Borders MP and MSP calling for unified approach to Covid-19 lockdown exit strategy on both sides of border

The current coronavirus crisis highlights the need for more joined-up thinking by the UK and Scottish governments in the event of any future national emergencies, according to Borders MP John Lamont.

Thursday, 23rd April 2020, 10:54 am
Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon giving a coronavirus update on April 16.

Different policies either side of Carter Bar have caused confusion for businesses and individuals over recent weeks that could have been avoided had a more unified approach been taken, says the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP.

“There will be a time and place after this difficult period has passed to allow us to carefully consider the measures taken to combat the coronavirus,” he said.

“However, it has become increasingly clear to me that unless there are clear and justifiable reasons for divergence, in national emergencies there should be a unified approach across the UK.

“Representing the Borders, I am acutely aware of the problems that can be caused by differing support and advice offered by Scotland’s two governments.

“Over the last few weeks, businesses and individuals have contacted me confused about which advice they should be following and why they are not getting the same financial support as their competitors just a few miles away in England.

“We will hopefully be considering how to relax the lockdown soon. This will rightly be guided by the advice of science and medical officials.

“It is really important that consideration is given to communities such as the Borders, where differing advice could cause havoc and lead to further confusion.

“We need to learn lessons so that, in any future national emergency, the same mistakes are not made again.

“Whether it be for work, shopping, schooling or health care, many people in the Borders move across the border on a daily basis.

“There needs to be consistent and understandable advice to avoid unnecessary anxiety and confusion.”

South Scotland Labour list MSP Colin Smyth is also calling for a more unified approach by Holyrood and Westminster, raising the issue with Nicola Sturgeon at a special first minister’s questions session this week.

He told her: “The first minister said that she will not hesitate to use a different approach or timescale to the rest of the UK when it comes to exiting lockdown.

“Does the first minister agree that, when it comes to the current path of Covid-19, there is little difference between Cumbria and Dumfries and Galloway, or between the Scottish Borders and Northumberland, and that we therefore need the right exit strategy for both sides of the border?

“Does she also accept that two different strategies, with different timescales, for communities that are next to each other, would simply add to confusion and would be almost impossible to enforce in one community when a neighbouring community, barely a social distance apart, is doing something completely different?”

Ms Sturgeon said she would take those points on board but retain the right, if appropriate, to deploy a different lockdown exit strategy to that to be overseen by UK Government prime minister Boris Johnson.

“We have to, and will, take such factors into account,” she said.

“For me, that is not a predetermined and ideological constitutional or political decision.

“Decisions are entirely driven by the best judgements that I and the government can make about what is right in order to protect the people whom we serve.

“The virus, like all viruses, does not respect borders or boundaries.

“People move around the different parts of the UK. That issue will be particularly acute in the border communities to which the member referred.

“It is also the case that, for simplicity of messaging, the more uniformity and consistency there is the easier it is to get messages across.

“However, I will be driven by what the advice, with my judgement applied, tells me is the right thing to do to protect people in Scotland.

“Where we think that it is right to do so, we will operate on a consistent UK-wide basis.

“However, when we think that it is right for Scotland to do something slightly differently, we will do that.

“That will be driven entirely by what we think is best to meet the objectives that we are all working towards right now, which are to suppress the virus, protect the National Health Service and save lives.”