ANDY Burnham has raised the prospect of a court battle with Nicola Sturgeon after her government snubbed compensation demands for those hit by her latest cross-Border travel ban.
A tit-for-tat row erupted with the Greater Manchester mayor ramping up calls for people to be compensated for any hotel and travel expenses for planned trips to Scotland. He also demanded payouts for firms hit by the Covid restrictions that prevent all non-essential travel between Scotland and the council areas of Manchester and Salford. The First Minister accused Ms Burnham of posturing for a place in a future Labour leadership contest by picking a fight with her over the curbs.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I’ve always gotten on well with Andy Burnham and if he wants a grown-up conversation all he has to do is to pick up the phone.
“But if, as I suspect maybe the case, this is more of generating spat with me as part of some positioning in a Labour leadership contest of the future, then I’m not interested.”
Ms Sturgeon’s deputy John Swinney earlier insisted the move was “justified” by the city region’s spiking Covid case rate.
He also said Mr Burnham’s call for compensation is not “a relevant point” as business support is already available in England.
Mr Swinney added: “The provisions that we’ve put in place in relation to Manchester and Salford are consistent approaches we’ve taken in that area before.”
Ms Sturgeon has also come under fire from opposition parties at Holyrood for quietly bringing in laws that underpin the travel ban on Thursday, but failing to inform parliament.
She instead waited until a press conference on Friday to announce the changes.
Restrictions also remain in place for travel between Scotland and Bolton, and Blackburn with Darwen.
But people can still travel to parts of Scotland with similar case numbers.
Mr Burnham dismissed the accusation from the SNP leader that he was engaging in political jockeying saying the ban had been imposed “in a quite high-handed way without any notice.”
He also said Ms Sturgeon’s was on “shaky ground” administration and suggested his office had already received legal advice suggesting compensation should not have been dismissed.
Mr Burnham said: “We’ll have to gather more and more cases of people and we’ll have to see the extent to which people have been affected.”
Pressed over the threat of litigation he said: “I’m not wanting to overplay my hand here because threatening legal action is something that only should be done if appropriate. However, I am going to find out this week how many people are affected.
“I’m going to put the call out for people to contact me so we get a clear sense of it. Let’s see what comes back from that. I couldn’t rule out, if there’s hundreds of people that are out of pocket by hundreds of pounds, you know I will represent them in the best way. If there is a legal redress route for them, then I think that should be considered.
“Because I don’t think, you know, it’s clear to me this afternoon, that things have been done in an even handed way, in terms of the way restrictions have been implemented. And I also think the lateness of the notice, as many people haven’t been able to try and salvage bookings or rearrange plans or all that kind of thing, so I can there is a case but I wouldn’t want to overplay my hand on that.”
Meanwhile it’s unclear if rule breach fines are enforceable.
Asked about the issue, Mr Burnham said: ‘We’ve checked with Greater Manchester Police today. Their view is that they cannot enforce Scottish regulations, even if they wanted to – and I don’t think they want to by the way – and that that is the position. So I don’t know how the ban gets enforced, to be honest. And that is also a matter for the Scottish Government to set out: you know, what is the implications if someone from Scotland travels here? I don’t know what happens. I don’t know what we’re meant to do about that.’
Dr Nick McKerrell, a senior law lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University, said “no powers” have been given to Police Scotland to stop cars when a travel ban is in place.
He said: “Theoretically the police could charge somebody in Scotland, if they’ve discovered they’ve travelled from Manchester.
“That can be easily challenged. I would see if anyone was arrested or fined in such a way, because I’m unclear of the powers of the police.”