Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of trying to sabotage an orderly Brexit by deliberately withholding millions of pounds of funding, which Whitehall says has been allocated to prepare Scotland for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

UK Government insiders believe the First Minister and her colleagues are deploying a deliberate strategy to “disrupt” Brexit preparations north of the border in the hope that this will boost the campaign for Scottish independence.

The claims come after Edinburgh has received nearly £140 million from the Treasury, money Whitehall believes should be spent specifically on preparing Scotland for Brexit. But UK ministers and officials suspect much of the money has not been used for the purpose they insist it is intended.

A senior UK Government source told The Herald: “The Scottish Government’s accounting is opaque to say the least. Without greater clarity, the suspicion will be that they are not serious about preparing for Brexit. 

“While apparently opposing no-deal they have consistently refused to support a deal. It really does look as if they are hoping for a disruptive Brexit in the belief it would drive support for independence. They need to prepare for Brexit, not prepare for a blame game.”

One example given was how the Scottish Government was failing to hand over allocated money to local councils so that enough staff could be employed to provide the health certificates that will be needed for Scottish fish exporters to send their produce to the continent post a no-deal Brexit.

If the export of perishable fish products from Scotland were disrupted, it is feared restaurants and food outlets such as in France, the Benelux countries and Spain would seek out other producers, which could have a devastating impact on Scotland’s important fishing industry, threatening jobs and livelihoods.

David Duguid, the Conservative MP for Banff and Buchan, said he had for months been in contact with local and central government about preparations for a no-deal Brexit but feared not enough was being done in Scotland.

He referred to how in February it was announced more than £90m was being made available to the Scottish Government to prepare but “not a penny had made its way to the local authorities”.

But in the spring, Michael Russell, the Scottish Government’s Constitutional Relations Secretary, insisted the money had been “distributed across the portfolios” and was being used across the public sector.

Mr Duguid told The Herald: “I’m in favour of a deal, the UK Government is in favour of a deal but we still have to be prepared for a no-deal.

“My fear is that, should there be a no-deal Brexit, the Scottish Government have not done their job…I hope they are not playing silly games, allowing the fishing industry to fail. What would they say if the rest of the UK was prepared for no-deal and they weren’t?”

Asked if he felt the SNP administration was deliberately trying to cause disruption over Brexit to further the independence cause, Mr Duguid replied:

“There is always a suspicion the SNP will use anything to pump up the cause of independence. I hope that is not the case.”

Meanwhile, a UK Government spokeswoman explained: “The Scottish Government have received almost £140m in funding for EU exit preparation. It is the responsibility of the Scottish Government to decide where this money is spent to ensure Scotland is prepared for leaving the EU on October 31.

“Additionally, all three devolved administrations can bid for[money from] the Operational Contingency Fund of £1bn, where they face disproportionate pressures to England.”

In July, Scottish Labour accused Derek Mackay, the Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary, of “blowing a hole” in Scotland’s Brexit preparations after it was revealed, at the time, that of the £37.3 million allocated for them in 2018/19, Edinburgh had spent around £10m on other things. 

Of the £54.7m allocated for 2019/20, UK Government officials say there appear to be no details of expenditure. “They can’t say how they spent it,” noted one.
Thus far, the Scottish Government’s extra funds allocated on the back of the UK Government’s spending on Brexit have been: £6.6m in 2017/18; £37.3m in 2018/19; £54.7m for 2019/20 announced in February and 39.7m also for 2019/20 announced in August. This brings the total to £138.3m.

In addition, the Scottish Government has asked for £52m from the contingency fund for Brexit preparations to cover, among other things, support for rural communities in the event of a no-deal outcome, Police Scotland activities, additional communication to EU citizens and poverty mitigation measures.

Last month, when it made the request, Mr Mackay said it was the “minimum requirement for operational activity,” but noted that the “real costs of a no-deal Brexit will massively outweigh these and further funding will be required”.

A UK Government spokesman said Edinburgh’s request would be considered in the “usual way”. If granted, this would, according to the Treasury’s view, mean the Scottish Government will have received more than £190m for Brexit preparations.

Thus far, the UK Exchequer has, overall, made more than £8bn available to prepare for Brexit since the 2016 referendum, including £2.1bn specifically for no-deal planning.

However, funds have been handed over to the Scottish Government via the Barnett Formula, which allocates a proportionate share of departmental spending increases and decreases made in England to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland based on population share.

Crucially, while the UK Government might want Edinburgh to spend the money for the same purpose it is being used in England, the Scottish Government is entitled to spend it how it likes.

A spokesman for Mr Russell said: "These are gobsmacking comments from the Tories. Scotland did not vote for Brexit and we should not be having to spend a single penny on Brexit preparations – this is similar to an arsonist setting fire to someone’s house and then complaining about the fire service’s efforts to extinguish the blaze.

“The fact is, the Scottish Government has allocated proportionately the same Brexit preparation funding to local authorities as the UK Government from the consequentials received to date. Local authorities can submit further funding requests for EU exit costs through the submission of a business case. This process has been put in place for all public sector bodies – and local government are not being treated differently.

“Virtually all of the £98.7m in consequentials we have received from the UK Government have been allocated – but even then, the true cost of Brexit is expected to far exceed this amount. We should not have to cut spending on public services to fund the Tory Brexit obsession.”