Devolved leaders meet Prime Minister to discuss Covid recovery

·3-min read

Leaders of the devolved nations have accused the Westminster Government of “undermining devolution” after they spoke with the Prime Minister to discuss the UK’s recovery from the pandemic.

Boris Johnson and other ministers, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, met virtually with the first ministers of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as other officials on Thursday.

Speaking after the meeting, Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said Mr Johnson could cause the break-up of the United Kingdom if he decides to “steal powers and steal money” from the Welsh Government.

Asked if his and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s recent election victories emboldened them to demand a fuller agenda for Thursday’s rearranged coronavirus recovery summit, Mr Drakeford told the PA news agency: “We have refreshed mandates, that’s for sure.

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“And that’s part of the reason the meeting was held when it was held, in the aftermath of those elections.

“I did have to be as clear as I could with the Prime Minister that if the UK Government thinks that the best way to meld the United Kingdom together is to steal powers and steal money away from the Welsh Government, then that is deeply, deeply counterproductive and has completely the opposite impact when we have to do things differently from now on.”

Ms Sturgeon said the leaders were willing to work together on the pandemic recovery, but that the “UK Government needs to listen and act on key Scottish Government concerns”.

She told reporters: “Because of the powers that rest in Westminster the decisions the UK Government takes have a major impact on the kind of fair recovery we are trying to build in Scotland.”

She went on: “The proof of the worth of this meeting depends on whether the UK Government takes these issues seriously and responds accordingly.

“This meeting also took place at a time when the UK Government is undermining devolution through the Internal Market Act and diverting funding away from the Scottish Parliament.

“This has to stop and instead the UK Government needs to start treating the Scottish Government and other devolved governments as equal partners.”

In the meeting, the Prime Minister committed to regular talks between the four nations to discuss issues such as the pandemic recovery, according to Mr Drakeford.

Mr Drakeford told PA: “I heard the Prime Minister commit to making sure that there is a more regular forum in which these things can be discussed and debated.

“I heard a commitment from all parts of the United Kingdom to sharing information about how we can learn from one another, and have a wider repertoire of practical actions that we can take that will make a difference to people in Wales.

“If both of those things happened, then the meeting will certainly have been worthwhile.”

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill attended the virtual meeting on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive.

A Sinn Fein source said: “Michelle O’Neill called on the British Prime Minister for substantial financial investment to rebuild the health service and tackle waiting lists.”