MICHAEL Gove has been warned by a Tory MP that the Union could end through "benign neglect" as voters in England give up on it just as they did with the EU. 

The Cabinet Office minister was told by Jackie Doyle-Price that her constituents in Thurrock in Essex now griped about Scotland they way they used to about Brussels.

She said for many people in England the Union was not a “living entity”and urged UK ministers to do more to help people understand and appreciate it.

She told Mr Gove: “Five years ago we had a political establishment that largely took UK acceptance of membership of the EU for granted, and thought it would follow its leaders by wishing to keep it. 

“Ultimately the people of England decided they believed in Britain rather than Brussels.
“The kind of conversations I now have on the doorstep, that used to be fruity conversations about Brussels, are now fruity conversations about Scotland.

“So I think those of us who do believe in the Union need to do a lot more than just assert it, or else we could end up losing the Union by benign neglect just as happened with Brexit.”

Mr Gove told his Tory colleague it was a “very fair point”.

Mr Gove was giving evidence to an unusual joint meeting of the Scottish, Welsh, North Ireland and public administration and constitution affairs committees on the Dunlop Review into the UN Government’s Union capability.

Earlier, Lord Dunlop, a former Scotland Office minister, said the UK Government's response to his plan for better relations between London and the devolved administrations had been “warm words but a bit opaque”.

One proposal is to replace the Joint Ministerial Committee system, which he called "not fit for purpose", with a new UK Government and Devolved Administrations Council.

Lord Dunlop said a key test for Boris Johnson would be whether who chaired it and how often. 

He said: “If those reforms are to succeed then I think it’s very important that the Prime Minister gives a strong lead.

“It there’s one aspect of the package that disappoints me, it’s that the role for the Prime Minister appears quite limited..  to one meeting a year and it’s a meeting he could delegate to somebody else.

“In my view, the bare minimum is two meetings a year that the Prime Minister should absolutely chair, because this is about building better relationships.

“I would regard that as one of the key tests of how seriously the Government takes the job of strengthening the Union.”

He said that until there was a full-scale change in the culture of Whitehall there should be a cabinet secretary with responsibility for holding the Union together.

He said: “We don’t need a department for the Union, we need a Government for the Union. Every secretary of state, every minister, should have devolution, the Union, rushing through their bloodstream.

“But we have got to acknowledge that does require a fundamental change of culture.

“The most difficult change to achieve is that culture change .

“Until we get to that steady state, we do need a secretary of state for the Union who is really focused on driving that change.”

Mr Gove said it was “always better" when the Prime Minister can chair such a body but said it might not always happen.

He said: “Sometimes however, politics being politics, events being events, the Prime Minister has to have a deputy chairing a critical committee at certain moments."

He disagreed with the idea of a dedicated Secretary of State for the Union as it might lead other parts of Government to pay less atttention to the issue themselves.