Humza Yousaf clarifies false claim of 'spot checks' being carried out at airports

Scotland's Justice Secretary has been forced to retract a claim that public health officials were already carrying out spot checks on people flying into the country in June, when tests only began this week.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has writted to MSPs to clarify his comments on quarantine spot checks.

Humza Yousaf has written to MSPs on the Scottish Parliament's health and sport committee to clarify his comments from June 23, in which he said “approximately 20 per cent of travellers” had been contacted by health officials to check if they had developed coronavirus symptoms since arriving in Scotland.

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He also told the committee that Police Scotland had said compliance with quarantining measures among arrivals was “very high”, though it later emerged that police did not have any information relating to whether or not incoming passengers were sticking with quarantine rules or not.

Mr Yousaf’s letter was sent this afternoon, just hours after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed that he would be contacting the committee. In it he claims his statement to MSPs was based on flawed information from government officials and that while checks were due to go ahead in June they were halted because of a lack of quality data.

Mr Yousaf also says that a Memorandum of Understanding which was needed to be agreed by both UK and Scottish governments to enable the checks to take place, had to be re-negotiated.

However opposition MSPs declared the situation a “shambles” and demanded he apologise to Parliament.

He wrote: “In my evidence I stated that ‘public health officials... are contacting approximately 20% of travellers to give them public health guidance in relation to quarantining and self-isolation’. At the time I made that statement, based on the information provided to me by my officials, I believed it to be correct.

“I was advised that receipt of data and the ability to contact those in quarantine had begun on 22 June. However, I now understand that in fact on receipt of the data it was determined to not be of sufficient quality to allow the relevant checks to take place immediately and so further work was required to improve the quality of the data.

“This also required amendments to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Public Health Scotland and the Home Office that governed the sharing of sensitive information. The MoU is now fully in place, the relevant data of an appropriate quality has been received and checks have begun today (7 July) including retrospective sampling of those who have already arrived.”

He adds: “I remain confident that there is a robust system in place to check on incoming passengers. Border Force have reported high levels of compliance with the regulations at ports of entry. As I said to the committee Police Scotland’s approach to enforcement of these regulations would be to act based on intelligence they may receive that somebody is not self-isolating.

“In advance of the committee meeting, Police Scotland confirmed that no calls reporting non-compliance with the self-isolation requirements had been received. It may be of interest to the committee to know that as of today, 6 reports of suspected non-compliance have been received by Police Scotland.”

Earlier at the government's daily Covid-19 briefing, Nicola Sturgeon had been asked about Mr Yousaf’s statement to the committee. She said: “The information he got was the information he thought was the case, that on 22 June was when we had intended these checks would take place but because of reasons around the conclusion of the MoU that took longer and checks have now started.

“On the issue of compliance, what he was referring to, was at that time police had received no reports of non-compliance with self-isolation requirements. I am advised, and we will continue to look closely at this information, that as of today six reports of suspected non-compliance have been received, but at the time Humza talked about none had been received, but he will contact the committee to make sure those points are understood.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP, Alex Cole-Hamilton said the whole process was a “shambles” and the government was “winging it” over viral containment measures.

“The Cabinet Secretary’s evidence to the committee seems to be completely at odds with the truth as we now understand it and Parliament deserves an explanation,” he said. “The Government have said repeatedly this week that they couldn’t start the checks due to a delay in security clearance from the UK government.

"If there was a problem of this kind, why did the justice secretary not mention that in his committee evidence and why did he insist that it was happening as planned?”

Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said Nicola Sturgeon had failed to provide convincing answers on why Humza Yousaf had told the committee about the police being happy with travellers' compliance.

Mr Carlaw said: “It’s increasingly clear that Humza Yousaf misled the Scottish Parliament, and he now has to front up and explain why. He can either do that at the First Minister’s daily briefing or to Holyrood itself – but either way he needs to account for these claims.

“Mr Yousaf not only reeled off specific statistics in relation to quarantine checks, but said police had told him the compliance rate was very good. But now we know the compliance rate couldn’t possibly have been good, as no checks were taking place on this.

“And even if they had been, Police Scotland didn’t hold any information on the matter. This is another embarrassing gaffe by Nicola Sturgeon’s increasingly exposed and ill-equipped supporting cast – Humza Yousaf has clearly taken some liberties with the police and now needs to come clean as to why.”

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