Sturgeon pushes ahead with border plans despite admitting to enforcement challenges

Dan Sanderson
·4-min read
Nicola Sturgeon has insisted any border restrictions should not be seen as political or constitutional -  Stuart Nicol/ Stuart Nicol Photography
Nicola Sturgeon has insisted any border restrictions should not be seen as political or constitutional - Stuart Nicol/ Stuart Nicol Photography

Nicola Sturgeon is drawing up enforcement plans for a travel ban between England and Scotland, as she opened the door to imposing fines on people crossing the border.

In an update to MSPs, the First Minister confirmed she is “actively considering” adopting similar plans to those set out by the Welsh Government, which are aimed at stopping people from Covid hotspots elsewhere in the UK crossing into the country.

She admitted there would be “practical challenges” around how such a policy would be enforced and appeared to rule out road blocks, saying it would not be possible for police to check everybody leaving and entering Scotland.

he Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said that people from parts of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland with high rates of Covid-19 infection would be banned from traveling to Wales  - Matthew Horwood/Gerry
he Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said that people from parts of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland with high rates of Covid-19 infection would be banned from traveling to Wales - Matthew Horwood/Gerry

However, she said there was an “argument” for making advice on travel “more regulated” with “legal underpinning”, opening the door to fines being imposed on people who break rules. In Wales, people travelling to the country from other parts of the UK with high rates of the virus would face initial fines of £50.

Ms Sturgeon insisted it would be “remiss” of her government not to consider how it could prevent the importation of Covid-19 cases, but was warned that attempts to close internal UK borders caused “concern and anxiety” for many members of the public.

Watch: Jacob Rees-Mogg savages Wales plan to close border

Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, also faced criticism for his moves towards border restrictions. Simon Hart, the Secretary of State for Wales, on Thursday wrote to Mr Drakeford calling for further clarification and claimed the approach “risks stirring confusion and division in Wales”.

He also questioned the evidence for the approach, saying communities in the country were being hit just as hard by Covid-19 as those in other parts of the UK.

While Covid-19 rates are also high in parts of Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said on Thursday that the number of cases north of the border associated with visits to Blackpool had risen to 286.

She repeated her plea to football fans not to travel across the border to watch this weekend’s Old Firm game in pubs, which are facing looser restrictions than those in Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon is set to follow the lead of her counterpart in Cardiff - JEFF J MITCHELL/AFP
Nicola Sturgeon is set to follow the lead of her counterpart in Cardiff - JEFF J MITCHELL/AFP

Meanwhile, she urged Sky Sports, which has the rights to broadcast the fixture, to show it for free so that those without a subscription would not be tempted to break rules by visiting friends’ homes to watch it.

Christine Grahame, the SNP MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, said that tourists in her constituency had been “very concerned” at an influx in tourists from England and, in a virtual session at Holyrood, asked Ms Sturgeon any restrictions could be enforced.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We are looking carefully at the Welsh approach. On travel, there is an argument that we should make the approach more regulated and give it a legal underpinning. We have to keep that under consideration for travel within Scotland, for travel to Scotland from other parts of the UK, and for travel from Scotland to other parts of the UK. We are considering that at the moment.”

She added: “A more regulated approach would throw up practical challenges around enforcement, although there are challenges with guidance in that regard. The police cannot stop everybody coming into or leaving Scotland, and some people would have legitimate reasons to travel.

“However, at a time when we are all trying to suppress the virus and when we know that importation of the virus from outside the UK and from one part of the UK to another is a risk, it would be remiss of us not to consider seriously how we can strengthen our ability to restrict travel from high to low prevalence areas.”

However, any move to impose border restrictions would be likely to be strongly opposed by the UK Government. When Ms Sturgeon raised the prospect of introducing cross border restrictions earlier this year, Boris Johnson described her comments as “astonishing and shameful”.

Speaking in the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the House, suggested the Welsh Government’s plans were unconstitutional and said they would put police in an “invidious position”.

He added: "We are one, single United Kingdom and we should not have borders between different parts of the United Kingdom and I'm afraid that is what you get when you vote for socialists."