Boris Johnson tonight tried to reassert his authority as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom as he set out his lockdown exit strategy and rebuked Nicola Sturgeon.
The First Minister had earlier launched a furious attack on Mr Johnson for dropping the ‘stay at home’ lockdown mantra as she insisted she will keep using it for Scotland.
She complained she had not been informed the slogan was being replaced with ‘stay alert’ before it was briefed out to the media.
Addressing a briefing in Edinburgh after attending Cobra, she said she had demanded that the Westminster government does not deploy the new guidance in Scotland.
But Mr Johnson tonight made clear in his address to the nation that ultimately it is his decision how the four home nations respond to the crisis as he formally announced the new slogan.
He said: ‘I have consulted across the political spectrum, across all four nations of the UK, and though different parts of the country are experiencing the pandemic at different rates and though it is right to be flexible in our response I believe that as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, there is a strong resolve to defeat this together.
Ms Sturgeon had delivered a brutal swipe at the PM earlier as she warned ‘people will die unnecessarily’ if progress against the disease is ‘squandered’ by ‘easing up too soon or by sending mixed messages that result in people thinking it is OK to ease up now’.
She said the message north of the border was ‘stay at home, full stop’.
Meanwhile, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said he would be telling people ‘if you are not out of your house for an essential purpose… staying at home remains the best way you can protect yourself and others’. Northern Ireland will also not use the new Westminster information campaign.
Mr Johnson made specific reference to the UK as he ended his address by saying: ‘And though the UK will be changed by this experience, I believe we can be stronger and better than ever before.
‘More resilient, more innovative, more economically dynamic, but also more generous and more sharing. But for now we must stay alert, control the virus and save lives.’
A furious Ms Sturgeon then hit back as she said Mr Johnson had not been clear enough in his statement that his lockdown exit strategy mainly only related to England.
She said: ‘It is incumbent on him, maybe perhaps a bit more strongly than he did tonight, to stress that when he’s talking about lifting these restrictions, he is talking for England.’
The open row came as senior Tories accused the SNP of exploiting the crisis in a ‘tasteless’ bid to fuel its independence campaign.
Boris Johnson this evening set out his lockdown exit strategy as he delivered a rebuke to Nicola Sturgeon
Addressing a briefing in Edinburgh after attending Cobra this afternoon, Nicola Sturgeon said she had demanded that the Westminster government does not deploy the new ‘stay alert’ guidance in Scotland
Nicola Sturgeon tweeted this morning that she had still not been formally told the PM was changing the ‘stay at home’ mantra – and made clear she has no intention of doing so
The PM has dropped the ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ slogan in favour of a ‘stay alert’ version – which notably has green edging instead of red
Key points of Boris Johnson’s lockdown exit strategy
After almost two months of lockdown, Boris Johnson has set out what he called ‘the first sketch of a road map for reopening society’.
Here are the key points:
From Monday, people who cannot work from home are being actively encouraged to go to work instead of being told to only go if they must.
But they should avoid public transport if at all possible.
From Wednesday, people are being encouraged to take unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise and even play sports, but only with members of their household.
Visiting and sunbathing in local parks will also be allowed as will driving to other destinations.
But social distancing rules will still have to be obeyed with bigger fines for those who break them.
Primary schools may begin to reopen by June 1 at the earliest along with the phased reopening of shops.
But secondary schools are not expected to reopen before the summer holidays.
Some pubs, restaurants, hotels and other public places could begin to reopen in July at the earliest ‘if and only if the numbers support it’.
A new Covid Alert System is being set up determined mainly by the reinfection rate and the number of cases.
The alert levels will be one to five and the higher the level, the tougher social distancing measures will have to be.
The PM said the UK had been in Level Four but ‘we are now in a position to begin to move in steps to Level Three’.
Level one would mean coronavirus is no longer around while Level Five would be the NHS being overwhelmed by a fresh outbreak.
PM says coronavirus outbreak remains on a knife-edge
Prime Minister Boris Johnson tonight announced that the coronavirus is ‘only just’ under control, admitting its reproduction rate may be close to 1.
