The UK Government is “bailing out” Scotland to help speed up its vaccine rollout, a minister has suggested.
Jacob Rees-Mogg made the claim as he was quizzed over whether the devolved nations could be handed greater financial powers to tackle Covid-19.
During business questions in the Commons, the Leader of the House said there had been a “really important unionist level of support”.
Raising the issue, SNP MP Owen Thompson (Midlothian) challenged the Government over what he described as “unfair and unreasonable limits” placed on borrowing powers.
Mr Thompson said: “(On Wednesday), I tried to seek some assurance from (Welsh Secretary Simon Hart) on the financial powers for devolved nations around their tackling of the pandemic and looking forward to how we tackle climate change.
“As part of that, I was looking to see why it is that the Treasury continue to impose unfair and unreasonable limits on the devolved nations’ borrowing powers.
“I’d be very grateful if we could have a debate in Government time to further consider what steps we could take to consider these implications and the impact it has on the devolved nations and to untie the hands of devolved nations so that we can tackle all the challenges that face us.”
Mr Rees-Mogg responded: “On the fiscal arrangements, it is worth reminding (Mr Thompson) that £8.6 billion of UK taxpayers’ money has gone to help Scotland during the pandemic and it is the strength of the United Kingdom that throughout this pandemic has provided the support that has been needed.
“He may chunter behind his elegant mask but that means 779,500 jobs in the furlough scheme, it means £1.13 billion in the self-employed scheme. It is a really important unionist level of support.
“And we know now that the unionist government is helping the devolved Scottish government roll out its vaccine programme, that more people will be going from the British Army to help set up more vaccine centres.
“This is our UK Government bailing out a devolved government. That is what we do and we should be really proud of the United Kingdom which has such strength as one country.”
During an urgent question to UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi, the SNP’s vaccines spokesman Neale Hanvey told the Commons: “Over recent weeks, the UK Government and their allies in Scotland have quite disgracefully been attempting to sow fear in the minds of our vulnerable communities that vaccine deployment is too slow.
“That narrative was completely debunked yesterday, yet the Prime Minister still claimed, ‘we have today passed a milestone of 10 million vaccines in the United Kingdom including almost 90% of those aged 75 and over in England and every eligible person in a care home’.
“However, today on Good Morning Scotland, (Mr Zahawi) was further pressed how many vaccines have been given, not offered, but given to people in care homes in England.
“Even with 24 hours warning and following a detailed probing, he was not able to offer more than a vague 91% of those eligible in an ill-defined subset before settling on ‘a very high number’ and suggesting care home staff’s vaccination may not have yet begun in England.
“Can the minister tell us today what percentage of all care home residents and all care home staff have had their jab in England and if not, why not?”
Mr Zahawi responded: “I don’t recognise (Mr Hanvey’s) description of our collaboration, dare I say. We have, over the past two weeks, been working solidly, the British Army, the armed forces, have been working to deliver 80 vaccination sites in Scotland and hand them over to NHS Scotland within 28 days.
“And that work began a couple of weeks ago so I hope he recognises the effort that the United Kingdom’s putting, not just in supplying the vaccines for Scotland, for Wales, Northern Ireland and for England, but also of the way we’re trying to support the deployment in Scotland.”