‘Health v wealth’ divide between Welsh and UK Government approaches to Covid-19, police boss says
There is a “health v wealth” ideological divide between the governments of Wales and the UK on the subject of tackling coronavirus, a police boss has said.
North Wales PCC Arfon Jones said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was acting in an “irresponsible and reckless” manner in refusing to ban people from Covid hotspots travelling into Wales.
He said that the fact that people could travel freely from England but could not leave Welsh counties under lockdown had left police “between a rock and a hard place” in enforcing the rules.
“I think there is an ideological difference between the devolved government and Westminster. It’s the health vs wealth argument,” he said.
“Obviously, Westminster is concerned about the economy as we all are, but I think the devolved nations want to put public health ahead.”
Travel is already banned from high-Covid areas of Wales but those under England’s new tier-3 areas are free to travel with no legal restrictions.
Areas under tier-4 restrictions include some of those closest to the Welsh border, including Liverpool and the Wirral.
Arfon Jones spoke out after Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford threatened a travel ban from high-Covid areas in the rest of the UK if Boris Johnson does not impose his own.
He said he was giving UK ministers “one final opportunity” before he makes changes in Welsh law.
“The Prime Minister is once again behaving irresponsibly and recklessly in allowing people from Covid hotspots to potentially import and spread the virus here in the north of Wales,” Arfon Jones said.
“He displayed his trademark arrogance in dismissing a perfectly reasonable question from Liz Saville Roberts, the MP for Meirionnydd Dwyfor, when she raised the issue during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons.”
It was revealed today that the Boris Johnson had rejected the advice of Sage, the UK Government’s scientific advisors, who had called for a second lockdown.
They wanted a two-week “circuit-breaker” lockdown three weeks ago, it has emerged.
Minutes released by the Sage group on Monday show Boris Johnson was urged to shut pubs, bars, restaurants, gyms, hair salons and move university teaching online last month.
Experts warned him that single interventions were “unlikely” to stem surging Covid-19 cases.
Downing Street accepted just one of Sage’s proposals – to U-turn on the Prime Minister’s back-to-office push and advise Britons to work from home where they could.
Speaking on the Jason Mohammed show on Radio Wales, Arfon Jones said that “the First Minister seems to be extremely frustrated with the Boris Johnson. I think what is being asked for is perfectly reasonable”.
“People who live in Conwy cannot leave the county, but people from hotspots like Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham can travel into Conwy and spend time there.
“The only thing the Prime Minister has said is that they’re advised not to, but there is nothing to stop them from going. So, I do share the First Minister’s frustration on this.
“Policing is between a rock and a hard place on this issue. It is right in principle to do what Mr Drakeford and Mr Gething are suggesting, but it is very difficult for police to enforce it, even though we’ve had more money to enforce Covid regulations.
“But if the Welsh Government do ban people from crossing the border into Wales from England, we will do our best, along with our partners in local authorities and health to enforce the regulations.
“We’d need to look at how we would enforce these rules and have a conversation with our four chief constables here in Wales.
“I can’t see us lining the border with patrol cars because none of the police forces in Wales have the resources to do that.
“The demand now is as high as it was before the first Covid lockdown. We will try to encourage and educate but if that doesn’t work, we will enforce.
“I think there will be a lower tolerance level because people do know what the rules and regulations are by now. So, there will be much less leeway for people who deliberately break the rules.”