Nicola Sturgeon has seized on Boris Johnson’s “reckless” warnings to prepare for a no-deal Brexit in January as further proof of the need for independence, as Scotland gears up for next year’s Holyrood elections.
The first minister said it was beyond belief the prime minister was planning for no-deal with the EU while the world was gripped by a pandemic and a recession, claiming voters and businesses “will be in despair” at his latest statement. She said:
At best this is reckless brinkmanship. At worst it means the UK government is now actively pursuing a no deal outcome.
The reality is Scotland’s economy is going to be damaged by a further needless hit to jobs at the worst possible time, with either a thin trade deal or no-deal now the only possible outcomes.
Sturgeon said a no-deal Brexit would led to heavy tariffs which would cripple many businesses, and called on Johnson to retract his ultimatum. “The Scottish government view is clear – the best future for Scotland is to become an independent country,” she said.
Sturgeon’s language is intended to start framing battle lines for next May’s Scottish parliamentary elections, which the latest polls suggest the Scottish National party will win by a significant margin. Earlier this week Ipsos Mori put the SNP 39 points ahead of the Tories on 58%; Savanta ComRes put the SNP 27% points ahead, at 50%.
Sturgeon argues an SNP majority would give her an inarguable mandate to call a second independence referendum. The SNP’s latest party political broadcast, aired earlier this week, puts independence at the forefront of the May campaign by featuring yes voters who rejected independence in the 2014 referendum under the slogan “change must come”.
No 10 escalates Johnson's no-deal rhetoric - Summary and analysis
No 10 escalates no-deal rhetoric, saying 'trade talks are over'
Strugeon condemns Johnson's handling of Brexit, saying no-deal or limited deal hugely disruptive
Nicola Sturgeon has repeated her criticisms of Boris Johnson’s refusal to extend the Brexit transition period until after the Covid pandemic is over, because the Brexit deal is likely to overwhelm the UK’s overstretched governments.
She said Brexit was “another massive disruptive event” on top of the Covid crisis, and said the fresh threat of a no-deal Brexit or one based on minimal agreements on trade “was a matter of real frustration and depression”.
Sturgeon said she had sidelined her planning for a fresh independence referendum when the pandemic struck in March, and said it was deeply frustration the prime minister had not asked the EU for an extension to the transition period.
Asked at her daily Covid press briefing about Johnson’s latest warnings he would pursue a no-deal Brexit in January if necessary, she said a no-deal or minimal deal was now inevitable and would cause significant disruption early next year. She said:
I think that is now inescapable. I find it very, very frustrating that at a time when all of us should be giving 100% of our time and focus and energy to Covid, that the Scottish government, and this will be true of other governments in the UK, are having to think about how we cope with the prospects of Brexit where the implications of that are potentially huge.
We will do everything we can to deal with the implications of that but make no mistake, resources are finite. Every civil servant’s or every hour of my time that has to be spent right now thinking about the implications of a no-deal Brexit or a bare minimum deal Brexit is a civil servant’s or an hour of my time not focused as it should on trying to steer the country through the Covid pandemic.
[We] don’t need another big thing to be dealing with because all of us should be focusing on the Covid priority that lies ahead of us.
Liverpool leaders demand to know why their gyms must close when Lancashire's can stay open
Liverpool’s mayor Joe Anderson has criticised the government’s tiered lockdown strategy as an “inconsistent mess” after it was announced gyms in Lancashire would be allowed to stay open in tier 3, despite gyms in Liverpool being forced to close under the same measures. He posted this on Twitter.
Steve Rotheram, the metro mayor of the Liverpool City Region also said he was “demanding answers”.
The closure of gyms has been a point of particular controversy in the Liverpool area, with around 70 gyms refusing to close their doors and fundraising over £45,000 to pay for fines handed out for breaking the rules.
They argued the benefit of gyms to physical and mental health outweighs the risk of spreading the coronavirus, which they say data has shown to be minimal in gyms. However some medical experts have said the enclosed humid spaces within gyms, and shared equipment, encourage the virus to spread.
Body Tech Fitness in Moreton, Wirral, received a £1,000 fine from police, with owner Nick Whitcombe saying, “We are not staying open for financial gain but more for our members mental and physical well-being.”
After the Lancashire announcement, Whitcombe was positive that change in Liverpool was imminent. “We’re making a difference, Lancashire has not been given these restrictions,” he said, adding that he believed talks were already underway to see if the decision could be reversed in Liverpool. “I am confident that we have done this, it’s just a matter of time now before this gets pushed through and we can go back to normal.”
Johnson's handling of Brexit 'disastrous', say Lib Dems
Keeping schools open remains a “top priority” for the Welsh government as it contemplates a nationwide “circuit breaker”. (See 12.57pm.) But the first minister, Mark Drakeford, admitted that whether schools would be able to remain open “entirely” was still under discussion.
Boris Johnson has (finally) replied to two letters from Drakeford calling on him to stop people travelling out of Covid-19 hotspots in England.
Drakeford said Johnson was refusing to follow Wales and ban most travel from hotspots. But the first minister said the tone of Johnson’s letter was “reasonable” and the prime minister had reaffirmed “powerfully” his wish to work together with Wales.