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Jack attacks SNP for plotting independence as Scottish Government clashes with the Treasury

Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, has accused Scottish Nationalists “with too much time on their hands” of trying to break up Britain even whilst the nation grapples with Covid-19, the Times reports.

This follows news that senior figures in the party are drawing up plans for a second referendum on independence, even as the Scottish Government draws on the huge resources of the British state to finance their lockdown measures. Tory MSPs have urged the Government to clarify that it won’t let another independence push distract from the task at hand.

Meanwhile there is a clash looming between the Scottish Government and the Treasury over the future of lockdown following reports that Rishi Sunak might turn off the taps for programmes such as furlough if Edinburgh tries to break ranks with London over the timetable.

Whilst it seems unlikely that the Chancellor is going to insist on a single lockdown exit date for the whole UK – after all, Jack has reportedly dropped his opposition to England relaxing the rules sooner if circumstances permit it – it may be that he will insist that a UK-wide strategy of variegated relaxation is conducted under the aegis of Westminster, rather than giving Holyrood a blank cheque to spend UK taxpayers’ money without any accountability to them – especially if delays stem in part from the Scottish Government’s own incompetence.

There may also be an opportunity for the Treasury to use its muscle support local government in Scotland, with pressure growing for different policies in different parts of the country.

Welsh Government bites bullet and signs up to UK-wide approach

From the start of the pandemic, a running story in this column has been how the devolved administrations, whilst cleaving to the Government on top-level policy, have made a hash of things in other areas by needlessly insisting in separate schemes for such things as NHS volunteering and emergency supermarket deliveries.

This week saw some welcome progress on this front when the Welsh Government abandoned efforts to develop a separate online platform wherein key workers could book Covid-19 tests. They have instead opted into a system set up by the British Government to which both Scotland and Northern Ireland had already subscribed.

Vaughan Gething, the health minister, said that he was “really not bothered into getting into how much we spent” on the alternative, which was over ever rolled out in south-eastern Wales. None of this will surprise readers of the Daily Mail, which this week ran a comprehensive account of the Welsh Government’s botched handling of the pandemic.

In other news, it turns out that Cardiff Bay ministers have sent thousands shielding letters, intended for those most at risk from Covid-19, to the wrong addresses – only a month after the last time they did so – and Mark Drakeford has faced tough questions over missing his ‘tiny’ testing target. As WB Yeats once put it: “You have disgraced yourselves, again!”

Gove confirms that British goods will face Ulster checks

This week has seen more reporting on the widening realisation of what Boris Johnson’s u-turn on the Irish Protocol – which is being described in the Irish press as “an almost complete British retreat” – means for trade with the Province.

Michael Gove has confirmed that existing customs infrastructure at Northern Irish ports will need to be expanded, but that no new posts will be built. He has also insisted that Ulster’s position in the United Kingdom is “constitutionally secure“, although unionists are deeply concerned that the arrangements with re-orient Northern Ireland’s entire economic outlook on a north-south axis.

The Government is reportedly trying to adopt a ‘light-touch’ approach towards policing the new Irish Sea border, but this has apparently put them on collision course with Brussels again. Given the Prime Minister’s track record, we can probably expect a fresh capitulation over the summer if that’s what it takes to avoid extending the transition period.

Comment:

  • Covid-19 is putting a spotlight on the SNP, and their reputation should not survive – Henry Hill, Daily Telegraph
  • Sturgeon is pulling the wool over our eyes – Clare Foges, The Times
  • The First Minister must prove there was no Covid-19 cover-up – Brian Wilson, The Scotsman
  • SNP is exploiting Covid to push its nationalist agenda – Dr Azeem Ibrahim, CapX
  • Welsh ministers don’t even know their own rules – Marcus Stead, Spiked!

69 comments for: Henry Hill: Sunak squares up to the SNP over the future of furlough

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