Michael Gove has defended ministers going abroad on holiday this summer but said the “safest thing of all” is to have a break in the UK.
Quarantine restrictions came into force for those travelling back from mainland Spain and its resort islands on Sunday, leaving holidaymakers facing a fortnight in isolation when they return, due to a spike in cases in the country.
During a visit to his hometown of Aberdeen, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove denied the situation was still too volatile for anyone to book a foreign holiday but said “of course the safest thing of all will be to holiday in the UK”.
On whether it is appropriate for UK ministers to be travelling abroad in the midst of a pandemic, the Conservative MP, who has cancelled his own holiday to Ibiza in the wake of the quarantine changes, said: “Everybody deserves some time off, particularly when you’ve had ministers in the UK Government and in the Scottish Government working so hard.”
He added: “I think it’s important that we follow the science and follow the medical advice and people deserve a break and I feel for all of those people who were desperate for some time to get away and then found that while they were in Spain, the virus was on the increase.
“But the data and the science were very powerful, telling us that we had to impose these restrictions and we look at the data and the science elsewhere.
“There are other parts of Europe where the virus is in abeyance, where it will be safe to go on holiday but of course the safest thing of all will be to holiday in the UK.”
Speaking during her daily Covid-19 briefing on Tuesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would be “very, very cautious” about non-essential foreign travel because it is “unpredictable” in the current climate.
She added that “if she had the time to go on holiday”, she would not be choosing to venture abroad.
In response to the First Minister’s continued encouragement for people in Scotland to enjoy a staycation this summer, Mr Gove said: “Generally, it’s perfectly okay to travel abroad but it’s also the case that the hospitality and tourism sector in the UK has had a tough time and we want to encourage people to come here from any safe country but we also want to encourage people across the UK to visit.
“I know that the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, will be on holiday in Scotland later this month, so people coming from Northern Ireland holiday in Scotland, people from England holiday in Scotland, so it’s a good thing but we know there are rules about enjoying ourselves safely that people have to follow.”
It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated that quarantine restrictions could be imposed on further European countries if a “second wave” of coronavirus hits the continent.
Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, described the restrictions on travel to the country as an “error”.
He pointed out that the upsurge in coronavirus cases is focused in two regions, Catalonia and Aragon, adding: “In most of Spain, the incidence is very much inferior to even the numbers registered in the United Kingdom.”
Meanwhile, Mr Gove, speaking during his visit to the hydrogen refuelling centre in Kittybrewster, Aberdeen, also backed Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw, who has been critical in recent days of the Scottish Government’s daily Covid-19 briefings, which he claims have been increasingly politicised.
The Cabinet Office Minister said it was not a sign that the Conservatives were concerned by recent high popularity ratings for Ms Sturgeon compared to the Prime Minister, but by a desire to “concentrate on dealing with the pandemic”.
“My view is that the Scottish Government has a critical role to play, both in fighting the virus and in helping with the economic fightback,” he added.
“But the best thing to do, and I think Jackson is right, is to move away from the temptation to be political and to concentrate on the big questions.
“There was some polling out at the weekend which showed that independence and the constitution was way down the concerns of Scots voters.
“They, like voters across the UK, are more concerned about the NHS, the economy, education and the environment, and I think we should work together in order to make sure that we’re delivering for people across the UK.”
However, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf branded Conservative colleagues “absolutely pathetic and petty minded” for the move.
Imagine in any other country Political opposition trying to stop leader of the Government giving daily public health information in the midst of a global pandemic. And also taking (often challenging) questions from the press.
How absolutely pathetic & petty minded are this lot? https://t.co/LbjRD9t6ej
— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) July 26, 2020