Downing Street today defended Boris Johnson’s right to travel across the UK during the coronavirus crisis ahead of an expected trip to Scotland after Nicola Sturgeon urged him to respect lockdown travel rules.
Number 10 said it is the ‘fundamental role of the prime minister to be the physical representative of the UK government’ and it is ‘right that he is visible and accessible’.
Mr Johnson is widely expected to travel north of the border this week to make the case for the Union and to urge Scots to reject separatism.
But a visit will put the PM on a collision course with Ms Sturgeon after she questioned whether such a trip is really ‘essential’ and told Mr Johnson he has a ‘duty to lead by example’.
Ms Sturgeon said she is ‘not ecstatic’ about the PM’s trip and urged him to listen to his own advice to people to ‘work from home if you possibly can’.
Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon blasted Mr Johnson’s new hotel quarantine plan as she said it ‘does not go far enough’.
Current curbs in Scotland dictate that people should not cross the border unless it is an essential journey.
Travel for work is allowed ‘but only where that cannot be done from your home’.
Mr Johnson’s expected trip to Scotland comes after the SNP on Saturday released an 11-point ‘roadmap’ to holding another independence referendum.
The party has made clear a ballot could take place if May’s Holyrood elections result in a pro-independence majority – even if Westminster refuses to grant permission for a re-run of the 2014 referendum.
There have now been 20 consecutive polls suggesting a majority of Scots could vote in favour of independence.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly said he will not grant permission for another referendum because he believes the first ballot settled the issue for a generation.
The prospect of the PM visiting Scotland this week has prompted SNP fury, amid suggestions that the trip would not be within the spirit of the travel rules.
Ms Sturgeon told her daily Covid-19 briefing in Edinburgh: ‘I am not and never would be saying that Boris Johnson is not welcome in Scotland. He is the Prime Minister of the UK.
‘But beyond that everybody is welcome in Scotland… Boris Johnson is not unwelcome in Scotland even if I had the ability to stop him.
‘That is not what this is about and I would be really disappointed if that is how what I am about to say is translated.
‘But we are living in a global pandemic and every day right now I stand, look down the camera, and say what I am about to say, Boris Johnson does that, I heard him do it as recently as yesterday: Don’t travel unless it is really essential, work from home if you possibly can.
‘That has to apply to all of us. Now, people like me and Boris Johnson have to be in work for reasons that I think most people understand.
‘But we don’t have to travel across the UK as part of that. Is that really essential right now? Because we have a duty to lead by example and if we are going to suggest that we don’t take these rules as seriously as we should it gets harder to convince other people.
‘That is why I perhaps am not ecstatic about the thought of the Prime Minister visiting.
‘It’s not because he is not welcome, in fact if I was standing here being political you could perhaps conclude that I would be quite welcoming of him coming to Scotland.
‘But we are in a global pandemic. Let’s all remember the importance of these rules and the importance of us, none of us are infallible as I have demonstrated but we have all got a duty to lead by example here.’
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman refused to confirm if a trip to Scotland would take place tomorrow.
But he defended Mr Johnson’s right to travel during the pandemic, telling reporters: ‘It’s the fundamental role of the prime minister to be the physical representative of the UK government.
‘It’s right that he is visible and accessible to communities and businesses and the public across all parts of the UK especially during this pandemic.’
Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon also announced that she intends to go further than Mr Johnson on the issue of hotel quarantine.