Margaret Ferrier should "do the right thing" and resign after Covid-19 trip to London

1 October 2020, 18:13 | Updated: 2 October 2020, 10:22

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Nicola Sturgeon has called for Margaret Ferrier to step down as an MP after she travelled 800 miles to and from London despite testing positive for coronavirus.

Ms Sturgeon said today: "I’ve spoken to Margaret Ferrier and made clear my view that she should step down as an MP.

"I did so with a heavy heart - she is a friend & colleague - but her actions were dangerous & indefensible.

"I have no power to force an MP to resign but I hope she will do the right thing."

Scottish National Party MP Ms Ferrier could be facing a hefty fine over the trip.

Calls are growing for a police investigation into the Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP who apologised on Thursday after revealing her journey from London to Scotland while infected with coronavirus.

Conservative MP for Warrington South Andy Carter was speaking to LBC's Iain Dale who asked whether the police should look into the matter as she is a "repeat offender, taking one train journey and a second one when she actually knew that she had it".

The Tory MP immediately replied: "Yes, I do think the police should investigate," adding that people needed to take responsibility for their actions.

Police Scotland is unlikely to fine the MP as there are no equivalent strict rules north of the border, but a spokesperson for the force said: “We are aware of the circumstances and are liaising with our colleagues in the Metropolitan Police Service.”

The Metropolitan Police are yet to comment.

Watch: 'Police should investigate' Ms Ferrier, Tory MP says

The law and current rules

Rules in place since Monday stipulate that anyone who tests positive for coronavirus must immediately self-isolate or face a fine of £1,000.

An individual can also face a £4,000 fine if they are “reckless” in coming into contact with a significant number of people when knowing they should be quarantining themselves, which could possibly include entering the Commons - as Ms Ferrier did - or boarding a train from London to Scotland.

However, the bar for what is considered a "reckless" offence is high, with four conditions needing to be met:

• Leaving self-isolation without a reasonable excuse
• Having reason to believe they would come into close contact with someone or a group
• Coming into close contact with someone or a group of people
• Being “reckless as to the consequences of that for the health of that other person”

One can also be fined £50 for failing to tell their employer that they must self-isolate. It is not yet clear how quickly the Scottish MP told the Commons authorities about her situation.

Ms Ferrier also crossed the English-Scottish border during her journey, where different rules are in place.

Margaret Ferrier MP has apologised for breaching coronavirus guidelines
Margaret Ferrier MP has apologised for breaching coronavirus guidelines. Picture: PA

On Thursday evening, the Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP apologised for breaching the rules and admitted there was "no excuse" for her actions after revealing her journey while infected with coronavirus.

Ms Ferrier said she took a test on Saturday afternoon after experiencing "mild symptoms" - at which point she should have gone into self-isolation.

However, she then travelled to London on Monday to debate the Covid-19 response in Parliament. The MP then received a positive test later that evening and travelled home by train the following day.

"This was wrong, and I am very sorry for my mistake," she said.

The politician delivered a four-minute speech to the Commons chamber on Monday during a general debate on Covid-19, rising to her feet at around 7:15pm.

Read more: Jeremy Corbyn apologises for 'breaking rule of six' at dinner party

Read more: Stanley Johnson pictured shopping without face covering

Shortly after her admission, the SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford confirmed he would be removing the party whip from the politician following a conversation between the pair.

Mr Blackford said: "I have spoken with Margaret Ferrier this evening who fully accepts that what she did was wrong. Margaret will be referring herself to the parliamentary standards commissioner as well as the police. I am tonight suspending the whip from Margaret."

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon condemned Ms Ferrier's actions, branding them "utterly indefensible".

She said: "This is utterly indefensible. It’s hard to express just how angry I feel on behalf of people across the country making hard sacrifices every day to help beat Covid.

"The rules apply to everyone and they’re in place to keep people safe. @Ianblackford_MP is right to suspend the whip."

A letter from Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle says Ms Ferrier informed the SNP whip that she had the virus on Wednesday afternoon.

However, her party said they only became aware that she had travelled back to Glasgow, knowing that she had a positive result, today.

Read more: Turkey and Poland added to England's travel quarantine list

Read more: Further lockdown in Liverpool, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough

Margaret Ferrier's statement in full

"I apologise unreservedly for breaching Covid-19 restrictions by travelling this week when I shouldn't have. There is no excuse for my actions.

