I’m a Conservative, so it pains me to say it – but Westminster needs to fall in line with Wales on Covid-19

Picture by Cwmcafit (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Andrew Potts

If you follow the news you would think that Offa’s Dyke has just become an international frontier.

At 6pm last night those living in parts of the UK with high Covid-19 rates – currently much of the urban north-east and west of England but soon to include London too – were banned from entering Wales.

Unfortunately, as with so many of the restrictions during this pandemic, the announcement has been made it haste with little details of how it will actually be enforced by police.

Presumably, food lorries will be let through but anyone with a mountain bike strapped to their car roof will be turned back.

I am Welsh born and bred. I’m also a Conservative and a Unionist, so you may think I will be siding with the UK Government, who have already roundly condemned this move – but before you switch off, please read on.

Normally I find Mark Drakeford trying. Very trying, in fact.

But in this case, it has to be said that the First Minister is just doing the job he was elected to do – which is doing what he sees as best for the people of Wales as a whole.

 

Last resort

The UK Government have said that Drakeford’s decision was “disappointing”, while Mark Bleasdale, head of the Police Federation in Wales, thought the rules could be “unenforceable” and would “only add to the other difficulties officers face when policing the existing regulations”.

But without any intervention from Boris Johnson – an order to those living in high-Covid areas to stay at home – Wales’ border would have remained as porous as ever.

Stuck in the house for the seventh consecutive month I’m beginning to channel my inner Noel Coward by singing “Why do the wrong people travel?” closely followed by “Bad times are just around the corner.”

Meanwhile, Drakeford has warned that when people “arrive in the far west of Wales, I’m afraid they will meet a local population that are fearful, that are anxious and are on the lookout for people who shouldn’t be in those areas.”

Possibly he’s got the Kaiser Chiefs in his head. A case of “I predict a (Rebecca) riot?”

The Welsh Government has stressed that fines for those breaking the so-far-unpublished rules would be the last resort.

But since appealing to people’s better judgement will have already failed by the necessity of having to politely ask them to turn around and head home, I think fines should be the first resort.

Nicola Sturgeon has now also stepped in, supporting the Cardiff Bay way and stating that she is considering similar arrangements north of Hadrian’s Wall.

She has now written to the PM for urgent talks on a “sensible agreement” on UK-wide travel restrictions.

Her involvement should raise the political stakes and may yet lead to Boris having to make a decision that goes against his normally libertarian instincts.

Time

The fact remains that politics is becoming a distraction from the reality of events. Lockdown, circuit breaker, curfew. Whatever the terminology and ‘solution’ imposed, the media obsession is with pubs closing early.

The world has again forgotten about protecting care homes. Have a Grolsch, don’t worry about Gran.

With swathes of all parts of the UK now under local restrictions it is surely only a matter of time before another total lockdown is announced, likely coinciding with half term.

So, whilst it pains me to say it, I think Westminster needs to fall in line with the devolved administrations on this one.

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