Boris Johnson visited a coronavirus testing hub in Glasgow today as he defied Nicola Sturgeon by heading to Scotland.
The PM insisted the UK’s response to the pandemic – including the huge vaccine rollout – showed the value of the union as he travelled north of the border despite the First Minister swiping that it is not an ‘essential’ trip.
Mr Johnson was shown around the ‘Lighthouse’ hub for PCR samples at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital this morning.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove batted away criticism of the jaunt this morning, saying Mr Johnson wanted to thank frontline workers who were battling the virus. ‘He is the Prime Minister of the whole United Kingdom,’ Mr Gove said.
Meanwhile, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg branded the SNP leader ‘Moanalot’ – pointing out she had also complained about Royals going to Scotland.
Downing Street plans to stress the benefits of being in the UK for Scotland, with Mr Johnson highlighting the support afforded Scots during the Covid-19 crisis.
Officials said the UK Government had delivered more than one million rapid lateral flow test kits to Scotland so far and is funding testing sites across the country – including seven drive-through centres, 27 walk-through sites and 21 mobile testing units, along with the Lighthouse Lab in Glasgow.
Westminster cash has provided 62 per cent of testing kits in Scotland, Number 10 added.
Speaking ahead of his visit to Scotland, the Prime Minister 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 £8.6 billion 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 United Kingdom by our armed forces, who are helping to establish 80 new vaccine centres across Scotland.
‘That’s how we are delivering for the people of Scotland so we can ensure the strongest possible recovery from the virus.
‘Mutual co-operation across the UK throughout this pandemic is exactly what the people of Scotland expect and it is what I have been focused on.
‘The people of the UK have stood together during this pandemic: from our doctors and nurses in our hospitals to our shop workers, scientists, lorry drivers and teachers – working together as one truly United Kingdom is the best way to build our Covid recovery.’
In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Gove defended Mr Johnson’s trip to Scotland during lockdown restrictions.
He told Sky News: ‘The Prime Minister has a responsibility and a role to make sure the vaccine roll-out is proceeding appropriately, to thank those on the front line, NHS professionals and those in the British Army who are making sure things work well.
‘It’s also important the Prime Minister hears from those on the front line what is going well and what needs to improve.
‘When the Prime Minister visits other parts of the United Kingdom, other political leaders don’t criticise him, indeed there is a welcome for the Prime Minister and other ministers who are rolling up their sleeves and are getting in touch with those on the ground who are making a difference.’
He insisted all UK nations are ‘stronger together when we work together’, highlighting the vaccine roll-out.
The visit comes as the SNP ramps up calls for a second independence vote – even though the previous one in 2014 was billed by both sides as ‘once in a generation’.
Ms Sturgeon is arguing that should her SNP group win a majority at the Holyrood elections – due to happen in May – it would be grounds for a new border poll.
She has accused the Conservative Party leader of being ‘frightened of democracy’ in his refusal to back another poll on the union, following 2014’s independence defeat.
The government announced today that large-scale manufacturing of a coronavirus vaccine candidate expected to deliver up to 60million doses to the UK by the end of this year if approved has begun in Scotland.
Clinical trials are still ongoing for the Valneva vaccine candidate but manufacturing has started at the French biotech company’s site in Livingston, West Lothian.
As well as the 60million initial doses, the UK has the option to acquire a further 130 million if it is approved.
The candidate is currently in phase one/two trials and will need approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before it is rolled out.
Initial results from the ongoing clinical study, involving 150 participants at testing sites in Bristol, Southampton, Birmingham and Newcastle, are expected in April.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said that manufacturing the vaccine now means it can be rolled out quicker if it receives regulatory approval.
It follows a joint investment in the Livingston facility by the Government as part of an agreement to secure early access to the jab, according to the Government.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are currently being rolled out across the UK, with Government data showing more than 7.1 million people have received their first vaccine dose.
Valneva will potentially have the capacity to supply up to 250 million doses of the inactivated whole virus vaccine – containing whole bacteria or viruses which have been killed – to the UK and internationally if successful.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: ‘By starting manufacturing, we will have a running start at rolling these out as quickly as possible to protect the British public if it receives regulatory approval.
‘This facility in Scotland, backed by millions from the Government, will help us beat coronavirus and boost our resilience against future pandemics.’
The facility will establish a permanent UK ability to manufacture inactivated viral vaccines, a type which is also used for flu, polio and rabies jabs, according to the BEIS.
Valneva chief executive Thomas Lingelbach said: ‘Our team in Scotland have done an amazing job to get manufacturing started so quickly.
‘We believe that our vaccine, assuming successful development, can make a major contribution in the UK and beyond.’
SNP depute leader Keith Brown said the PM’s trip was evidence that he was in a ‘panic’ about the prospect of another referendum.
The MSP said: ‘Clearly, Boris Johnson is rattled. By branding this campaign trip as ‘essential’, this is clearly a Prime Minister in panic, who knows the Tories are losing the argument on independence.
‘Twenty polls in a row have shown that a majority of voters believe Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s.’