PM invites devolved leaders to summit on Covid recovery and 'Team UK'

9 May 2021, 08:48 | Updated: 9 May 2021, 18:55

Boris Johnson invited Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford to a summit
Boris Johnson invited Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford to a summit. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson has invited the devolved leaders of the UK to a summit on the Union and how the country can recover from the coronavirus crisis.

It comes after the SNP's fourth Scottish Parliament election win in a row and Labour's victory in the Welsh Senedd.

The prime minister wrote letters to Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford congratulating them on their re-elections and inviting them to a meeting in which they will "discuss our shared challenges and how we can work together in the coming months and years to overcome them".

On Saturday, the Scottish First Minister said there could be "no democratic justification" for blocking a Scottish independence referendum.

Ms Sturgeon's party fell one seat short of an overall majority in the nation's parliament elections after securing 64 MSPs.

However, the final result still leaves Holyrood with a pro-independence majority.

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In her victory speech, the SNP leader told voters the result proved a second independence ballot was the "will of the country" and said any Westminster politician who denied this was "picking a fight with the democratic wishes of the Scottish people".

But writing in his letter to Ms Sturgeon, Mr Johnson argued the UK was "best served when we work together" and called for a conversation about "our shared challenges" in recovering from the pandemic.

He wrote: "I would like to invite you to join me, UK Government colleagues and others at a summit meeting to discuss our shared challenges and how we can work together in the coming months and years to overcome them.

"We will all have our own perspectives and ideas - and we will not always agree - but I am confident that by learning from each other we will be able to build back better, in the interests of the people we serve."

The prime minister has also invited the Welsh First Minister and the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland as he hailed "Team UK".

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In Wales, Labour's Mark Drakeford narrowly missed out on an overall majority after winning 30 of the 60 Senedd seats.

However, he will enjoy a working majority in what was the party's joint-best election performance, bucking the trend in England which saw Labour suffer some heavy losses at the polls.

Following his victory, the Welsh FM called on Mr Johnson to "reset relationships" with the nations of the UK and urged him to carry out a "serious examination of the way in which we can create the machinery that will allow us to work together in the future".

"Not an approach that thinks flying more Union Jacks at the tops of buildings, but proper, respectful relationships that recognise that sovereignty is now dispersed across four parliaments in which we choose to pool it for common purposes," he added.

The PM rang Mr Drakeford on Saturday and plans to speak to Ms Sturgeon on Sunday.

In his letters to the first ministers, the prime minister highlighted the Covid-19 vaccine rollout as an example of "Team UK in action", with the mass procurement of jabs, and he called on them to maintain the "cooperative spirit".

Mr Johnson said recovering from the pandemic would be "difficult" but that "the broad shoulders of the UK" had already supported jobs and businesses throughout the crisis.

He also urged the leaders "to show the same spirit of unity and cooperation" exhibited during the pandemic when tackling problems such as lost learning in schools, NHS waiting lists and court backlogs.

Elsewhere, the PM also promised to "look forward" beyond coronavirus and continue to focus on his "levelling up agenda" after his party inflicted more damage on Labour's "red wall".

"Voters have put their trust in Conservative representatives, councillors and mayors and we must deliver for them," he said.

On Sunday, a spokesman for the First Minister of Scotland said: "The First Minister spoke to the Prime Minister this afternoon, and thanked him for his congratulations on her re-election.

"The First Minister made clear that her immediate focus was on steering the country through Covid and into recovery, and that a newly elected Scottish Government would work with the UK government as far as possible on that aim.

"They also agreed the importance of the two governments working together closely and constructively to achieve a successful hosting of and outcome from Cop26.

"The First Minister also re-iterated her intention to ensure that the people of Scotland can choose our own future when the crisis is over, and made clear that the question of a referendum is now a matter of when - not if."