Boris Johnson Scotland visit: is the prime minister breaking Covid lockdown restrictions with his trip today?

Nicola Sturgeon has questioned whether his visit is ‘essential’
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Boris Johnson is set to visit Scotland today to highlight the strength of the Union during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The prime minister will be travelling north of the border on Thursday 28 January amid growing support for a second Scottish independence referendum.

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Nicola Sturgeon has questioned whether Mr Johnson’s trip is “essential” due to the current coronavirus travel restrictions in place.

The first minister has said she is 'not ecstatic' about Boris Johnson's trip to Scotland (Getty Images)The first minister has said she is 'not ecstatic' about Boris Johnson's trip to Scotland (Getty Images)
The first minister has said she is 'not ecstatic' about Boris Johnson's trip to Scotland (Getty Images)

So, is the PM breaking lockdown rules to visit Scotland today - and why is he making the journey?

Here is everything you need to know.

Is Boris Johnson breaking lockdown rules?

The prime minister will be travelling from Downing Street to Scotland for a pitstop visit.

Under the current lockdown restrictions, people are only allowed to travel between Scotland and England if they have a reasonable excuse.

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No 10 have said Boris Johnson’s trip is essential, insisting that he needs to be “visible and accessible” across the UK during the crisis.

When asked about the trip, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said Mr Johnson should be able to go "wherever he needs to go in his vital work against this pandemic".

And Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told BBC Breakfast that the prime minister should be able to visit Scotland just like he has gone to other vital places during the crisis, such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine factory in Wrexham.

However, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she was “not ecstatic” about Mr Johnson’s trip, and questioned whether it was “essential”.

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Asked about the PM’s visit during her daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday (27 January), Ms Sturgeon said: “We are living in a global pandemic and every day I stand and look down the camera and say 'don't travel unless it is essential, work from home if you possibly can' - that has to apply to all of us.

"People like me and Boris Johnson have to be in work for reasons people understand, but we don't have to travel across the UK. We have a duty to lead by example."

The first minister said she had turned down a visit to a vaccine centre in Aberdeen because she did not believe it was “genuinely essential”.

She added: "If I'm standing here every day saying to all of you watching, don't leave your house unless it is essential, I have a duty to subject myself to that same discipline and decision making.

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"I would say me travelling from Edinburgh to Aberdeen to visit a vaccine centre is not essential - Boris Johnson travelling from London to wherever in Scotland to do the same is not essential.

"If we're asking other people to abide by that then I'm sorry, I think it's incumbent on us to do likewise."

The SNP leader made clear that she was not saying the prime minister was unwelcome in Scotland, but that she was referring to him travelling up from London.

Responding to Ms Sturgeon’s statement, a Downing Street spokesman said: "It remains the fact that it is a fundamental role of the PM to be the physical representative of the UK government.

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"It is right that he is visible and accessible to businesses, communities and the public across all parts of the UK, especially during the pandemic."

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What are the Covid travel rules?

Unless it is for an essential reason, under the current coronavirus travel restrictions it is illegal for people to travel between Scotland and anywhere else in the UK.

People in mainland Scotland have been instructed to stay at home and only leave the house if it is for a purpose that can be deemed essential.

That includes for work, exercise, food shopping, childcare or education. There’s a full list of exemptions on the Scottish Government website.

Why is Boris Johnson visiting Scotland?

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The prime minister is expected to use his visit up north to argue the case for the Union, as recent opinion polls have shown an increase in support for Scottish independence.

According to reports, Boris Johnson will argue that the Union has been integral in rolling out Covid-19 vaccines, providing testing and giving financial support to Scotland throughout the pandemic.

He is also likely to thank frontline staff involved in the coronavirus response.

His visit comes as the SNP revealed its Scottish independence “roadmap” on Sunday 24 January, which revealed details of a “legal referendum” which would be held post-Covid if the SNP gained a majority in the May elections.

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Boris Johnson has repeatedly said he opposes a second independence referendum, calling the first one in 2014 a “once in a generation” vote.

Ahead of his trip, the PM said: "The great benefits of co-operation across the whole of the UK have never been clearer than since the beginning of this pandemic.

"We have pulled together to defeat the virus, providing £8.6bn to the Scottish government to support public services whilst also protecting the jobs of more than 930,000 citizens in Scotland.

"We have a vaccine programme developed in labs in Oxford being administered across the UK by our armed forces, who are helping to establish 80 new vaccine centres across Scotland.

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"That's how we are delivering for the people of Scotland so we can ensure the strongest possible recovery from the virus."

Brexit and the UK Government’s handling of the pandemic response are thought to be two key reasons that have driven rising support for a second independence referendum.

There was a Remain majority in Scotland during the 2016 Brexit vote, with 62 per cent choosing to stay in the EU.

Polls have also suggested that Scots have preferred Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership during coronavirus to Boris Johnson’s.