Boris Johnson says ‘Union has proved its worth’ as he eases lockdown

The Union has “proved its worth in this crisis time and time again”, Boris Johnson has said after being challenged over the huge gulf in approval rating between him and Nicola Sturgeon, and the growing support for Scottish independence.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street on coronavirus
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street on coronavirus

The Prime Minister said the crisis had shown the strength of the Union, highlighting the role of the armed forces in providing coronavirus testing services in remote areas, and the furlough scheme funded by the UK Treasury, which has supported roughly a third of Scotland’s workforce through lockdown.

But he did not address why support for independence was rising in spite of the huge sums spent by the UK Government to prop up the economy, or why polling suggests the SNP will win an unprecedented majority at next year’s Scottish Parliament elections.

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Mr Johnson was announcing a long-term plan for returning to normality in England, with workers urged to return to offices and mass gatherings for cultural and sporting events restarting from 1 August.

The Prime Minister said he was optimistic that different generations of families would be able to gather for Christmas this year, although a route map published by the UK Government suggested normal life would not return until early 2021.

And Mr Johnson said he was “hoping for the best but planning for the worst”, with new investment in the NHS and new powers for English local authorities to impose targeted lockdowns, in anticipation a rise in coronavirus crisis just as normal winter flu pressures hit the health service.

The NHS in England will be given £3bn to maintain excess capacity built up to deal with coronavirus, including keeping Nightingale hospitals on standby, with the devolved administrations set to receive a windfall through the Barnett Formula.

Live performances in cultural venues will be allowed in England from 1 August, while the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible in Sheffield and Glorious Goodwood horse racing meeting will be used as test events for the first crowds returning to live sport.

Football fans will be allowed to return to stadiums from 1 October - but Mr Johnson warned the route map was dependent on Covid-19 infections continuing to fall.

Asked by the Scotsman whether the 99% difference between the net approval rating for the Prime Minister and the First Minister was evidence that he was “the biggest threat to Union”, Mr Johnson replied: “I think when you look at what’s actually happened in this crisis, there has been very good and very close collaboration, despite the surface differences and the polemics that you refer to.

“There have been very good discussions across the UK between public health authorities, between the chief scientific and medical officers, and actually the agenda has been pursued by all parts of the uk beneath the surface has been very, very similar.

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“It is thanks to the strength of the Union, I would say, that actually we’ve had the response that we’ve been able to muster as a whole United Kingdom, whether that’s our armed services bringing testing kits across the whole of the country, taking people in remote parts of Scotland to the testing centres where they need to go to, or the might of the UK Treasury and HMRC getting the furlough scheme up and running across the whole of the UK, which I thought was incredibly impressive.

“I’m conscious that people will try to make divisions, and it’s quite right that there will be distinctive approaches in some aspects of the way that we approach coronavirus, but I have absolutely no doubt that the Union has proved its worth in this crisis time and time again.

“It’s the oldest and most successful political partnership in the world, and we certainly don’t want to see it broken up.”

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