UK Government ministers were “afraid of Nicola Sturgeon” during the pandemic, the First Minister of Wales has said.

Addressing the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, Mark Drakeford said: “I have the highest regard for the first minister of Scotland and first minister and deputy first minister in Northern Ireland, they were never anything but collegiate people, they took phone calls, they were involved in discussions.

“The UK Government was always anxious about their interactions with the FM of Scotland because she had a different underlying ambition for the future of Scotland and that coloured their attitude towards her.

“She’s also a formidable politician.

“Many UK ministers were afraid of her and would not like to be involved in a confrontational dialogue with her.”

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He added this was not true of then prime minister Boris Johnson, who he said did not want to give the impression that he was “on par” with first ministers of other nations.

Responding to the comments, a senior SNP source said: “People often fear the unfamiliar – it’s understandable that Nicola’s competence, compassion and integrity unsettled some of the Westminster Government.”

Giving evidence at the inquiry when it held hearings in Edinburgh in January, Ms Sturgeon denied making pandemic decisions for political reasons, adding she had not “thought less” about politics and Scottish independence in her life than she did during the Covid crisis.

She repeatedly fought back tears during her evidence session, and said: “People will make their own judgments about me, about my government, about my decisions, but for as long as I live, I will carry the impact of these decisions, I will carry regret at the decisions and judgments I got wrong, but I will always know in my heart, and in my soul, that my instincts and my motivation was nothing other than trying to do the best in the face of this pandemic.”

She faced criticism after confirming to the inquiry she had deleted her pandemic-era WhatsApp messages, though she stressed this was in line with official advice, and she said all “salient” points were placed on the corporate record.

The inquiry also heard in January that Ms Sturgeon branded Mr Johnson a “f****** clown” in a series of messages during what she said was his “f****** excruciating” announcement of a second national lockdown for England.

She made the comments in a series of messages with her then chief of staff Liz Lloyd.