No10 praises William and Kate's 'morale boost' tour despite backlash in Scotland and Wales

8 December 2020, 14:42 | Updated: 8 December 2020, 15:14

William and Kate's train tour has sparked a row over whether the royal couple broke coronavirus rules
William and Kate's train tour has sparked a row over whether the royal couple broke coronavirus rules. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson has welcomed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's UK train tour as a "morale boost" for the nation despite the trip drawing some criticism from devolved leaderships.

William and Kate arrived in Edinburgh on Monday morning to the sound of bagpipes before meeting workers at a Scottish Ambulance Service hub as part of their whistlestop three-day train tour of Britain.

However, crossing the border for non-essential reasons was made illegal from the end of November, with those caught entering or leaving Scotland without a reasonable excuse facing a £60 fine.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon refused to endorse their trip amid a row over whether the pair broke coronavirus rules and said her government "made sure that the Royal Household were aware" about the ban on non-essential cross-border travel.

There are exceptions, including travel for work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, but only when this cannot be done from home.

Downing Street said Boris Johnson welcomed the tour as it would provide a "welcome morale boost to frontline workers" who have worked so hard throughout the pandemic.

But Welsh politicians also failed to endorse the trip today, with Health Minister Vaughan Gething saying he would prefer to have no unnecessary visits to the country.

Read more: Royals warned Scotland visit could breach Covid rules - Sturgeon

Watch: Nick Ferrari brands Sturgeon's royal trip comments 'absolutely disgusting'

A No 10 spokesman said: "The PM is delighted to see the warm reception the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have received on their hugely valuable train tour of England, Scotland and Wales.

"The tour will be a welcome morale boost to frontline workers who have done so much during the pandemic."

It comes after the prime minister's official spokesman told reporters the royal train tour was a "matter for the palace".

Asked whether Mr Johnson shared the concerns of Ms Sturgeon and Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething - who criticised the move, saying he would prefer it if "no-one was having unnecessary visits" - the spokesman said: "That is obviously a matter for the palace and I would point you towards them.

"But we set out clearly the tiers and the advice around the current guidelines that we are asking the public to abide by."

Pressed on whether the duke and duchess had complied with coronavirus restrictions, the PM's spokesman said: "I'm making the general point that we have set out the regionalised tier system that is now in place and the guidance that we are asking people to abide by."

Read more: William and Kate set for national royal train tour to thank key workers

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On Tuesday, Mr Gething said he was not "particularly bothered or interested" when asked if he thought the couple should still travel to Wales.

However, he said their visit, part of a national tour by royal train, should not be used by members of the public as an "excuse" to say they are "confused" about Covid-19 regulations.

The duke and duchess began their Wales trip by visiting Cardiff Castle, where they met university students and heard about the mental health challenges they had faced during the pandemic.

As they chatted, William and Kate admitted they were struggling with Christmas plans, suggesting they had yet to decide who to spend the festive period with.

"It is so difficult, we are still trying to make plans. It's difficult to know what to do for the best," said the duke.

The royal pair have been touring the country thanking key workers, frontline workers and their communities for helping in the fight against coronavirus.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was asked during a briefing on Monday about claims that the duke and duchess's visit to Edinburgh was in breach of cross-border travel restrictions.

She said the trip was a matter for the royal household and they had been made aware of all the restrictions in place.

"The royal visit is a matter for the royal household and the arrangements around it, and any questions about those arrangements should be directed to the royal household," she said.

"The Scottish Government was advised about the intention to visit, and we made sure that the royal household were aware, as you would expect, of all of the restrictions in place in Scotland so that could inform both the decision and the planning of the visit.

"But I think any questions about that should be directed to the Royal Household."

She was also asked whether the trip would help boost morale but made no reference to this question in her response.

Pressed on whether Ms Sturgeon meant that the couple should not have visited, senior Scottish Government sources said: "We are not going to tell them they cannot come to Scotland."  

Their trip was welcomed by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who said: "It is wonderful news that Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, have been able to visit Cardiff today to see the impact that culture has on our communities.

"Throughout the pandemic, organisations across the country have stepped up to support those in need and our choirs, bands, actors, filmmakers, museums - and the technical crews that support them - are no different."

William and Kate boarded the royal train on Sunday and will travel 1,250 miles in total, meeting care home staff, teachers, schoolchildren and volunteers to learn about the challenges they faced in 2020.

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