Boris Johnson’s Government had wanted all four nations to introduce the same coronavirus “rule of six” – but Nicola Sturgeon failed to inform UK ministers of her plan to bring in a different version of the regulations, MPs have been told.
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said talks took place with the Scottish First Minister before Boris Johnson announced the rule for England – adding that the UK Government was “trying in that meeting to get all the devolved administrations on to the same page”.
But he claimed that while Whitehall ministers shared plans and information with the Scottish Government, this “tends to be a bit of a one-way street”.
He went on to say that relationships between Ms Sturgeon’s SNP administration in Edinburgh and Mr Johnson’s Conservative government in London could be “strained”.
He spoke about the communications issues between the two governments when he appeared before MPs on the Scottish Affairs Committee.
Mr Jack said: “We talked with the First Minister last week about the rule of six, and in that meeting we laid out to her what our plans were on that and she said I will do something tomorrow, but she wasn’t to tell us that the following day she was doing the rule of six excluding children under 12.”
He added: “She could have told us that, we could have come to an agreement.
“We were trying in that meeting to get all the devolved administrations on to the same page, because I think across the United Kingdom people deserve that, there has been a lot of confusion over the summer.”
There are now differences in the rules – with children under 12 not counting towards the number of people in a gathering in Scotland.
But the rules north of the border state that meet-ups should only involve people from two households – something which has not been included in the latest restrictions for England.
As well as telling MPs that the First Minister had not informed UK ministers of her plans for this, Mr Jack said a similar situation had occurred when Scottish public health minister Joe FitzPatrick attended a meeting where the UK Government’s plans to develop a coronavirus contact tracing app had been on the agenda.
The Scottish Secretary said: “When we had a meeting to talk about our app, Joe FitzPatrick attended that meeting, and was involved in discussions, and two days later the Scottish Government announced their intention to develop their own contact tracing app.
“But while Joe FitzPatrick came and happily listened to our plans and advice and everything else, he didn’t make any mention of the Scottish Government’s plan.”
He was speaking after Holyrood’s Constitution Secretary Mike Russell complained there was now no trust between the two administrations, alleging that there was a “hostility to devolution” within Mr Johnson’s government.
Mr Jack said: “I think trust is a two-way street, as I have said.”
He continued: “I think the Scottish Government have done things differently, they have presented the case that they were doing better with the virus despite much higher care home deaths.
“They claimed there was a prevalence five times higher of Covid in England than in Scotland… when we are accused of having five times the prevalence and the UK Statistics Authority say that claim was completely untrue, although it was repeated many times, I think you can understand where relationships might become a bit strained.”
Ms Sturgeon said later that the Scottish Secretary had been “talking nonsense”
She told ITV Border: “I co-operate with the UK Government all the time, but my job is to make sure we keep Scotland as safe as possible in this virus.”