The SNP have hit back after Rishi Sunak listed supporters of Scottish independence as "extremists" posing a threat to the UK.

In a key note address on security this morning the Prime Minister sought to portray himself as the best person to lead the UK at a time of war and uncertainty.

His speech to the UK Policy Exchange was seen by some as a soft launch of his campaign ahead of the general election expected later this year.

The wide ranging address warned of threats over the next five years from an "axis of authoritarian powers" including China, Vladmir Putin in Russia, Iran and North Korea and "extremists" , he said, seeking to sow division at home referring to supporters of independence and gender activists.

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"The dangers that threaten our country are real. They are increasing in number. An axis of authoritarian states like Russia, Iran, North Korea, and China is working together to undermine us and our values.

"War has returned to Europe, with our Nato allies warning that if Putin succeeds in Ukraine, they might be next." he said.

"War rages, too, in the Middle East as Israel defends itself not only against the terrorists of Hamas but a barrage of missiles fired – for the first time – directly from Iran.

"Right now in Africa, conflicts are being fought in 18 different countries. And Putin’s recklessness has taken us closer to a dangerous nuclear escalation than at any point since the Cuban missile crisis.

"These are not faraway problems. Iranian proxies are firing on British ships in the Red Sea, disrupting goods destined for our high streets.

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"Here at home, China has conducted cyber targeting of our democratically elected MPs. Russia has poisoned people with chemical weapons. And when Putin cut off the gas supplies it had a devastating impact on people’s lives and threatened our energy security. And in this world of greater conflict and danger, 100 million people are now displaced globally."

He added: "Extremists are also exploiting these global conflicts to divide us. People are abusing our liberal democratic values – the freedom of speech and right of protest - to intimidate, threaten and assault others, to sing antisemitic chants on our streets and our university campuses, and to weaponise the evils of anti-Semitism or anti-Muslim hatred in a divisive, ideological attempt to set Briton against Briton.

"And from gender activists hijacking children’s sex education to cancel culture, vocal and aggressive fringe groups are trying to impose their views on the rest of us. They’re trying to make it morally unacceptable to believe something different and undermine people’s confidence and pride in our own history and identity. Scottish nationalists are even trying to tear our United Kingdom apart."

The last sentence was redacted from the copy of the speech posted on the UK Government's website, referring to the removal of political content.

Hitting back at Mr Sunak's comments, the SNP Westminster Depute Leader Mhairi Black MP, pictured below, said independence was supported by around half of Scottish voters.

She said: "Independence is supported by half of Scotland's population - and Rishi Sunak's desperate attack on Scottish voters will only encourage more people to reject the Tories and vote SNP.

The Herald:

"The real extremists in the UK are the Tory Party - who have trashed the economy, imposed deep cuts to public services and dragged Scotland out of the EU against our will.

"And the best way to beat the Tories in Scotland is to vote SNP at the general election - to stand up for Scotland's values and advance Scotland's journey to independence."

On Labour, the PM suggested Britain would be less safe under Sir Keir Starmer and a win for the opposition would "embolden" Vladimir Putin as Labour had not matched his pledge to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030.

Labour has said it wants to raise defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, but has not set a date for achieving that target.

Mr Sunak also accused the opposition of attempting to "depress their way to victory" with "talk of doom loops and gaslighting and scaremongering about pensions".

Saying Labour had "no plans", the Prime Minister added: "They have just one thing: a calculation that they can make you feel so bad about your country, that you won't have the energy to ask what they might do with the incredible power that they seek to yield."

Mr Sunak acknowledged that the public felt "anxious and uncertain", but denied that this was all due to "14 years of Conservative government" and that a change in Westminster would make Britain's problems "magically disappear".

But while he painted a picture of a difficult period ahead, the Prime Minister also pointed to significant opportunities presented by transformational technologies such as AI, adding it was "incumbent upon us to make this a period not just of great danger but of great progress too".

He said Britain's record as a trading, innovative and entrepreneurial nation meant that "while this is one of the most dangerous periods we've ever known, it will also be one of the most transformational and if we make the right choices".

Mr Sunak concluded: "There are storms ahead. The dangers are all too real, but Britain can feel proud again, Britain can feel confident again, because with bold action and a clear plan, we can and we will create a secure future."

Labour's Jonathan Ashworth said Monday's speech was Mr Sunak's "seventh reset in 18 months" and "just another desperate attempt to hide from the appalling record of this failed Tory Government".

He said: "After 14 years of leaving the country less secure at home and abroad, the Tories have forfeited the right to talk about security.

"Millions of people are paying more on their mortgages, crime is going unsolved, dangerous prisoners are being let out early, the armed forces have been hollowed out and the NHS is on its knees.

"That is this Government's record and the only way to turn the page and end the chaos is with a Labour government."

Responding to the speech, Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey said Mr Sunak should call a general election.

He said: "Families are sick of the Conservatives failing our NHS, allowing water companies to pump their sewage into our rivers and refusing to help families through the cost of living crisis.

"This Conservative Government is out of touch and out of time and Rishi Sunak must do the right thing and give the people a general election."