Wales set to ‘police’ border as devolved nations remind Johnson England is not the UK

Wales sign

Welsh police plan to turn back English tourists after the devolved nation’s first minister said on Monday that UK prime minister Boris Johnson was wrong to loosen travel restrictions aimed at curbing coronavirus.

Mark Drakeford, Welsh first minister, and his Scottish counterpart Nicola Sturgeon accused Mr Johnson of risking confusion by not making clear in a nationally televised address on Sunday his easing of the lockdown only affected England.

Mr Johnson’s shift away from the previously pan-UK “stay at home” slogan and plans to loosen curbs on travel, work and other activities marked the first big rift in the UK’s united front in tackling the pandemic.

Mr Drakeford said he would use his devolved powers to maintain a stricter regime in Wales than Mr Johnson has ordered for England and would put signs up on major roads informing anyone entering the country that they should only do so if their journey is essential.

“I think we have got it right in Wales and I do not think they’ve got it right over the border,” the Labour first minister said.

He said police would “advise and explain” but if motorists then refused to turn back they would be fined. North Wales police increased border patrols before the recent bank holiday and said on Facebook it had stopped and turned back “several” vehicles “due to them just coming here for their holiday”.

Arfon Jones, police commissioner for North Wales, said he expected an influx from England to Snowdonia and the Welsh coast after Mr Johnson’s decision to loosen restrictions in England. “It’s going to be difficult to get the message to people in England that the situation here hasn’t changed,” he said.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have broad power over areas such as health, transport and policing, enabling the three devolved administrations to set their own lockdown rules.

Mr Drakeford said leaders of the three devolved administrations believed Mr Johnson had confused the public by failing to distinguish between them and England.

Ms Sturgeon added: “The prime minister has to make clearer when he is talking only for England.” Scotland’s first minister said that of the new measures announced by the prime minister on Sunday, new border controls were the only issue where the prime minister could speak for the whole UK.

“These lockdown restrictions are — and this is not a political point, it is a point of law — in place separately in each of the UK nations,” Ms Sturgeon said.

Mr Johnson on Monday dismissed a challenge from Liz Saville Roberts, a member of the UK parliament from pro-Welsh independence Plaid Cymru, to confirm “for the sake of clarity” when he announced the easing measures he was acting only as “the prime minister of England”.

“I reject that completely and I think that most people looking at what we are saying will know that it is very good advice for the entire population of the United Kingdom,” the prime minister said, adding that he respected that some variations might be needed “locally, regionally and nationally”.

Nevertheless, the three devolved governments’ approach to exiting lockdown remain broadly similar to plans for England, but with some differences of timing.

Wales has said schools will not open by June 1, when some pupils should return in England, and has legislated to require employers to maintain 2m gaps between workers.

Like England, Wales would allow people out to exercise as many times a day as they want and reopen garden centres. “We are all heading in the same direction. We are all marginally loosening restrictions,” Mr Drakeford said.

Northern Ireland’s executive will publish a five-step exit plan on Tuesday. Arlene Foster, first minister of the devolved government at Stormont has suggested schools will not reopen until late August or early September.

But the executive is considering allowing garden centres to reopen ahead of other retailers and allowing churches to open for solitary prayer.

“We will be able to move faster to allow outdoor activities than large gatherings inside,” Mrs Foster said on Monday.

Scottish government guidance from Monday no longer limits people to taking outside exercise only once a day and Ms Sturgeon said she hoped to take the same “general approach” to a phased easing of restrictions even if timing was slightly different.