Boris Johnson has failed to clarify whether Scottish workers will have access to full furlough support in the event Nicola Sturgeon puts the nation into a lockdown that runs beyond December 2.
The prime minister, who on Monday said 80% furlough would be provided to the devolved nations if they went into lockdowns beyond the end of England’s month-long shutdown, appeared to wriggle out of that commitment in the Commons on Wednesday afternoon.
Mr Johnson twice ducked direct questions on the issue, saying “furlough is a UK-wide scheme” and that Chancellor Rishi Sunak would be setting out details on future Covid support on Thursday.
We understand that the Treasury and Number 10 have been locked in a battle over what form of future furlough support should be provided.
Number 11 wants the “mechanics ironed out” of any policy before going public, we understand.
As we know the contradictions regarding furlough support have created confusion and worry for people in Scotland. If the PM is serious about his commitment then he must inform the Scot Gov, as yet they have received no concrete details on his plans. It's not good enough. #PMQs pic.twitter.com/jlgxSqQkgu
— Ian Blackford (@Ianblackford_MP) November 4, 2020
‘Clear up this mess’
At prime minister’s questions, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford called on Mr Johnson to “clear up this mess”.
He said: “On Monday the PM agreed access to the furlough scheme at 80% for Scotland if lockdown restrictions required it. Subsequently a number of his ministers have rowed back on that promise and the Scottish Government have not received any detail and what the commitment means in practice.
“Today is the PM’s opportunity to clear up this mess of his own government’s making.
“Will Scotland receive full 80% furlough and self-employed payments on current eligibility whenever it is requested by the Scottish Government in the months ahead?”
‘Furlough is a UK-wide scheme’
Mr Johnson replied: “I hesitate to accuse him of failing to listen to what I said on Monday but I think he heard exactly what I said.
“I gave a commitment then, I in no way budge from that commitment, furlough is a UK-wide scheme, it’s helped save, I think, about 10 million jobs in this country, including about a million in Scotland.”
The prime minister was careful to avoid repeating his commitment to Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross on Monday, in which he said: “If other parts of the UK decide to go into measures which require the furlough scheme then of course it’s available to them, that has to be right and that applies not just now but of course in the future as well.”
Mr Blackford said the resistance to repeat such a confirmation, after Tuesday saw a slew of ministers backtracking, had “created confusion and worry for people in Scotland”.
Pressed further on the issue, Mr Johnson said: “The Chancellor will be making a general statement, about all the support, all the provisions that we’re making for this latest phase to tackle the autumn surge of coronavirus, tomorrow.”
Despite the confusion, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross remained steadfast in his belief that the pledge would be honoured.
He said: “I have said from the outset that the guarantee to protect Scottish jobs in the event of a second lockdown was an absolute must.
“The prime minister made that commitment on Monday and has made that unequivocal again today.”