Nicola Sturgeon and Andy Burnham are engaged in a war of words over the Scottish Government’s decision to impose a Covid-19 travel ban on parts of north west England.
The Greater Manchester mayor continued his criticism of the restrictions, saying he felt people in his region had been “insulted” by the First Minister’s approach and a lack of consultation.
The First Minister defended her decision and suggested Burnham was seeking to “generate a spat” with her in order to position himself in a future Labour leadership contest.
On Friday, Sturgeon said that all non-essential travel from Manchester and Salford would be banned due to rising coronavirus cases.
This prompted anger from Burnham at the weekend, who said the move was disproportionate and should have been communicated to his administration beforehand.
The First Minister was asked about Burnham’s reaction on BBC News on Monday. She said: “These are public health measures.
“I have a duty, and it’s one I take very seriously, to keep Scotland as safe as possible.
“I’m sure Andy Burnham feels the same sense of duty toward people in the Greater Manchester area.
“I’ve always got on well with Andy Burnham and if he wants to have a grown-up conversation he only has to pick up the phone.
“But if, as I suspect might be the case, this is more about generating a spat with me as part of some positioning in a Labour leadership contest in future, then I’m not interested.
“We’ve all got a serious job of work to do right now and I’m serious about doing that job in a way that keeps Scotland as safe as I possibly can.”
Earlier, Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, also defended the decision to impose a travel ban.
Swinney also said Burnham’s call for compensation is not “a relevant point”.
He told the Today programme: “We have in place, in Scotland, business support that we have made available to companies to try and sustain them, there will be support in place in England for exactly the same circumstances.
“We have got to take decisions based on the data that presents itself and sometimes that is very uncomfortable data for us.
“We have to act quickly to try to make sure we are doing everything possible to suppress the spread of the virus, and that is what members of the public would expect of us.”
Burnham responded to the First Minister’s comments later on Monday, saying he would be writing to her asking for compensation for people affected by the ban.
He said: “I find that insulting, not for me, but for people here who are directly affected by what she announced.
“It’s not just the direct impact on Greater Manchester, it’s on our reputation as a city.
“If the First Minister of a country stands up at a press conference and announces that the UK’s second city is going under a travel ban, it has an impact.
“People elsewhere in Europe, around the world, hear that. So it’s not like it’s just a sort of more localised thing between us and Scotland, it has an impact on our city region.
“I don’t think we’ve been treated with the respect we deserve and I’m talking mainly there of the people of Greater Manchester, not myself.”
He continued: “It’s had an impact with people with holiday cottages booked, people who are having to go for work reasons.
“So to suggest, as the First Minister has done today, ‘Oh, this is all about politics and posturing’, well say that to them, say that to those people.
“Why is Bolton under a travel ban today, when it has a case rate that is quite a lot lower than Dundee? How is that fair?”
Later, Burnham published his letter to Sturgeon on his Twitter feed. It asked her to clarify the criteria for the ban, as Bolton has a Covid-19 case rate of 269 per 100,000, while Dundee has a rate of 318, similar to the rate in Salford and Manchester.
He also asked for compensation for those affected, quoting an email from a local resident who has lost £1000, which read: “My husband and I have been virtually isolated for 18 months. Both fully vaccinated. Test ourselves twice a week. Never had a positive result. But the cottage won’t let us cancel as my daughter booked it and she is allowed to travel.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman was also asked about the travel ban on Monday.
He said: “Health is a devolved matter. It is for the Scottish Government to explain that decision.”
Westminster Watch: The Burnham Barny
By STV News’ Westminster Correspondent Kathryn Samson
Andy Burnham is angry Nicola Sturgeon didn’t pick up the phone first.
The First Minister accuses him of picking a fight while positioning himself as future Labour leader.
Boris Johnson is refusing to pick sides.
Number 10 was trying to steer clear of the cross border clash over the Manchester travel ban at a lobby briefing for journalists this afternoon: ”That is a matter for the Scottish Government to take decisions like that.’
”It is for the Scottish Government to explain that decision.”
As the first Prime Minister to take on the title ‘minister for the union’, you might have expected a stronger response.
If the First Minister decides in future that Scots can not make non – essential trips to a part of England represented by a Conservative mayor, perhaps we might get one?
The row also represents a new dynamic in devolution. The First Minister is used to positioning herself against a Conservative government at Westminster.
Andy Burnham, hailed by some as ‘King of the North’, is a credible opponent from the left who says he’s standing up for his region by calling out double standards.
The First Minister made her Manchester announcement on Friday. the same day that an estimated 20,000 Scottish football fans crossed the border to travel to London.
The result of that Scotland v England match was another topic Number 10 wasn’t prepared to pick sides on:
‘The Prime Minister has said before he wants all teams from across the UK to progress as far as possible.’