Downing Street has blasted Nicola Sturgeon for increasing pressure on Boris Johnson to grant Scots another independence referendum.
Scotland’s First Minister claimed the Conservative leader would cave in and agree to another ballot if the SNP wins a majority at next month’s Holyrood elections.
But No10 suggested Ms Sturgeon should concentrate on tackling the coronavirus crisis rather than pushing to break up the UK.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “Ministers and officials across all of the UK, all UK Government departments, are focused on tackling the Covid-19 pandemic – I think that’s what the public wants to see.
“Scottish people have been clear they want to see the UK Government and devolved administrations working together to defeat this pandemic.
“Calling for a referendum in this way in the middle of a pandemic is not right.”
In the run-up to the September 2014 referendum, where Scots voted 55% to 45% to remain part of the UK, nationalists admitted the ballot would settle the issue “for a generation”.
But Brexit has fuelled calls for a rerun.
The PM has so far rejected calls to give the go-ahead for second referendum – and No10 said Mr Johnson believed the issue had been settled “for a generation”.
However, if the nationalists claim a majority on May 6, it would pile pressure on Westminster to give the green light to another separation vote.
Ms Sturgeon earlier told The Guardian: “If people in Scotland vote for a party saying, ‘When the time is right, there should be an independence referendum’, you cannot stand in the way of that, and I don’t think that is what will happen.”
She believes discussions in the UK Government had “moved away from, ‘We can stop a referendum’ to, ‘When would it happen, and on what basis would it happen?”‘
Ms Sturgeon said her “strong preference and intention” was to hold another referendum in the first half of the parliament, up to 2023, but she will be “guided by the realities of Covid”.