"On Saturday afternoon, after experiencing mild symptoms, I requested a Covid-19 test which I took that day. Feeling much better, I then travelled to London by train on Monday to attend Parliament as planned. This was wrong, and I am very sorry for my mistake.

"On Monday evening I received a positive test result for Covid-19. I travelled home by train on Tuesday morning without seeking advice. This was also wrong and I am sorry. I have been self-isolating at home ever since.

"I have used Test and Protect and I have notified the House of Commons authorities who have spoken with Public Health England. I have also notified the police of my actions.

"Despite feeling well, I should have self-isolated while waiting for my test result, and I deeply regret my actions. I take full responsibility and I would urge everyone not to make the same mistakes that I have, and do all they can to help limit the spread of Covid-19."

MPs' reactions

Conservative MP Alicia Kearns said it was "unforgivable" for Ms Ferrier to wait three days before telling MPs she had tested positive for coronavirus.

She tweeted: "The number of people who have been put at risk, MPs and staff in Parliament and their families, and all those on public transport, and those who everyone has since engaged with. It's utterly shameful, and to wait three more days to tell anyone is unforgivable."

Monica Lennon, a Labour MSP for the same region Ms Ferrier represents, tweeted: "Margaret Ferrier is my MP. I'm sorry she has Covid-19 and wish her good health.

"Like other constituents, I'm shocked that she put the health of colleagues, rail staff and the public at risk.

"If you have symptoms and need a test, follow the rules and self-isolate immediately."

Labour's shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said Margaret Ferrier had put others, including those vulnerable, "at unacceptable risk".

"This is astonishing recklessness from an SNP MP, which has put people's health at risk," he said.

"Through her irresponsible actions, she very possibly has passed on the virus to a vulnerable person, who may now have Covid-19 and be in danger. She has put passengers, rail staff, fellow MPs, Commons staff and many others at unacceptable risk.

"To breach the rules twice is simply unforgivable, and has undermined all the sacrifices made by her constituents.

"Nicola Sturgeon must come out and condemn her MP's actions and tell the Scottish people what disciplinary action she will be taking. There cannot be one rule for Margaret Ferrier, another for everybody else."

Ms Ferrier's SNP colleague David Linden MP said he found it "very difficult" to excuse her actions, adding: "I don’t think her position is tenable and she should resign."

A House of Commons spokesperson said: "An MP has confirmed that they have been diagnosed with coronavirus. The House's priority is to ensure that those on the estate are safe while business is facilitated.

"We have closely followed public health guidance on the action to take following a confirmed case of Covid on site. Parliament has a dedicated team to support the test and trace teams across the UK, acting as a central point of contact in the event of any suspected or confirmed cases, where an individual has been working on the estate.

"We are also implementing a number of cleaning measures to ensure those working on the estate can maintain a clean and hygienic working environment and ensuring Parliament adheres to the Government's 'working safely during coronavirus' guidance.

"Our risk assessment outlines the measures we have already put in place to reduce the risk of transmission in Parliament. The Speakers and political leadership of both Houses are keeping the situation under constant review."

Ms Ferrier has previously criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson's senior adviser Dominic Cummings for his conduct during the pandemic.

Speaking during Cabinet Office questions on 11 June, she told the Commons: "Public health experts have voiced concerns that Dominic Cummings did undermine public trust in lockdown rules, going against the principle of integrity that is in the code of conduct.

"Will the Cabinet Office conduct an investigation into potential breaches of the code of conduct by Mr Cummings, or have ministers yet again decided that they have had enough of experts?"

Margaret Ferrier was speaking in the Commons on Monday
Margaret Ferrier was speaking in the Commons on Monday. Picture: PA

The subject of the questions at that point in the session was the code of conduct of special advisers.

It comes as Jeremy Corbyn had to apologise after being pictured attending a dinner party with eight other people, in an apparent breach of the rule of six.

The former Labour leader was pictured in The Sun at a friend's house in London on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the PM's father Stanley Johnson said he was "extremely sorry" after being snapped by the Mirror newspaper not wearing a face covering while browsing the shelves of a newsagent in west London on Tuesday.

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