The reproduction rate – known as the R – explains how many people the average COVID-19 patient passes the virus on to before they recover. It is used to measure how fast the disease is spreading.
If it rises above 1, the numbers of cases will start to grow rapidly and the virus could spiral out of control. A rate of 0.5, for example, would mean every 10 infected people pass it on to only five others, while a rate of 1.2 would see them give it to 12.
As Mr Johnson tonight revealed small changes to England’s lockdown rules, he made clear that the future of how the UK emerges from its crisis will hinge entirely on its R number.
In an address to the nation he said: ‘We have the R below one, between 0.5 and 0.9 – but potentially only just below one.’
Mr Johnson this evening set out a three phase plan to get life back to something close to normal in the coming months.
But he repeatedly warned any easing of restrictions could be reversed if there is a spike in coronavirus transmission.
He also stressed any relaxing of the rules will only happen when the scientific advice allows it to.
The first step of the PM’s plan is to ‘actively encourage’ people who cannot work from home to return to their jobs this week.
But people are being told to avoid using public transport as much as possible because social distancing rules will dramatically reduce capacity on services.
Then as of this Wednesday people will be encouraged to ‘take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise’.
People will be able to sunbathe in local parks and drive to other destinations. Golf courses and tennis clubs will be allowed to reopen if they stick to social distancing and people only play with members of their household.
But the PM warned: ‘You must obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them.’
In phase two, which will be June 1 ‘at the earliest’, primary schools could reopen to Reception, Year One and Year Six pupils with other year groups likely returning in future months.
But secondary schools will remain closed until after the summer holidays, although pupils in Year 10 and Year 12 will hopefully be able to meet with teachers for study guidance ahead of them entering into exam years.
Phase two could also see the phased reopening of some shops.
Phase three – ‘at the earliest by July’ – ill see some of the hospitality allowed to reopen as well as some other public places – likely places of worship and cinemas.
Mr Johnson said over the next two months the government’s decisions will be ‘driven not by mere hope or economic necessity’ but ‘by the science, the data and public health’.
However, with most of the changes only applying to England, Mr Johnson is likely to face accusations of creating confusion, with different parts of the country having to adhere to different rules.
Ms Sturgeon said Scots will now be free to exercise outdoors more than once a day.
But she insisted the next steps on easing lockdown in Scotland must be ‘very cautious and very careful’.
‘We mustn’t squander our progress by easing up too soon or by sending mixed messages that result in people thinking it is OK to ease up now,’ she said.
‘Let me be very blunt about the consequences if we were to do that. People will die unnecessarily. And instead of being able to loosen restrictions hopeful in the near future we will be faced instead with having to tighten them.’
Earlier, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday it was the right time to ‘update and broaden’ the message to the public.
‘I think that’s what the public want and that they will be able to understand this message, which is that we should be staying home as much as possible but when we do go to work and go about our business we need to remain vigilant, we need to stay alert,’ he said.
‘And that means things like respecting others, remaining two meters apart, washing your hands, following the social distancing guidelines because the virus continues to be prevalent, too many people are still dying of this and we’re going to have to live with it for a long time.’
Pressed if there is a danger the message is too woolly, Mr Jenrick said: ‘Well I hope not. We need to have a broader message because we want to slowly and cautiously restart the economy and the country.’
Mr Jenrick went on: ‘We’re not going to take risks with the public. I understand people are anxious about the future but we want now to have a message which encourages people to go to work.
‘Staying home will still be an important part of the message but you will be able to go to work and you will in time be able to do some other activities that you’re not able to do today.’
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said today that the advice will ‘broaden out’ but ‘stay at home’ will continue to be a key element
Scots can exercise more than once a day
Scots will be allowed to take exercise more than once a day from tomorrow, Nicola Sturgeon has announced – but they still cannot sunbathe.
The First Minister revealed the move as she took the daily briefing in Edinburgh this afternoon.
‘From tomorrow, that once a day limit will be removed,’ she said.
‘If you want to go for a walk more often, or to go for a run and also a walk later on in the day then you can now do so.’
