Labour’s Mark Drakeford has declared that he is “genuinely baffled” by the Prime Minister’s refusal to put in place measures to stop people travelling to Wales and other areas from coronavirus hotspots in England.
In an interview with the BBC this morning, the Welsh First Minister argued that enshrining in law restrictions on people moving from an area with a high prevalence of the virus to another is “simple and straightforward”.
He told viewers: “I am genuinely baffled by the Prime Minister’s unwillingness to take an action, which I think is very simple and straightforward – and which would have reinforced the sense of acting together across the UK.
“I never wanted this to become an issue of a border and people travelling in and out of Wales. I’ve always thought it’s an issue of high-incidence areas and low-incidence areas wherever they may be.”
His comments follow his letter to Boris Johnson last month seeking travel restrictions to be enshrined in law, rather than the government relying on guidance alone to prevent people from hotspots spreading Covid to other areas.
He pointed out this morning that while the government has said people should not leave a Covid hotspot, as guidance the measure is not enforceable by the police. He argued that they need the “force of law behind them” to make it effective.
The Welsh Labour leader explained: “The Prime Minister could have acted. He could have helped people in Wales and elsewhere to protect themselves against the flow of virus into areas where the virus is still effectively suppressed.”
He added: “The Prime Minister could contact me today. He could still change his mind and then we wouldn’t need to do what we are doing. But so far I’ve had no success in persuading him of this simple and straightforward course of action.
“And in that position I am obliged – this is a public health emergency – I am obliged to take action to help to keep Wales safe.”
"I am genuinely baffled by the Prime Minister's unwillingness"
First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford tells #BBCBreakfast he felt obliged to bring in the travel restrictions to keep Wales safe.https://t.co/WacI0b9zWc pic.twitter.com/ljMVmz8Olh
— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) October 15, 2020
Drakeford told the BBC on Monday evening that he was offering Johnson “one final opportunity” to stop travel from high-prevalence areas before he uses the powers available to him.
But Downing Street rejected the ask from the First Minister on Tuesday evening. The Prime Minister’s spokesperson argued: “There are no physical borders between Wales and England.”
In a Times Radio interview on Tuesday, the First Minister discussed the proposed Covid measure while also telling listeners that the Labour administration in Wales is “very actively thinking” about whether a ‘circuit break’ lockdown should be imposed.
He explained: “There’ll be nobody posted on the border, there’ll be no physical barriers of any sort. There will be a powerful message to people: they’re not to come into Wales to low incidence areas.”
But he added: “I need a rule in the regulations. And then we can properly enforce it. And I am a bit baffled as to why the Prime Minister is prepared to rely on guidance that can’t be enforced, when he could simply put it in regulations as we have in Wales, and then the enforcement of it becomes straightforward.”
The Welsh government has also pointed out that similar measures were in place in March with the ‘stay local’ rules, which provided an enforceable restriction on people travelling to other areas of the country at the height of the pandemic.
First Minister for Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has said that she supports the action called for by Drakeford, revealing that she had received a letter from the Welsh Labour leader on the issue.
Drakeford today explained to viewers that holiday providers in Wales should not accept half-term bookings from people in areas of the UK with high levels of coronavirus, and said that existing bookings will not be honoured.
He said that the police will be conducting extra patrols on main roads to enforce the travel ban in the devolved nation, and added that the police will be able to issue fixed penalty notices for those found to be in breach of the rules.