The first ministers of Scotland and Wales have slated the UK government’s “shambolic” handling of the quarantine-air-bridges saga on the eve of England’s easing of lockdown that will see pubs open from 6am today (Saturday).
“Let’s not blow it” pleaded the prime minister as businesses and venues around the country readied for July 4’s Covid-secure reopening in the English part of the United Kingdom.
However, Boris Johnson’s government was under a scathing attack by the leaders of Wales and Scotland who said they were regarded as an afterthought by Downing Street in discussions about quarantine measures and air-bridges – despite the legal requirement to ensure decisions are lawful and proportionate.
Nicola Sturgeon slated the UK government’s decision-making on air bridges as “shambolic”, comments echoed and amplified by the Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford who said it had been “impossible” to get a “sensible answer” as to how ministers intended to make the changes.
Johnson laid out the government’s quarantine plans effective from July 10 (Friday) and published the list of countries exempting people arriving to England from isolating for 14 days.
However, the plan will only apply in England as the governments of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have not yet agreed to the proposals.
Scotland ‘very likely’ to lift restrictions
Sturgeon criticised the speed at which Number 10 expected a decision on lifting quarantine, explaining a list of proposed countries received one day differed to a new list the next day.
“When so much is at stake, as it is right now, we can’t allow ourselves to be dragged along in the wake of, to be quite frank about it, another government’s shambolic decision process.”
Scotland is “very likely” to lift restrictions for low risk countries, said Sturgeon, adding her government would need to “carefully scrutinise” countries deemed “medium risk”.
‘Impossible to get a sensible answer from UK government’ – Drakeford
Drakeford said Wales wants to be part of the UK scheme but that dealing with the UK government to lift the quarantine had been an “utterly shambolic experience”.
“If ever there was an example of making an announcement first and then trying to work out what you meant by it, that is what we have seen since,” Drakeford told the daily Welsh Government briefing.
“Day after day we have attempted to get a sensible answer from the UK government of how they intend to make these changes – which countries they intend to extend the new arrangements to, and I just have to say it’s been an impossible experience to follow.”
Drakeford said the law requires Wales’ chief medical officer to independently assess the list of countries chosen by the UK government but added that Wales could be ready by July 10.
Number 10 said the devolved governments in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff need to “make and explain their own decisions”.
Johnson told a Downing Street press conference today (Friday) that the changes have been “trailed for a very long time” and that his “impression of the way we’ve been working as a UK is that we, generally speaking, are following very, very similar paths – if at slightly different speeds.”
Pubs open with a PM’s warning
At the same briefing the prime minister urged people not to “blow it” when many lockdown restrictions are lifted tomorrow (July 4) reminding the country: “We are not out of the woods yet.”
Johnson said pubs would be allowed to reopen at 6am, calling it a “sensible precaution” in order to avoid midnight openings leading to late drinking parties across England.
England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty accompanied the PM and said easing lockdown was “not a risk-free next step” and reminded people to continue following the social distancing rules.
“If individuals, families and firms do not take them seriously the possibility of a second wave goes up sharply,” said Whitty.