Quarantine row deepens after Scottish Government blamed for air bridges delay

Nicola Sturgeon has hit back at the UK Transport Secretary after he suggested the Scottish Government was to blame for a delay in announcing ‘air bridges’ to foreign holiday destinations, in an escalating war of words between Edinburgh and London over coronavirus quarantine arrangements.

The First Minister accused Grant Shapps of “misrepresenting” the situation and claimed the UK Government had revised its proposals three times in less than 24 hours, making it impossible to reach a view.

Mr Shapps was expected to announce the agreement of air bridges with a limited number of countries by yesterday, enabling foreign holidays and kick-starting the tourism sector by allowing travellers to escape a 14-day quarantine requirement on arrival in the UK.

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But an announcement is now expected today at the earliest, with reports suggesting the UK Government will instead move to allow quarantine-free travel from up to 75 countries, including nearly all EU destinations, the British territories including Bermuda and Gibraltar, as well as Turkey, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand.

It follows the decision by the Greek government to extend a ban on direct flights from the UK until at least 15 July, and a threat from other countries to impose quarantine if they were not put on a list of safe destinations - making reciprocal agreements difficult.

Answering questions in the Commons yesterday morning from SNP MP Gavin Newlands, Mr Shapps said he would “appreciate his help in ensuring that air bridges can get going as quickly as possible...

“I’m very keen to get the devolved governments including Scotland on board so we can get this thing announced”.

The comments drew an angry response from Ms Sturgeon at the Scottish Government’s daily coronavirus briefing. “I have seen the comments from Grant Shapps this morning, and these comments seem to suggest that the Scottish Government is a block on these proposals going forward and the only barrier to these proposals going forward,” she said. “I want to say in the clearest possible terms that that is a misrepresentation of the situation.”

The First Minister said she believed a four-nation agreement on quarantine arrangements would be “ideal” and that talks between the UK and devolved ministers had taken place the previous evening.

“We went on to that call to discuss a proposal that had been circulated. Less than half an hour before that call took place, the UK Government significantly changed its proposal. It was only after that call that it provided the data for the change to the proposal to the Scottish Government. And at the time it provided the data, it made further changes to its proposals.

“So to be blunt about it, we have a duty as a Scottish Government to assess proposals and come to a view on them, and we’re finding it difficult to do that because they are changing in the way that I’ve just described.”

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Ms Sturgeon said other devolved administrations have concerns about the UK Government’s proposals. Wales’ minister for international relations, Eluned Morgan, said Welsh Government ministers would “continue to review” the list of countries presented to them.

Scotland’s Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf also hit back at Mr Shapps’ comments and claimed the UK Government had repeatedly redrawn the list of countries under consideration without consulting the devolved administrations.

“We have sought, as far as possible, a four-nations approach to this issue, but such a policy requires meaningful consultation by the UK Government - something which has so far been lacking,” he said.

It is understood Scottish ministers want the lifting of quarantine, which is expected to apply from Monday, to coincide with the opening of hospitality and tourism in Scotland on 15 July.

There are also concerns about countries where the spread of coronavirus puts them in the moderate category of risk according to a new traffic light rating being exempted from quarantine.

The latest row follows angry words exchanged between Boris Johnson and the First Minister over Ms Sturgeon’s warning that quarantine could be imposed on visitors to Scotland from the rest of the UK, if other nations continue to have a higher level of infection.

Mr Johnson called the First Minister’s comments “highly irresponsible” and insisted: “There is no such thing as a border between Scotland and England.”Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg stepped up the rhetoric yesterday, claiming the First Minister wants to “build a wall” between Scotland and England.

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“One never thought that Nicola Sturgeon would model herself on American political figures and want to build a wall – at least a metaphorical wall if not actually getting like Hadrian with the bricks and mortar,” he told MPs.

At the briefing in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon added: “I think the UK Government should spend less time trying to misrepresent and politicise these difficult issues that we are dealing with right now.”

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