Nicola Sturgeon prepares for COBRA showdown on Covid curbs

Nicola Sturgeon prepares for COBRA meeting showdown with Michael Gove as she demands more cash from the Treasury to help businesses hit by her new Covid curbs and urges the UK Government to follow her lead and toughen restrictions

  • Michael Gove will host a COBRA committee meeting of devolved leaders today
  • Meeting comes as Nicola Sturgeon demands more Covid funding from Treasury
  • Ms Sturgeon yesterday strengthened Covid rules in Scotland to tackle Omicron
  • First Minister wants UK to follow suit because ‘Omicron is spreading very fast’ 

Nicola Sturgeon will hold showdown coronavirus talks with Michael Gove this afternoon as she demands more funding from the Treasury and urges the UK Government to follow her lead and toughen restrictions.  

Mr Gove, the Communities Secretary, will chair a meeting of the COBRA committee with the leaders of the devolved administrations to discuss the UK response to the Omicron variant. 

The meeting comes one day after Ms Sturgeon announced new rules for people in Scotland to restrict their socialising to three households before and after Christmas. 

The Scottish First Minister said restricting contact is necessary because ‘Omicron is spreading very fast’ and she believes the UK Government should also be introducing further curbs. 

Boris Johnson triggered his Plan B for England last week which requires masks to be worn in some indoor settings and for people to have to show an NHS Covid Pass to gain entry to large venues like nightclubs. 

Downing Street has repeatedly said there are currently no plans to go beyond Plan B.

Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon is locked in a row with the Treasury as she seeks extra money to help businesses in Scotland affected by her new rules. 

Nicola Sturgeon will hold showdown coronavirus talks with Michael Gove this afternoon as she demands more funding from the Treasury and urges the UK Government to follow her lead and toughen restrictions

Mr Gove will chair a meeting of the COBRA committee with the leaders of the devolved administrations to discuss the UK response to the Omicron variant

Ms Sturgeon tweeted this morning: ‘Omicron is spreading very fast. We MUST slow it down while we speed up boosters, or weight of infections will overwhelm NHS & economy.’ 

She has told Scots that gatherings should be limited to no more than three households. 

That advice came after the Scottish Government told people to cancel work Christmas parties and to work from home wherever possible.  

The Treasury announced yesterday that the UK Government will make additional funds available to the devolved administrations to ‘provide greater certainty and allow them to plan as they tackle Covid-19 during the crucial weeks ahead’.

But Ms Sturgeon accused the Treasury of ‘smoke and mirrors’ as she claimed there is actually no additional funding being made available. 

She said: ‘While any financial support in the face of the pandemic, and the emergence of the Omicron variant, is welcome, today’s announcement from the Treasury does not appear to amount to any additional funding.

‘Instead, it merely advances money which Scotland would be due in any case from expected Barnett consequentials already budgeted for – with the stipulation that we would need to pay back anything received over and above the final Barnett amount.

‘That’s not additional funding. That’s just classic Treasury smoke and mirrors.’

The SNP leader said the UK’s decision not to put in place tougher Covid curbs means extra funding for Scotland will not be triggered.   

She said: ‘Because the UK Government is at this stage not proposing any further protections – a position I do not agree with – there is no funding generated to compensate businesses for any protections we think are necessary and wish to put in place.

‘That is not acceptable in current circumstances and, with the Welsh and Northern Irish Governments, we are pressing for a fairer approach that takes account of our devolved responsibilities for protecting public health.

‘But for now, this is the situation we are in, and it means our public health response is curtailed by lack of finance.’

Ms Sturgeon has repeatedly called for the Treasury to make more Covid funding available to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

She wrote a joint letter with Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford in November seeking an assurance from Mr Johnson that devolved Covid business support schemes would be funded by the Treasury if more curbs were deemed to be necessary.  

Today’s COBRA meeting will take place after Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, said this morning that further coronavirus restrictions may ‘potentially’ be needed before Christmas to curb the spread of Omicron.

Asked if more restrictions could be put in place before Christmas, he said: ‘Potentially that could be the case, but we want to avoid that.

‘We hope we have done enough in the announcements that were made yesterday and we hope members of the public and businesses will work with us in a co-operative spirit to make sure we can take these provisions forward.’

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