Conservative party members who consider Scottish independence a price worth paying for Brexit should “rethink”, according to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd.
She told STV News she was “amazed” at a YouGov survey last week which found 63% of Tory members would prefer Brexit to keeping Scotland or Northern Ireland in the UK.
Speaking on a visit to Cornton Vale prison in Stirling, Rudd said preserving the union is “vital” and insisted that leaving the European Union comes second to it.
The work and pensions secretary – an early backer of Jeremy Hunt in the Tory leadership race – also said he would make a “great prime minister”.
Her remarks come as the majority of Scottish Conservative parliamentarians have backed Hunt in the contest for 10 Downing Street over Boris Johnson.
However, the former London mayor has won the support of several Scots Tory MPs, including Aberdeen South MP Ross Thomson, who has been Johnson’s campaign manager for Scotland.
Last week’s YouGov poll also found 61% of party members would not care if Brexit caused “significant damage” to the UK economy, while almost half (46%) said they would be happy to see the Brexit Party’s Nigel Farage as their new leader.
Speaking on Thursday, Rudd told STV: “I was amazed by that poll and I have to say, it’s not a poll or an approach that I recognise at all.
“My own membership in my constituency do not think like that, they appreciate as I do the importance of the union.
“So I hope that anybody who’s thinking adversely, who’s thinking that the union isn’t worth supporting, will rethink.
“The union is vital to us all and Brexit must be done but it’s a secondary interest after the union.”
On Hunt, the work and pensions secretary said: “One of the reasons I back him so strongly is that he often talks about making sure we deliver a Brexit that works not just for the 52% who won that vote, but also for the 48% of which there are some concerned people.
“We have to make sure that when we do leave the European Union we’re thinking about the whole country – yes, thinking about everybody in Scotland as well as the people in England and Wales.”
Rudd added that a no-deal exit from the EU should be a “very last resort” – something she claimed both candidates to become Tory leader agree on.