Boris Johnson’s decision to use the union flag as a backdrop for coronavirus press conferences caused “unacceptable and unnecessary” confusion about lockdown restrictions, an influential committee has claimed.
The House of Lords constitution committee reprimanded the UK Government for failing to make clear that many announcements at last year’s televised Covid briefings related to England only, given that health is devolved.
The committee, in their report on the Covid-19 response, cited the prime minister’s announcement of a third national lockdown in England as an example.
They stated: “This was announced on a BBC news segment broadcast throughout the UK, featuring the prime minister standing in front of a Union Jack.
“This may have created the impression that the legal changes applied throughout the UK when they extended only to England.
“The UK Government has failed to make it clear when announcements only extend to England.
“This has caused unacceptable and unnecessary confusion for members of the public throughout the UK.”
Would it not make sense for Boris Johnson to drop the Union flags at these addresses? None of this is UK wide.
— Dan O'Donoghue (@MrDanDonoghue) May 11, 2020
The committee recommend that all future ministerial statements and guidance on changes to Covid-19 restrictions clearly state the geographic extent of the new requirements.
Four nation relations
The peers also noted how “intergovernmental cooperation suffered” as Britain entered the second half of last year.
Mr Johnson’s decision to change messaging from “Stay at Home” to “Stay Alert” is cited as a catalyst for the breakdown in four nation cooperation.
“This change was apparently made without consulting or informing the devolved administrations”, the committee noted.
They added: “We are concerned that, since May 2020, intergovernmental communication and cooperation appears to have decreased significantly.
“Legal divergence between the four parts of the UK has also increased, occasionally accidentally.
“This has created practical difficulties for members of the public, particularly those living and working close to internal UK borders, as well as those seeking to travel abroad.”
SNP MSP Stuart McMillan said: “The Westminster Tory Government’s obsession with flags has now been exposed as a direct risk to public health.
“Their sole focus throughout the pandemic should have been clear and consistent public health advice. Instead, their fixation with plastering everything with a Union Flag for political purposes resulted in ambiguous messaging that increased the risk to the health and wellbeing of citizens living beyond England’s borders.
“This is dangerous and unforgivable and the Westminster Tory Government must learn the lesson that the protection of citizens is always a higher priority than political posturing.”