DOWNING St insists the UK Government is not panicking over the threat to the Union and has made clear its troubled Union Unit is not dead but continuing as Boris Johnson establishes a new Cabinet committee to spearhead the fight against the SNP’s drive for Scottish independence.

Confusion spread earlier today with reports that the Union Unit was being scrapped. Indeed, Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, suggested that it was being “replaced” by the Cabinet’s new Union Strategy Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, which he described as a “step up” in the bid to defend and promote the United Kingdom.

Asked about the fate of the Union Unit, Mr Jack told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland: “This is a very good news story; this is a step-up.

“Advisers advise and ministers decide. This is a ministerial Cabinet committee, which the PM and the Chancellor of Exchequer will be sitting on along with the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. It’s very good news that that level of focus on strengthening the UK is at that high level of Government.”

Asked what had gone wrong with the Unit, the Secretary of State replied: “Nothing has gone wrong with it at all. This is not about people sitting behind the desks…This is about all of the senior advisers in No 10 and the ministers across Whitehall focusing on strengthening the UK.”

Asked directly if the Union Unit had been scrapped, Mr Jack said: “The Union Unit...has been replaced by a Cabinet committee chaired by the PM and members include the territorial Secretaries of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.”

Again, declaring the move was a “step up,” he added: “It’s absolutely the right thing to do, the PM wants to build back better, he wants to strengthen the UK and this Cabinet committee will be doing that.”

Officials in the Union Unit based in Downing St will work alongside those in the newly created Union Directorate based in the Cabinet Office and overseen by Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which will provide technical analysis to ministers.

The new Cabinet Union Strategy Committee, chaired by Mr Johnson, will itself run alongside and be served by the Union Policy Implementation Committee, chaired by Mr Gove.

Following the PM’s controversial trip to Scotland last month, criticised as “non-essential” by Nicola Sturgeon given the Covid restrictions, Luke Graham, the former Scottish Conservative MP, who had headed the Union Unit for nearly a year, was unceremoniously sacked.

However, just two weeks later, Mr Graham’s successor, Oliver Lewis, a leading Vote Leave campaigner and an ally of Dominic Cummings, quit the role after being accused of leaking “unpleasant information” against Mr Gove, a claim he vehemently denied.

Asked about the demise of the Union Unit, Mr Johnson’s spokesman made clear it had not been scrapped.

He explained: “No 10 officials continue to work in the Union Unit. The PM’s Union Strategy Committee, we’ve announced, builds on top of the already existing structures that we have in place. We have the Union Policy Implementation Committee also which is chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which will also meet more regularly.”

The spokesman said that the Union Strategy Committee would from time to time be attended by “non-Cabinet ministers as required as well as other senior Government officials and others who would be necessary for those conversations”.

Asked if this move was a sign of confusion and panic by the UK Government as it sees support for Scottish independence rise, he replied: “No. It demonstrates our commitment to the Union and the focus the PM has on ensuring we deliver for all the countries of the UK.”

Pressed on why Lord Frost, the Cabinet’s new post-Brexit Minister, was on the Union Strategy Committee, he said his role was to ensure “all four parts of the UK” benefited from the opportunities afforded by leaving the EU.

The spokesman added: “It remains the case everybody in Government is focused on delivering for the Union and will continue to prioritise that as a core part of the Government’s work.”

Iain Stewart, the Scotland Office Minister, was also asked about the new Union Strategy Committee when he appeared before the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee, saying: “I know these staff changes excite a lot of political commentators but the Government’s commitment and priority for the Union is undiminished and unchanged. The Prime Minister is the Minister of the Union.”

The SNP said the developments in Downing St showed the UK Government’s stance on Scottish independence had become “shambolic”.

Kirsten Oswald, the party’s deputy leader at Westminster, said: “This is utterly humiliating for Boris Johnson.

“The only thing his failed Union Unit has delivered has been a sacking, a resignation and now its reported collapse within a matter of weeks.

“The entire shambolic episode is the perfect analogy for the Tory Government’s undemocratic anti-independence stance; crumbling under the first sign of any pressure.”

She added: “The reality is that no amount of rebranding or merging can take away from the fact the Tories’ are in turmoil and their anti-independence campaign in disarray.”