Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has been accused of talking “rubbish” by the Welsh Health Minister as the war of words between the Welsh and UK Governments over new Covid-19 restrictions heated up today.
The comments came as Welsh Secretary Simon Hart waded into the row, warning that restrictions on travel for those in coronavirus hotspots elsewhere in the UK risked “division and confusion”.
Jacob Rees-Mogg had earlier said that the First Minister’s plan to forbid travel from high Covid parts of the UK into Wales was “unconstitutional”.
But Health Minister Vaughan Gething responded that “regardless of the accent used, rubbish is still rubbish whenever it’s spoken”.
Welsh Conservative Opposition Health Spokesman Andrew RT Davies subsequently accused Vaughan Gething of “anti-English rhetoric” and “criticising someone’s accent”.
During business questions, Jacob Rees-Mogg had responded to a question asking whether the plan was “illegal”.
Tory Alicia Kearns, MP of Rutland and Melton, asked: “Can my right honourable friend confirm that it would be illegal for the Welsh Labour Government to introduce an intensive border within the UK to restrict movement between England and Wales?”
Jacob Rees Mogg replied: “What would you expect of a hard-left Labour Government?
“The approach to putting a border between England and Wales is unconstitutional and will place the police in an invidious position considering that they serve the whole of the United Kingdom.
“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.”
“There is nothing unconstitutional about exercising devolved powers to protect public health,” he said.
Simon Hart meanwhile has called for clarification from Wales’ First Minister, Mark Drakeford, on the ban, which is expected to come into force on Friday evening.
“I remain worried that, without rapid explanation, this approach risks stirring division and confusion in Wales,” he said.
“We both know that, in reality, communities in Wales are as hard hit by Covid-19 as English, Scottish, and Northern Irish communities.”
‘Keep Wales safe’
The Welsh Government announced yesterday that they were preparing urgent action to prevent people who live in areas with high coronavirus infection rates across the UK from travelling to Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford today confirmed.
The new restrictions are planned to come into force on Friday, October 16 at 6pm.
The action is being taken after the Prime Minister did not respond to the First Minister’s requests to make advisory travel guidance in English coronavirus hotspots mandatory.
Under new regulations being prepared by Welsh Ministers, people living in areas with a high-prevalence of coronavirus in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland won’t be able to travel to Wales.
The move will help prevent the virus moving from such high-prevalence areas to lower-prevalence communities, the Welsh Government said.
“Evidence from public health professionals suggests coronavirus is moving from east to west across the UK and across Wales,” First Minister Mark Drakeford said.
“As a general rule, it is concentrating in urban areas and then spreading to more sparsely populated areas as a result of people travelling.
“Much of Wales is now subject to local restriction measures because levels of the virus have risen and people living in those areas are not able to travel beyond their county boundary without a reasonable excuse. This is designed to prevent the spread of infection within Wales and to other areas of the UK.
“We are preparing to take this action to prevent people who live in areas where there are higher covid infection rates across the UK from travelling to Wales and bringing the virus with them.
“I am determined to keep Wales safe.”
The Welsh Government is finalising its regulatory approach to the travel restrictions.
Conservative Health Spokesman Andrew RT Davies accused the Welsh Government of “banning the English”.
“The Welsh Government’s unhealthy obsession with travel restrictions and ‘banning the English’ flies in the face of all the evidence,” he said.
“Last month’s SAGE advice said such a move would have a ‘low impact’ and would be ‘complicated’ to enforce.”
Plaid Cymru meanwhile said that the restrictions were “long overdue”.
“This announcement is long overdue and I’m pleased to see the Welsh Government finally taking this necessary course of action to protect the people of Wales,” leader Adam Price said.
“We now need a clear timetable for exactly when the draft legislation will be ready to publish, the proposed timescales and plans for implementation and how this is to be communicated across the UK. With half-term arriving for much of England next week, timing is now critical.”
“Let this be a lesson to Welsh Government. Continued correspondence with Downing Street will not get us the answers we want. We should have learnt our lessons from the first wave: depending on Westminster does not work for Wales.”