Boris Johnson visits Scotland despite Sturgeon warning his trip is 'not essential'

28 January 2021, 05:50 | Updated: 28 January 2021, 17:22

Boris Johnson will go to Scotland today
Boris Johnson will go to Scotland today. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

Nicola Sturgeon has questioned whether Boris Johnson's trip to Scotland today is "essential" travel.

The Prime Minister headed there on Thursday afternoon to visit vaccination centres and meet staff, emphasising the importance of the UK working together in the fight against coronavirus.

He started his trip at a lighthouse lab processing COVID samples in Glasgow, thanking staff and asking questions.

Mr Johnson went on to meet Army troops setting up a vaccination centre on his visit Castlemilk, Glasgow.

He spoke to members of the military as he was shown around the centre.

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Ahead of his trip he hailed the "great benefits of co-operation" that the Union has brought while dealing with the coronavirus crisis, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives in the UK.

The visit comes as calls grow for a second independence vote for Scotland.

However Nicola Sturgeon said Mr Johnson's visit to Scotland is "not essential" during the current lockdown, and this week accused the Conservative Party leader of being "frightened of democracy" in his refusal to back another poll on the union, following 2014's independence defeat.

Downing Street defended the PM's, saying it was a "fundamental part" of his job to meet people.

Mr Johnson's official spokesman said: "It is a fundamental part of the Prime Minister's job to go out and see businesses and communities and people.

"These are Covid-related visits. You've seen the Prime Minister do a number of them over the past few weeks.

"It is obviously important that he is continuing to meet and see those who are on the front line in terms of those who are providing tests, in terms of those who are working so hard to deliver the vaccination plan."

Speaking ahead of his visit to Scotland, the PM said: "The great benefits of co-operation across the whole of the UK have never been clearer than since the beginning of this pandemic.

"We have pulled together to defeat the virus, providing £8.6 billion to the Scottish Government to support public services whilst also protecting the jobs of more than 930,000 citizens in Scotland.

"We have a vaccine programme developed in labs in Oxford being administered across the United Kingdom by our armed forces, who are helping to establish 80 new vaccine centres across Scotland.

"That's how we are delivering for the people of Scotland so we can ensure the strongest possible recovery from the virus.

"Mutual co-operation across the UK throughout this pandemic is exactly what the people of Scotland expect and it is what I have been focused on.

"The people of the UK have stood together during this pandemic: from our doctors and nurses in our hospitals to our shop workers, scientists, lorry drivers and teachers - working together as one truly United Kingdom is the best way to build our Covid recovery."

Leaping to the defence of the PM was Sir Keir Starmer, who argued it was "perfectly legitimate" as part of his role.

The Labour leader told LBC: "I understand he's going to see a vaccine centre, going to talk to the NHS and I'd expect the Prime Minister to do that.

"Obviously I'm his opposite number but I've got to defend him on this one - he's the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom - he needs to know what's going on on the ground."

But SNP depute leader Keith Brown said the Prime Minister's jaunt was evidence that he was in a "panic" about the prospect of another referendum.

The MSP said: "Clearly, Boris Johnson is rattled. By branding this campaign trip as 'essential', this is clearly a Prime Minister in panic, who knows the Tories are losing the argument on independence.

"Twenty polls in a row have shown that a majority of voters believe Scotland's future should be in Scotland's hands - not Boris Johnson's.

"Scotland didn't vote for this Tory Government, we didn't vote for Brexit and we certainly didn't vote for Boris Johnson. Yet, in the middle of a global pandemic, we've been ripped out of the world's biggest single market against our will causing havoc for businesses and piling even more pressure on our NHS.

"No wonder that more and more people in Scotland want the right to choose their own future."