May 07, 2020

Coronavirus: Divergence between London and devolved authorities in lifting lockdown

The United Kingdom has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis. As it stands there are over 248,800 cases in the UK, with the highest concentration in English cities, such as London and Birmingham. However, due to the UK’s structure of 4 nations, each with their own health authorities, the response to the crisis has not been consistent across the whole country. The devolved authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all expressed different views towards ending the lockdown from the UK central government in Westminster. While Boris Johnson’s government is gradually easing lockdown restrictions across England, Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP-led Scottish government announced it will continue with the restrictions, a view shared by Welsh First Minister Mark Drayford.

Below is an article by the Guardian

Significant strains have emerged between the UK government and devolved administrations over Boris Johnson’s plans to start lifting the lockdown without first reaching an agreement with Scotland and Wales.

Officials in Edinburgh and Cardiff said No 10 had not yet shared any details about the prime minister’s apparent intention to begin easing the lockdown from Monday, despite a long-standing “four nations” approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

Johnson is expected to unveil those plans on Sunday but Nicola Sturgeon’s spokesman confirmed the first minister plans to renew all Scotland’s lockdown regulations on Thursday without amending them.

They were not aware of any scientific or expert advice which supported Johnson’s proposals, he said. “I think the first minister has said in recent days she’s been very clear that she’s not anticipating any imminent changes to the current measures that are recently in place.”

The UK’s nations of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have collaborated closely on policies and strategies during the pandemic, with Johnson announcing the lockdown plans on 20 and 23 March on behalf of all four governments.

Sturgeon came under pressure to fall into line with the UK government on Tuesday when Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, said it was essential that Edinburgh and London were in “lockstep” on relaxing the lockdown and “present a simple, clear, united message” in an article written for the Daily Mail.

Her spokesman implied on Wednesday it was the UK government that was breaking the alliance between the four governments. “If you have any constituent parts of the UK moving in a direction before other parts are ready, then that really undermines the whole ethos and intention of a four nations approach,” he said.

The first minister warned Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, that there had to be full agreement between the UK, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments before any changes were made during a conference call on Tuesday.

That call also involved Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, who is understood to support Sturgeon’s demands during that call for a “four nations” approach to ending the lockdown.

Drakeford has not yet heard what Johnson is planning to do, and plans to press the prime minister for details at the next meeting of Cobra, the UK emergency planning committee, which is not expected to take place until this weekend.

Jeremy Miles, the Welsh government’s counsel general, said Drakeford would review the lockdown on Thursday and added: “He has been clear that his strong preference is to agree a common set of measures and common timetable across the UK. We are, of course, making our own preparations to ensure that the interests of the people of Wales remain paramount.”

Sturgeon’s spokesman hinted at growing frustration in Edinburgh about the lack of consultation from No 10 about Johnson’s proposals, and implied a clear split was emerging.

“If there is to be a four-nations approach, and for it to be meaningful, it has to take into account all four nations. If the preference is to go in lockstep, to do things in a coordinated fashion whereby all four nations of the UK move more or less in unison, obviously all four have to be ready,” he said.

The Scottish and Welsh governments are heavily dependent on the UK government for emergency funding and the scientific expertise needed to fight the pandemic, but there have been differences in approach between the Scottish, Welsh and UK governments during the crisis.

Sturgeon was first to announce a ban on large gatherings over 500 people and unlike the UK government has made clear she does not expect Scottish schools to reopen until August. The Welsh suggested schools might slowly reopen before the UK government floated that in England.


Photo: Nicola Sturgeon (Scottish First Minister) at the Scottish parliament. Photograph: Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily/EPA