BORIS Johnson has claimed the “overwhelming instinct” of people across the UK will be to come together in 2021 despite deep divisions over Brexit and the Union.

In his New Year message, the Prime Minister said Covid had produced a renewed “spirit of togetherness” in the country but also warned of a “hard struggle” in the months ahead.

He said: “This is an amazing moment for this country. We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it.

“And I think it will be the overwhelming instinct of the people of this country to come together as one United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland working together to express our values around the world.

“Leading both the G7 and the COP 26 climate change summit in Glasgow.”

Recent polls suggest the SNP is on course to win an outright majority at Holyrood in May and Nicola Sturgeon has said she will demand a second independence referendum, arguing Scotland should rejoin the EU to reverse a damanging exit it never voted for.

In a statement and video released just hours before the UK starts a new trading relationship with Europe and a crucial election year dawns, Mr Johnson said many people would be “only too happy to say goodbye to the grimness of 2020”.

But he said it was also a year of community spirit “in which we banged saucepans to celebrate the courage and self-sacrifice of our NHS staff and care home workers

“A year in which working people pulled the stops out to keep the country moving in the biggest crisis we have faced for generations - shopworkers, transport staff, pharmacists, emergency services, everyone, you name it.

“We saw a renewed spirit of volunteering, as people delivered food to the elderly and vulnerable.

“And time after time as it became necessary to fight new waves of the virus, we saw people unite in their determination, our determination, to protect the NHS and to save lives.” 

He said the new Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was “literally offers a new lease of life to people in this country and around the world” and "changing the odds in favour of humanity and against Covid".

But he added: "We know that we have a hard struggle still ahead of us for weeks and months, because we face a new variant of the disease that requires a new vigilance.

“But as the sun rises tomorrow on 2021 we have the certainty of those vaccines.”

The 687-word statement never mentioned Brexit directly, but instead referred to the UK’s freedom to “do things differently, and if necessary better, than our friends in the EU”.

He said the UK was now free to do trade deals, and become a “science superpower”.

He said a global Britain would be “open, generous, outward looking, internationalist”, adding: “2021 is the year we can do it”.

Returning to coronavirus, which is now raging out of control in much of the UK, he said: “I believe 2021 is above all, the year when we will eventually do those everyday things that now seem lost in the past.

“Bathed in a rosy glow of nostalgia, going to the pub, concerts, theatres, restaurants, or simply holding hands with our loved ones in the normal way.

“We are still a way off from that, there are tough weeks and months ahead.

“But we can see that illuminated sign that marks the end of the journey, and even more important, we can see with growing clarity how we are going to get there.

“And that is what gives me such confidence about 2021.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford urged Europe to “leave a light on for Scotland” so that it could rejoin the bloc as an independent nation and escape Brexit.

He accused Mr Johnson of delivering a hard Brexit “based on Tory lies and broken promises” which would cause long-term damage to jobs, incomes, businesses and the economy.

Reminding the PM that Scotland voted almost to Remain in 2016, the Skye MP said: “This is a deeply sad day for Scotland as Westminster drags us out of the European Union and the world’s largest single market against our will - stripping away the benefits of membership, harming our shared European identity, and inflicting long-term damage to our economy and society. But with a new year there is also new hope. 

“I ask our European friends and neighbours to leave a light on for Scotland. Scotland will remain a European nation, we will continue to build strong links, and we will be back to take our place as an independent member of the EU.

“The only way for Scotland to protect our place in Europe, and regain the full benefits of EU membership, is to become an independent country. There is now an empty seat at the top table in Europe - and Scotland wants to fill it. We ask our European friends to welcome us back with open arms. 

“Scotland can build a stronger, fairer, greener and more prosperous society by taking our place in the world as an independent country. That choice will be ours to make.”