ALISTER Jack sparked a rammy at the Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee when he said the "Scottish Government get up each day and go to work to destroy the United Kingdom."

Committee chair and SNP MP Pete Wishart said the language was not "constructive."

The exchange came as the Scottish Secretary and his ministers faced the cross-party group of MPs. 

Mr Wishart said the relationship between the UK and Scottish government was at its lowest ebb and "characterised by distrust and never-ending conflict".

He then asked Mr Jack what he would do to "improve the atmosphere and culture".

Mr Jack said the two governments had worked well on some things but claimed "the Scottish Government get up each day and go to work to destroy the United Kingdom and I get up and go to work each day to strengthen the United Kingdom."

He added: "My job is to defend the constitution and defend devolution and I think the Scottish Government want to break up the United Kingdom which would bring devolution to the end."

When Mr Wishart chided him over the language, the Scottish Secretary stood by his remarks. "I think I'm being honest. I said at the beginning I'm honest. It's an honest position. They want to destroy the United Kingdom."

Mr Wishart said the language was not "the least bit constructive".

He added: "I asked you directly what you were going to do to improve the situation and all I heard was a comment that is actually going to make the situation worse."

Mr Jack was also pushed on Foreign Secretary James Cleverly's letter warning that Scottish ministers should not undermine UK Government policy in meetings with overseas governments.

Mr Jack said: "They want to destroy the United Kingdom, they want to bring it to an end, they want to break it, whatever language you want to use, and they know I want to strengthen it by having more UK Government investment into local authorities, real devolution as I call it.

"If we're honest with each other, that's my strategy, that's their strategy, we then find the bit in the middle where we can meet and work together. 

"I'm not going to pretend that I'm giving any ground on powers that would allow a ref to take place, for instance. I'm not going to pretend for a minute I'm going to do that."

Asked if Mr Cleverly's letter was "provocative", Mr Jack said:"It didn't go down very well with old Air Miles Angus [Robertson, the External Affairs minister] for a very good reason; that's because he took offence for us calling him out for visiting governments and talking to them about leaving."

He went on: "When these meetings are taking place and we have representatives from the Foreign Office in the meetings and discussions are taking place that undermine the UK's position on Brexit or foreign affairs or to discuss the break-up of the United Kingdom, that's where we take exception. Everything else, we want to work together."

Mr Jack said: "If you speak to consuls and ambassadors from countries like France or Spain and say to them, 'how would you feel if the UK Government facilitated meetings for the Catalans in Westminster or your embassy did that?', or the French embassy facilitated for the Corsicans to come and meet UK Government ministers, I think President Macron, I think he might take a dim view."

Mr Jack also insisted the block with the Deposit Return Scheme was entirely because of Scottish ministers, and not the UK Government.

He said the Scottish Government should have sought an exemption to the Internal Market Bill before pushing ahead with the recycling scheme. 

He compared the process to building a house before asking for planning permission. 

“It is the wrong way round. They should have come and talked to us about an exemption and that did not happen.”

Mr Jack also once again disputed the Scottish Government’s claims that an exemption has been asked for last year. He said there had been no formal request until 6 March. 

He also declined to confirm whether or not the UK government would meet a deadline of the end of this month for providing exemption.

Last week Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater told the Scottish Grocers’ Federation conference that without a response the whole scheme could be scrapped.

Mr Jack told the committee: “I cannot come to a decision until I see proper impact assessments so that I know we are making the right decision and we are not causing unnecessary consequences.”

Asked if the UK Government would compensate businesses who have already prepared for the scheme, Mr Jack said: "It has absolutely nothing to do with the UK Government," he told MPs.

"We were formally asked to consider this on March 6, I have asked for impact assessments and I haven't seen those yet."

He added: "I have yet to see the workings which would let me take a responsible decision on this one way or another with any confidence".