Christmas saved: UK nations allow three households to celebrate for five days

24 November 2020, 17:22 | Updated: 25 November 2020, 12:21

A deal has been reached between all four of the UK nations for a joint plan for Christmas
A deal has been reached between all four of the UK nations for a joint plan for Christmas. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Coronavirus restrictions will be relaxed for five days over Christmas to allow up to three households to mix, the Government has confirmed.

A four-nation deal has been reached between UK leaders, allowing for the current tough measures to be relaxed and give families time to see each other after a difficult year.

The exact details of the deal are yet to be made fully public.

Confirming the agreement, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove said the plans would offer "hope for families and friends" after a "difficult" year of coronavirus restrictions.

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He said: "The UK-wide agreement reached today will offer hope for families and friends who have made many sacrifices over this difficult year.

"We know that the Christmas period this year will not be normal, but following constructive discussions between the UK Government and the devolved administrations, families and friends will now have the option to meet up in a limited and cautious way across the UK should they wish.

"In coming to this agreement, we have listened to scientific and clinical advice on how best to minimise the risk and reach a balanced and workable set of rules that we hope will allow people to spend time together at this important time of year."

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford told LBC he was "very pleased" about reaching a deal but admitted further deaths were "inescapable" as a result of relaxing the rules.

Asked whether it was responsible to scrap social distancing under the rules, he said: "I think it's responsible in the sense that we are providing a set of rules that will help to give some shape.

"Imagine saying 'you can visit your grandma for Christmas but you have to stay two metres apart from the people who matter the most to you who you missed seeing the whole of this terrible year' - I don't think people would find that credible."

He urged people "approach" the rules in a sensible way to minimise the impact.

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Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also welcomed the deal, saying the four nations had agreed a "cautious and limited" approach.

She said: "We know that for some, contact with friends and family is crucial during this time as isolation and loneliness can hit people especially hard over the Christmas period. The 'bubble' approach aims to reduce this impact.

"We must be clear: there cannot be any further relaxation of measures for Hogmanay. Even this short relaxation will give the virus a chance to spread.

"Our priority is to suppress transmission of Covid-19 and reduce the risk to the vulnerable and those who have spent so long shielding - and that involves abiding by the rules.

"Just because you can mix with others indoors over this time, that doesn't mean you have to. If you choose to stick with the rules as they are, then you will be continuing the hard work to beat this virus and prevent its spread."

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Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster welcomed the agreement.

"We of course recognise how important Christmas time is for so many people in Northern Ireland and the fact we have been able to secure agreement across Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland - the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom - is very strong because of course we know that people will want to come together from the four parts of the UK to be together at Christmas," she said.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill expressed hope that alignment could also be achieved with the Irish Republic.

She acknowledged the move came with risks but said it was important to give people some hope after a desperate year.

It follows days of talks between the leaders and an attempt by Boris Johnson to appease backbench Conservative MPs who are growing increasingly impatient with the Prime Minister.

Former Business Secretary Greg Clark told LBC there was a "very delicate" balance to be struck, with many families likely to meet regardless of restrictions.

"I think it is right to push at the limits of what's possible for a few days over Christmas," he said.

But Mr Clark admitted that warnings from SAGE about the possible consequences of easing the rules were "concerning".

He added: "These judgments are quite finely balanced, but there's another aspect of it as well - if people were prevented from their loved ones, quite a few people would do anyway.

"I think good law and good regulation has to have a feel for what the public will support, and that's why I think this is probably a necessary balance."