Nicola Sturgeon says there’s a ‘choice between two futures’
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The meeting between the Prime Minister and the leaders of the other three devolved administrations over the Covid recovery was due to take place today (Thursday). But Scotland’s First Minister Ms Sturgeon and Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford wrote to Mr Johnson asking for more clarity around the agenda, insisting the discussion must be “meaningful”. Downing Street said the summit will be rescheduled “as soon as possible”, but no date has been set.
The cancellation of this crunch meeting has sparked an explosive new row between the four devolved nations, with both sides blaming the other for not being sufficiently prepared.
The Prime Minister had arranged the crucial summit to discuss the joint Covid recovery following the elections earlier this month, which saw Ms Sturgeon ruling SNP maintain power in Scotland and Mr Drakeford’s Labour come out on top in Wales.
Mr Johnson had also urged a “spirit of unity and cooperation” in developing a recovery plan from the Covid pandemic, with both the Scottish and Welsh First Ministers agreeing to take part in the talks.
But an explosive new row has erupted over the substance of the crunch meeting, with Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford writing a joint letter to the Prime Minister, which also copied to Northern Ireland’s Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill.
They lashed out at his office for sending a “very rough agenda” with key elements in the talks apparently not agreed.
The Scottish and Welsh First Ministers also warned of “further discussion” to take place ahead of the summit, which would e such an event delayed but still held “perhaps as early as next week”.
Downing Street has lashed out at the Scottish and Welsh Government’s over forcing the last-minute delay of the summit, but insisted they all “remain committed to that spirit of cooperation”.
Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “We had scheduled for this meeting to happen tomorrow.
“As the PM set out, we need to overcome the significant challenges of the Covid recovery with the same spirit of unity and co-operation that we’ve seen during the fight against the pandemic.
“It is disappointing that the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government would prefer to delay this meeting so they have more time to prepare, especially given the scale of that challenge, but we remain committed to that spirit of co-operation.”
But a spokesman for the Scottish Government furiously hit back, blaming Downing Street over the cancelled summit and insisting it did not have the detail behind it they had asked for.
He said: “The summit would be going ahead tomorrow if the UK Government were remotely prepared for it.
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“As we and the Welsh Government made clear in our letter to the Prime Minister, what they had suggested was simply a PR exercise without proper substance.
“We have asked for a detailed agenda to be prepared for a serious meeting, which is what this subject deserves.”
The fury around the postponement of the summit comes with Dominic Cummings making several explosive allegations against Mr Johnson, including the Prime Minister first believing coronavirus was like “swine flu”
The Prime Minister’s former top advisor also claimed many people died unnecessarily because of Government failings during the pandemic.
Mr Cummings told MPs on Wednesday: “The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me, fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its Government in a crisis like this.
“When the public needed us most, the Government failed.
“I would like to say to all the families of those who died unnecessarily how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made and for my own mistakes at that.”
While Mr Cummings was providing evidence, Mr Johnson told MPs in the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions: “None of the decisions have been easy, to go into a lockdown is a traumatic thing for a country.
“We have at every stage tried to minimise loss of life.”
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