Crunch Cobra meeting with devolved leaders over Christmas plans

24 November 2020, 12:51 | Updated: 24 November 2020, 16:24

The devolved nations will meet with the government to discuss Christmas plans
The devolved nations will meet with the government to discuss Christmas plans. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

A meeting of the Government's Cobra committee has taken place this afternoon with representatives from all four UK nations to discuss plans for Christmas.

A Cobra meeting bringing together the UK Government and the devolved administrations was convened to agree on a four-nation approach to relaxing coronavirus restrictions over the festive period.

It comes as MPs voice resistance over the new Tier system which was announced yesterday.

According to reports, the meeting discussed possible plans including three households forming an exclusive "bubble" and travel restrictions being lifted between 23 and 27 December

The details of the plan have not yet been officially revealed, and are still yet to be signed off.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has acknowledged the risks involved in a Christmas relaxation, saying it is the "season to be jolly careful", but is determined to give families the chance to meet up at the end of a grim year.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said there could be a "slight and careful" easing of the rules for a few days while Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething has suggested tough measures to control the virus before Christmas could allow "more headroom for the festive season".

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urged people to "look very carefully" at how they will go home for Christmas - and even consider not travelling.

"We have got to understand there are limitations to the train network caused by, for example, things like the need on some trains to pre-book tickets at this time, in order to prevent overcrowding," he told reporters.

"So we are going to be appealing to people to look very carefully at the transport route they take and of course even making a choice about whether they travel at all."

Read more: Transport Secretary promises cheaper tests will get planes ‘back in the air’

Read more: Everything you need to know about the new Covid tier system

In England, the Government has already announced new tiered restrictions which will come into effect on December 2 and could last until the end of March - apart from any Christmas relaxation.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hoped the roll-out of a vaccine would signal that life could go back to "normal" by Easter, on April 4 2021.

He also suggested that some habits encouraged during the pandemic, such as regular hand-washing, would continue.

Mr Hancock told a joint session of the Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee that the "damaging social distancing interventions" could be lifted after Easter.

On Thursday, people in England will find out which tier they are being placed in once the lockdown ends.

In a speech to parliament on Monday, Boris Johnson warned that “more regions will fall – at least temporarily – into higher levels than before” when details are finalised.

However, anger is building amongst leaders in north-west England, who are expected to argue that cases there are slowing dramatically in comparison to London and the south-east.

Unlike under the previous system, there will be no negotiation with local leaders, in an attempt to prevent a repeat of bitter public disputes.

The government has said financial support will be allocated on a uniform per-capita basis following a damaging public row with the Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham during the previous Tier system.

Dan Jarvis, the mayor of the Sheffield city region, said the system could not continue to disproportionately affect the poorest regions without negotiation with local leaders, or it would risk losing trust.

“This pandemic has hit some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country the hardest. Many of those parts may now be asked to remain under serious restrictions while the rest of the country faces a lesser burden,” he said.

“We’re willing to do our bit, but we must not be taken for granted. We’re already sacrificing a great deal when we can ill afford it.

“Consistency and fairness is the essential condition of all of this. You can’t refuse to negotiate with local governments but then say lockdowns are a matter of judgment.

"You can’t refuse to negotiate and then not give us the support we need. You have to get it right.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock also said that Christmas would not look the same as normal.

He said that over the holiday period it was very important for people to "respect the spread of the virus".

But he added that he is "not leading" discussions with devolved nations on what the act measures will be.

When asked whether the focus on Christmas could be perceived to be "unfair" to people wanting to focus on other festivities such as Diwali, Mr Hancock said: "I'm very sensitive to this point, and we did think about it and we engaged and we have discussed it.

"The conclusion that we've come to, which I agree with very strongly, is that Christmas as a national holiday is the biggest national holiday that we have.

"Of course it has particular importance for Christians, but it is an important national holiday for everybody in this country.

"So while of course we considered the impact on those of other faiths, Christmas is a special time for everyone in this country."