Opponents tell Johnson and Sturgeon to stop ‘bickering’ over independence during coronavirus crisis

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Downing Street. Photograph: Hannah McKay/PA Wire.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Downing Street. Photograph: Hannah McKay/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon have both been criticised by opposition leaders for rowing over the constitution at a time when the pair have been told they should be co-operating over coronavirus.

Boris Johnson is planning a trip north of the border to remind Scotland that almost 900,000 workers are benefiting from UK government assistance.

He said that the crisis showed the 'power of our Union', stating this was 'only going to get more important as the world sails nervously into economic waters made alarmingly choppy by this unprecedented pandemic'.

The PM continued: 'That doesn't mean we should dismiss the Union as simply a lifeboat to which our four nations can cling in times of peril.

'Because our true strength is revealed not by our ability to weather storms but in the way that, since 1707, we time and again have bounced back from adversity and moved forwards together. And we will recover together once again now.'

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As he arrives in Orkney for the first in a series of engagements it is expected he will not meet the first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Instead, Downing Street said that during his visit the prime minister will meet with businesses hit by the pandemic, those working in green energy, and military personnel to thank them for their efforts in the response to coronavirus.

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Sturgeon countered his claims saying that his presence showed how Scotland has 'its future decided by politicians we didn't vote for, taking us down a path we haven't chosen'.

She said: 'I welcome the PM to Scotland today. One of the key arguments for independence is the ability of Scotland to take our own decisions, rather than having our future decided by politicians we didn't vote for, taking us down a path we haven't chosen. His presence highlights that.'

But opponents have criticised both the first minister and prime minister for putting the row before co-operation during the coronavirus crisis.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: 'It is a disgrace that instead of co-operation they are using this week as an excuse to bang the drums for their supporters on the constitution.

'We need a common strategy on economic recovery, on preparing for a second wave, on supporting our social care sector, on finding a vaccine and treatments, and so much more.

'Yet instead of getting round the table to find those solutions we get insults. They both need to grow up.'

Ian Murray, shadow Scottish secretary, said: 'Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon are bickering about the constitution in the middle of the worst health and economic crisis of our lifetimes.

The prime minister should be using his visit to announce a sectorial extension to the furlough scheme to protect jobs in hard hit industries like tourism.

'What Scotland needs is two governments working together, with the autonomy of devolution and security of the United Kingdom.'

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard also criticised the 'constitutional jibes'.

He urged the prime minister to 'use his visit to Scotland to listen and not to lecture', adding Johnson should 'concentrate on jobs, the economy, public health, rather than getting involved in constitutional jibes'.

He said: 'Now more than ever, Scotland needs both governments to co-operate to tackle the crises which we face.

'We need a massive fiscal stimulus at a UK level and we need an extension of the job retention scheme.'

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