Ian Blackford insisted that Scotland was open to tourists from the rest of the UK in spite of protests at the border that have been condemned by Nicola Sturgeon - but left the door open to controversial restrictions on travellers if they are needed to protect public health.
Mr Blackford defended the Scottish Government after it emerged that checks on international arrivals at Scottish airports have only just begun, rejecting criticism from travel industry leaders over the damage to their businesses, and blaming the delay on a failure to agree access to Home Office data with the UK Government.
Asked on the BBC’s Today programme whether he could rule out a quarantine being imposed on those crossing the Scotland-England border, the SNP MP said the Scottish Government was trying to “bring the infection under control, and if you look at the difference in the prevalence rate between Scotland and the rest of the UK, that has been successful. The prevalence rate is about a fifth of that of the rest of the UK.”
Mr Blackford went on to say: “What we want to do is make sure that people can come to Scotland, they can enjoy the holiday experience here, and of course within all of that, the government will continue to look at the health requirements that need to be put in place.
“But Scotland is open and people are welcome... There are further measures that will open up the tourist economy on 15 July, but what we want to do is welcome people here, we want to get the economy back up and working again, but at the same time the government in Edinburgh will take the necessary measures to make sure that we keep people safe and we keep the prevalence of the virus as low as possible.
“One of the things we are trying to do is as much as we can, eliminate this virus. I think the questions have to be put: what is the policy that the government has in London?”
He added: “We want to welcome people to Scotland. We don’t want to see protests at the border.”
Mr Blackford said the delay in implementing follow-up quarantine checks on international travellers arriving in Scotland was due to “issues around the memorandum of understanding” with the UK Government on data-sharing.
“The quarantine policy is something that has been brought in across the UK and it’s led by the border force,” he said.
“We needed to get to the situation where the Scottish Government had access to the data. It’s taken some time to do that, that is now in place… because we had to get a memorandum of understanding across the different governments, it’s taken some time to do that.”
Asked about the damage to tourism businesses caused by a policy that wasn’t being fully implemented, Mr Blackford said: “I don’t think it’s a case of doing damage to businesses. We want to make sure that businesses can flourish. We want to make sure that the economy can come out of this.”
Ahead of a statement by the Chancellor tomorrow unveiling additional support for the economy, Mr Blackford said it was essential that the UK Government follow Spain in extending the furlough scheme for as long as was needed to protect jobs.
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