ONE of Boris Johnson’s own scientific advisors has warned he is “making the best possible case” for Scottish independence by withholding money to fund business closures in Scotland.
Nicola Sturgeon joined with the First Ministers of Wales and Northern Ireland yesterday to ramp up demands for more cash support in response to the rise in Omicron cases.
On Friday, a Downing Street spokesperson confirmed that a Cobra meeting with the devolved nations would go ahead over the weekend to discuss the response to the Omicron variant of Covid.
The First Minister previously criticised the Prime Minister and Chancellor for their lack of action on the matter, and said that during a phone call between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Johnson on Friday she emphasised the “extreme urgency of the crisis” for businesses in the hospitality, events, culture and related sectors, which are already suffering a severe financial impact.
Now Stephen Reicher, a SAGE behavioural scientist, who provides advice to the Prime Minister, said he was being “held back by 100 or so Tory backbenchers” – adding “we pay the price” by “their failure”.
The UK Government is not being held back from taking action on Covid by the British public (who increasingly are demanding something be done).
It is held back by 100 or so tory backbenchers over whom the Government has lost political authority.
But we pay the price pic.twitter.com/LGeohVEvps
— Stephen Reicher (@ReicherStephen) December 17, 2021
He tweeted: “Whether you are for independence or against, it is hard to deny that Johnson’s present actions on Covid (or rather inactions which limit ScotGov’s ability to act themselves) are making the best possible case in favour.”
The University of St Andrews psychologist later added: “The UK government is not being held back from taking action on Covid by the British public (who increasingly are demanding something be done).
“It is held back by 100 or so Tory backbenchers over whom the government has lost political authority. Their failure, but we pay the price.”
Commenting after her phone call with Mr Johnson, Ms Sturgeon’s spokesperson added: “The First Minister also made clear that the devolved administrations require clarity that additional funding support would be available, and also on how it can be triggered by any or all of the UK administrations, in the event of further protective measures being necessary to tackle the virus in the period ahead.”
Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Paul Givan, also spoke with Mr Johnson on Friday, as did Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford.
Mr Givan said he had asked the Prime Minister for more economic support in response to cases rising.
Speaking after their conversation, he said: “During the discussion, there were a number of issues that were raised about having greater co-operation and working together.
“I also pressed the need for greater support from the Treasury because it is vital that those businesses that have already been impacted by the decisions that people have taken to reduce their own social contacts are given support, and that’s an issue that we’ll continue to make representation on to the Government.”
Earlier on Friday Mr Drakeford heavily criticised the UK Treasury and its attitude towards supporting the devolved nations as Omicron cases continue to surge.
“Our ability to provide and sustain longer-term economic support during this new wave of this ongoing public health emergency is severely constrained by the current position of the UK Treasury and its refusal to open vital support schemes, such as furlough,” he said.
“These schemes should be available for all nations when they are needed and not just at the point when restrictions are introduced in England.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak met virtually with the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses, and the British Chambers of Commerce on Friday afternoon after he returned early from a trip to California.
A Treasury spokesperson said: “The Chancellor spoke to business and industry leaders this afternoon.
“We recognise how important the festive period is for so many businesses and the Government will continue to engage constructively on how it can best provide ongoing support to the businesses and sectors affected.”
The groups raised concerns about the impact of cancellations and the importance of clear messaging from the Government.