DOWNING Street has given short shrift to Nicola Sturgeon’s claim that a second independence referendum is now “approaching”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman also shot down claims from UK Government ministers that a referendum would be granted if enough people wanted to leave the UK. 

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and Scotland Secretary Alister Jack recently signalled 60 per cent support for independence could trigger a new vote.

However the PM’s spokesman said: “No, we’ve never set a position on that.

“Our view is, as set out, that now would simply not be the time to be dealing with this.

“The public are looking to governments and leaders across the UK to lead us on dealing with this ongoing pandemic and recovering the economy.”

Pressed on the matter, the spokesman added: “We haven’t set any target or number.”

The rebuff came a Ms Sturgeon insisted her party’s win in May’s Holyrood election was “an unarguable mandate” to implement its manifesto, including Indyref2.

“That is what we intend to do. It is called democracy," she said in her closing address to the SNP’s online conference today.

“During the election we said that tackling the pandemic would come first - and it will.

“And we said that when the covid crisis has passed, we would give the people of

"Scotland the choice of independence - and we will.”

She added: “People in Scotland have the right to make that choice. 

“To decide to take our destiny into our own hands and shape a better future.

“Trust me - the time for that choice is approaching.”

She repeated her desire for a referendum before the end of 2023, Covid permitting, and that she wanted “cooperation not confrontation” with the UK Government on arranging it.

However Boris Johnson has already refused to give Holyrood the power it needs to hold a legally watertight vote, and shows little sign of changing his mind.

At the Alba party’s first conference this weekend, Alex Salmond said the SNP was getting too cosy in power and had made no progress towards independence isine 2014. 

Reacting to Ms Sturgeon’s speech, Alba MP Neale Hanvey said: “It is hardly surprising that Downing Street have reacted swiftly to reject Nicola Sturgeon’s call for a Referendum citing Covid as the reason when the First Minister has herself refused to countenance one until the pandemic is over.   

“Far from being the reason for blocking a Referendum, recovery from Covid is the very reason why we need Independence and the full powers to manage our recovery.

“This current Prime Minister doesn’t care about the democratic will of the Scottish people. 

“In Dickensian manner he is set to cut Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit, driving hundreds of thousands of families further into poverty. 

“It is time for the First Minister to stop asking ‘Please Sir can I have some more’ and it is time to start campaigning for independence as the immediate priority it is.

“Nicola’s assertion that ‘Democracy must and will prevail’ has been true since the day and the hour the SNP achieved a clear mandate in 2016.   

“If Boris Johnson will not bend to the will of the First Minister then he must bend to the will of the Scottish people.  

“To do that we need a united approach to break the log jam and to force Westminster’s hand through the convening of an Independence Convention of all Scotland’s Elected representatives, MSPs, MPs and Councillors with the determination to face down Westminster.”