Yousaf met with five foreign leaders without UK official present, Jack claims

The First Minister met with a number of foreign leaders at the Cop28 summit (Pete Summers/PA)
The First Minister met with a number of foreign leaders at the Cop28 summit (Pete Summers/PA) The First Minister met with a number of foreign leaders at the Cop28 summit (Pete Summers/PA)

Scotland’s First Minister met with five different foreign leaders during Cop28 without an official from the UK Government present, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has claimed.

A row erupted over Humza Yousaf’s meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday after Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron threatened to withhold support for the Scottish Government’s international relations efforts due to a lack of Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) presence.

But speaking just hours later at the Scottish Affairs Committee, Mr Jack claimed it happened on four other occasions during the First Minister’s time at the summit.

Mr Jack told MPs there were also meetings with European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and acting Pakistani Prime Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar.

“There were five different occasions where meetings happened with foreign ministers without an official,” Mr Jack said.

“It’s not complicated, if there aren’t to be any sanctions, all the Scottish Government have to do is take Foreign Office officials to their meetings, that’s all we’re asking.

“(It) is incumbent on me and every other minister in the United Kingdom, and everyone else seems able to do it.”

Pictures of Mr Yousaf with foreign leaders mentioned were posted on X, formerly Twitter, showing him in discussions with Ms von der Leyen and Mr Michel, as well as posed with the Turkish President and Lebanese Prime Minister, respectively.

The Scottish Secretary also described President Erdogan as someone the Foreign Office “did not believe should be met”.

In his letter on Sunday, the Foreign Secretary said: “The absence of an official “contravenes the protocols in our guidance on FCDO support to devolved Government ministers’ overseas visits”.

He went on to say: “I remain open to discussing a constructive way forward. However, any further breaches of the protocol of ministerial meetings having a FCDO official present will result in no further FCDO facilitation of meetings or logistical support.

“We will also need to consider the presence of Scottish Government offices in UK Government posts.”

Mr Jack said he was “sighted” on the letter before it was sent and supported the former prime minister’s stance.

“I support it 100%,” he said.

“There’s a very simple principle here, all ministers of the United Kingdom – irrespective of whether they’re ministers in a devolved administration or the UK Government – when they’re overseas, when they meet ministers from foreign countries, they must have… an official, a civil servant, from the Foreign Office present to take notes.”

He added that the Scottish Government “don’t accept that” because they had previously not followed the protocol when meeting the Icelandic Prime Minister earlier this year – sparking another letter from then-foreign secretary James Cleverley.

Speaking to the PA news agency on Monday, the First Minister said the letter was “petty and misguided”.

“First of all, let’s be clear – the approach from Lord Cameron is really petty and, frankly, misguided,” he said during a visit in Dunbar ahead of a travelling Cabinet meeting.

“Scotland is the part of the UK, outside of London, that has attracted the most foreign direct investment for eight years in a row, that happens because the Scottish Government’s international engagement is valued (and) has impact.

“To threaten to curtail that, to stop that international engagement – the international engagement from the elected Scottish Government from an unelected lord – I think is misguided and petty.”

Mr Yousaf also claimed the issue could have been resolved privately, had Lord Cameron approached the Scottish Government, saying: “For Lord Cameron to say he’s basically going to stop Scotland’s international engagement because of one meeting, where one FCDO official wasn’t able to attend – because, of course, at events like Cop, diaries can change quite last minute – is really petty, really misguided.

“I suggest to Lord Cameron that next time, if he has an issue like that, he should just pick up the phone, I’m sure it can be resolved.”