HUMZA Yousaf has said he told Rishi Sunak his Foreign Secretary had been “incredibly clumsy” in trying to limit what the Scottish Government could discuss overseas. 

James Cleverly wrote to diplomats last month instructing them to take a “strengthened approach” to visits involving Scottish ministers and foreign governments.

He also asked for UK representatives to be at any talks after becoming unhappy about Scottish ministers discussing independence while on UK-supported trips abroad.

Appearing before a meeting of Holyrood’s committee conveners, Mr Yousaf was asked about the issue by Clare Adamson, the SNP convener of the External Affairs Committee.

She said: “The Foreign Secretary has written to embassies to limit the Scottish Government's overseas engagements and possibly, with the great work they do, possibly damage trade and investment. Do you have any reflections on that?”

Mr Yousaf replied: “It was an incredibly clumsy intervention by the Foreign Secretary and I said as much to the Prime Minister when we last met.

“It really just works against that kind of Team Scotland approach.

“I fully respect there is a difference of opinion, a wide range of views around, for example, Scotland's constitutional future. 

“We don't purport to speak on anybody else's behalf but the Scottish Government's.

“I have to say, it is not a topic of conversation when we are, for example, or not often a topic of conversation, when we are having meetings around trade and investment with foreign partners. They’re interested in how we can increase trade and investment.

“They’re interested in what more we can do around educational exchange, around cultural exchange, what more we can do in relation to international development where despite having a relatively small pot of money, we can make a huge transformational change.

“And of course, if we are asked our opinion around the constitution and our own views, we will always be clear that these are the views of the Scottish Government. 

“And of course, the UK Government will have a difference of opinion on that constitutional matter and other matters such as Brexit and so on and so forth. 

“And I have to say, if my early engagement with ambassadors and others is anything to go by, I have to say the feeling is that there is a great degree of warmth towards Scotland continuing that international engagement.”

After he issued his guidance, SNP Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson accused Mr Cleverly of being “misleading” and called for it to be withdrawn.

On Monday, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack insisted his cabinet colleague had been “right” and said he “absolutely approved of the content of the letter”.

He told the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee that Scottish Government representatives had repeatedly been “straying” into constitutional matters and foreign affairs.

“We don’t think that our high commissions, our embassies, our consulates should be used for that purpose,” he told MPs.

While discussing trade, culture and other devolved matters was not problematic, “once you go into the reserved areas and start talking to those, we take exception to it.”

He added: “There were five or six other examples actually brought to light…of transgressions of what we thought was the right position, and that was when the letter went.”

“I feel it was the right letter, absolutely approved of the content of the letter… because I think it is wrong for us to facilitate using our embassies and high commissions for members of devolved administrations to then go and meet foreign government ministers and undermine our foreign policy which is what they were doing.”