UK.”

The UK Government ordinarily provides diplomatic and logistical support to the devolved governments on overseas trips through the British Embassy network.

The assistance was integral to Ms Sturgeon’s recent visits to North America and China.

However earlier this month Mr Hunt took the unusual step of denying Ms Sturgeon FCO support when she visited Brussels to discuss Brexit and independence.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon calls Jeremy Hunt 'childish and pathetic' after Brussels snub

The UK Government confirmed the Foreign Secretary had “requested that the Scottish Government provide its own logistical support for this visit”.

The intervention, which Ms Sturgeon branded “childish and pathetic”, had little practical effect as the Scottish Government’s own office in Brussels was able to step in.

But Mr Hunt told the Scottish Daily Mail the policy had been extended to all Ms Sturgeon’s overseas trips, potentially hamstringing the Scottish Government in other countries.

Mr Hunt said support would only be given if Ms Sturgeon stuck to devolved matters and avoided policies contrary to the UK Government’s position.

He said: “It had come to my notice that there were trips that the Foreign Office was facilitating that were being used to give a platform for independence.

“I believe in the Union with every fibre of my being and British government policy is to protect, preserve, cherish and enhance that Union.

“So we are not going to offer support to Nicola Sturgeon if she goes abroad to drum up support for independence, and that is exactly why I am the Prime Minister that she least wants because she knows I won’t allow our union to be broken up.”

READ MORE: Jeremy Hunt: Preserving the Union comes before Brexit

Asked about the comments, Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman said he was unaware of UK government officials informing the Scottish Government about any change in protocol.

He said: “If Jeremy Hunt’s position is that Scotland shouldn’t be afforded the same level of representation overseas as the rest of the UK then he’s making our case for us.

“In the most visible way forward, he’s making the argument for independence and for Scotland to fully and properly represent itself internationally.

"It’s quite an extraordinary state of affairs for a would-be Tory Prime Minister, who espouses the supposed values of the Union, to actively suggest that Scotland should not have the same level of representation as the rest of the UK.”

He said the First Minister routinely promoted Scottish products, services and tourism while overseas, but was also quizzed by the media about independence.

He said: “It’s entirely legitimate for the democratically elected First Minister to espouse the views that she was democratically elected on when it comes to Scotland’s future.

“She’s not going to take a vow of silence when [the media] ask her about independence.”

“Let’s wait and see exactly how official this is or otherwise, or whether this is a flash in the pan leadership pitch from Jeremy Hunt that fizzles out. I think the jury’s out on that one.

“But longer-term, of course we would be concerned if the Scottish Government was not to be afforded the same level of representation as the rest of the UK. That would be a concern."

Asked if Mr Hunt was making a bid to gag Ms Sturgeon, he said: “It’s a pretty ham-fisted one if it is. The First Minister’s not going to be prevented from saying what she thinks in terms of Scotland’s future. That’s the essence of being a democratically-elected leader.

“The First Minister will go on making the case for independence.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said later: “We have not been notified of any change in policy by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the established practices which have now been in place for 20 years.

"We continue to operate as normal.”