DR Cable defended the decision to swipe huge sums of vital EU-aid from the North-East – but insisted the loss would be less than the £100m predicted.

The Northern Echo revealed so-called structural funds - to win investment and jobs – had been switched to Scotland, after a fierce campaign by the Edinburgh parliament.

The Scottish Secretary all-but admitted the funding boost was a weapon to help save the Union, when the independence referendum is staged next year.

Stephen Hughes, a Labour Euro-MP for the North-East, suggested this region would lose “up to £100m” of the £300m-odd it had expected to receive, over six years.

Today, (Monday, April 29), the Business Secretary admitted he had been lobbied by Fiona Hall, the Liberal Democrat MEP, over the threat to this region.

But he said: “I did not recognise her numbers, honestly. It will be much less dramatic than you have been led to believe.

“I don’t know what the actual figure is, but the cuts have been spread across England, as well as across the UK, in what we think is an equitable manner.

“It doesn’t inflict severe losses on any particular area, of which the North-East is one.”

A Whitehall source later described the £100m figure as a “back of a fag packet” calculation – but admitted ministers had yet to decide the actual numbers.

The UK’s allocation of EU structural funds is being slashed, threatening Scotland – because it is far richer than the likes of the North-East – with a 32 per cent reduction.

But, after protests from Edinburgh, the Coalition government agreed a five per cent cut for each of the UK nations, for the 2014-2020 period.

It means Scotland will receive £193m more than if allocations had been based on “need”, in line with EU guidelines – while England will receive £665m less.

Downing Street insisted the decision had “nothing to do with the independence referendum”, to be staged on September 18 next year.