NICOLA Sturgeon has reacted with fury after the UK Government demanded she cancel constituency commitments to meet with Theresa May’s de facto deputy.

Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, who was in Scotland yesterday, says his department tried to arrange talks with the First Minister, but were knocked back.

Sturgeon took to Twitter to hit back: “This is outrageous,” she said. “My office got a call around 6pm last night to offer a meeting this morning – purpose not clear. I wasn’t prepared to cancel my constituency commitments at such short notice for @scotgov to yet again have to hear empty platitudes rather than be listened to.”

During his trip north of the Border, Lidington used an interview with local radio to tell his colleagues calling for a leadership contest they would be defeated. May, he said, would win a no confidence vote “handsomely”.

Bauer Radio Scotland asked what he would say to MPs submitting letters of no confidence to the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers.

He said: “Withdraw them, because I don’t think you’re doing the country any good by attacking the Prime Minister in this way. I’ve seen no plausible alternative plan from any of those criticising her or wanting to challenge her position. I believe if it does come to a challenge the Prime Minister will win handsomely and she will deserve to do so.”

May’s defacto deputy later told journalists in Edinburgh that Tories plotting against the Prime Minister should instead rally behind her in the “national interest”.

Lidington praised May in carrying out the “absolutely back-breaking job” of delivering a Brexit deal and laughed off the suggestion he is being lined up to replace May as a caretaker PM.

He said: “I think anybody who works closely with the Prime Minister as I do learns what an absolutely backbreaking job that is. I am, with each day that passes, so impressed with the Prime Minister’s resilience and strength of character. I sometimes wonder what it is that makes her get up in the morning and come in and face the disobliging headlines and cartoons that you sometimes produce.

“It’s a very old fashioned sense of public service and public duty. She’s not somebody who goes in for grandstanding or showboating for media opportunities. She’s there for a very decent old fashioned sense of public duty.

“I would say to people plotting against her, this is a woman who is intensely patriotic, intensely dutiful, doing her utmost for families and businesses in every corner of this country. They haven’t got a better alternative plan available to the one she has worked on and they should rally behind her because that’s what the national interest asks of them.”