The First Minister added that the extension did not apply to those who have symptoms or are living with someone who is showing symptoms, or those who are in the shielding group.
Ms Sturgeon said it was to be used for exercise only and should not be used for ‘sunbathing, picnics or barbecues’.
She added: ‘The fact that you’re allowed to exercise more than once is definitely not a license to start meeting up in groups at the park or at the beach.
‘Doing that really does risk spreading this virus.’
There were signs early last week that the government was putting together major moves towards easing the lockdown.
However, the ambitions have been scaled back, with Mr Johnson his most senior ministers – Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, Rishi Sunak and Matt Hancock – having thrashed out a limited strategy on Wednesday night, fearing that the country’s infection rate is still too high.
Even so, the tweaks unveiled by Mr Johnson are set to provoke splits in the UK’s approach, with each nation having devolved powers.
Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said she had ‘no idea’ what the UK government’s ‘stay alert’ slogan and guidance actually meant.
‘That is not a change that we would agree with. I think the First Minister was really clear last week that the ”stay at home” message was the right message and if I’m perfectly frank, I have no idea what ‘stay alert’ actually means,’ she told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland.
She added: ‘We’re asking the public to do a very great deal here and the least we can do is be consistent and clear in the message that we’re sending and stay at home is the right message.’
Vaughan Gething, health minister for Wales, said there had not been any agreement or discussion of the UK Government’s new ‘stay alert’ slogan with the other nations.
‘I’ve seen the media briefings and changed message for England. There has not been a 4 nations agreement or discussion on this,’ Mr Gething tweeted.
‘The @WelshGovernment message has not changed. Stay at home and if you do go out observe the social distancing rules. #StayHomeSaveLives’.
Along with the new mantra, Mr Johnson used the TV address to the nation at 7pm to announce a DefCon-style five stage alert system to describe the country’s outbreak condition, with the UK currently at Level Four.
Level Five would be declared if the NHS was to be overwhelmed by a surge in the disease, Level Three if the disease was still widespread but some easing of restrictions could take place, Level Two if the virus is present but transmission is low and Level One if virus has been eradicated.
The UK has been in lockdown for more than six weeks but the government’s focus is now on restarting the nation’s economy while also trying to keep the spread of coronavirus in a state of decline.
Social distancing rules remain in place with everyone being told to stay at least two metres away from other people when they are outside.
The government is increasing the value of fines for rule breakers from £60 to £100.
That fine will be reduced to £50 if it is paid within 14 days while the penalty will double for every subsequent offence, up to a maximum value of £3,200.
Boris Johnson is scrambling to defend the decision to ditch the blanket ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ slogan, amid furious opposition from Nicola Sturgeon
Mr Johnson (pictured in Westminster last week) will use a TV address to the nation at 7pm to announce a DefCon-style five stage alert system to describe the country’s outbreak condition
Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said the SNP was using the ‘most inappropriate of circumstances’ to debate Scottish independence while Covid-19 continues to claim lives.
Mr Carlaw said: ‘There will always be the odd Nationalist willing to push the independence argument even under the most inappropriate of circumstances.
‘A considerable number of very senior SNP politicians are using the Covid-19 crisis to push their selfish separatist agenda.
‘It’s tasteless, inconsiderate and extremely ill-judged.
‘Nicola Sturgeon must be embarrassed by these interventions. She should order a stop to them right away.’
The Tories said the SNP’s Joanna Cherry, MP for Edinburgh South West, said last week that the virus could provide the opportunity for a ‘major rethink’ on independence strategy.
They also highlighted Stirling MP Alyn Smith, who told The National newspaper that SNP members should establish ‘what the Covid-19 outbreak means for independence’, adding that ‘the case for independence in Europe is stronger than ever’.
MP Pete Wishart tweeted that ‘indy will take off again’, while his colleague Angus MacNeil stated it would be ‘naïve’ for the SNP to stop campaigning on separation.
At Holyrood, SNP backbencher James Dornan said ‘imagine what we could achieve’ if Scotland was independent by the next time a global health emergency occurs.