As lockdown restrictions continue to diverge among the UK’s four nations, many are asking if they can visit relatives in Northern Ireland, Wales and England. The answer, it seems, is yes — but also no.
Ferry services from Cairnryan to Belfast are operating as normal, albeit with a recommendation face coverings are worn.
Journeys over the border (which exists between Scotland and England only in name) have continued during lockdown, although at a reduced rate from normal.
As phase one rolled out in Scotland earlier in June, the number of cross-border car and lorry journeys increased, but were still far below the numbers recorded pre-lockdown.
The Scottish Government advice says there is no limit to travel to see relatives — which differs to the five-mile rule on recreation and leisure — but asks people not to stay overnight. Access to the house is limited to bathroom breaks only.
Crucially, hotels in Northern Ireland are expected to open on Friday July 3, while in England they are expected to open the following day.
This could mean travelling to England, Wales or Northern Ireland and being able to stay within that country’s guidelines for visiting — something the first minister believes in firmly.
My advice to anyone in any part of the UK is: you should follow the advice in the part you are in. In Scotland, whether you are living in Scotland or visiting, you should follow the advice of the Scottish Government.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
In essence, a family living in Tayside could visit relatives in Belfast and be sticking to the guidelines of both countries.
If that same family wanted to visit relatives in Stornoway or Wick, then it is unlikely they would be able to stick within the government’s guidelines asking them not to stay anywhere overnight.
Opposition parties argue that without official advice from Holyrood, people will be “confused” as to when they can visit loved ones.
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie has called on Ms Sturgeon to clarify what families can and cannot do.
Ms Sturgeon said she was against the idea of travelling to other parts of the UK — and residents of the other four nations visiting Scotland — until at least the end of July.
She added she would expect any visitor to any other part of the UK to follow the guidelines set out by the government there, meaning English, Welsh and Northern Irish visitors would be expected to maintain a two-metre social distance.
What the route map says
There is no specific guideline on whether it is OK to travel across the Irish Sea or south of the Solway Firth to visit relatives.
The Scottish Government’s route map out of lockdown states: “In brief, it is acceptable to travel outside your local area to meet family members, up to a suggested maximum of eight people in the group, but this should only be done in an outdoor space and while sticking to physical distancing.
“You should not go inside another house other than your own, even if it belongs to a family member, except to quickly access the garden or to use the bathroom.
“That being the case, a judgement should be made based on whether you can get there and back in a day.
“The only exemption to this is if you’re giving support to a vulnerable family member or are part of an extended household group.
“Anyone living alone or only with children under 18 can form an ‘extended household group’ with one other household.”
But, these guidelines are only applicable in Scotland.
In England families can meet with members of two households — which do not have to be exclusive — but hugging is still out of the question despite a reduction in the distance south of the border from two metres apart to one.
Would I have to quarantine?
People returning from outside the UK are required to isolate for up to 14 days on their return, but those returning from England, Northern Ireland and Wales will not.
So if you do travel within the UK, you would not be expected to quarantine.
The Irish Republic is not in the UK, but anyone travelling from there is also not required to isolate — provided they have stayed in the country for 14 days before leaving for the UK
People will be ‘confused’
Scottish Conservative shadow economy secretary Maurice Golden said: “With the decisions – or lack of them – that the SNP is making, it’s no wonder people are confused.
“If Nicola Sturgeon brought Scotland into line with the rest of the UK, things would be easier to understand.
“Instead, we have a tourism industry being kept in extended limbo, and would-be holidaymakers not even sure if they’re allowed to travel or not.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie called for more guidance on travel rights for those who have booked to stay in the UK.
He said: ““We need clarity on the guidance on travelling.
“People are confused on matters such as whether they can meet relatives in England or go on booked holidays in other parts of the UK.
“People also want to know about their rights; for example, if they will get a refund for those holidays if they are prevented from travelling.”
Sturgeon advises against UK holidays for just now
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “There is an advisory limit on travel and recreation, so I would not be expecting people from Scotland to travel to other parts of the UK on holiday — or other people from the UK travel to Scotland on holiday at this moment in time.
“We hope to see that lifted in coming weeks and we hope to see our tourist industry back up and running by the middle of July, at which point I will be viewing all the evidence and I would be delighted to encourage people to have staycations in Scotland.
“Border issues… and I am talking internationally here and not just in the UK… but as we go into this if there are different infection rates in different parts of the UK, or even in different parts of Scotland, we may see more localised measures to try to limit transmission between different areas, but that lies ahead of us.
“Subject to what I have just said, the five-mile limit in Scotland does not apply to visiting family and friends, but we are also at this stage — apart from those in extended households — advising you not to stay overnight in someone else’s home at this moment in time. So we would not be advising people to travel so far they would need to have an overnight stay.
“My advice to anyone in any part of the UK is: you should follow the advice in the part you are in.
“In Scotland, whether you are living in Scotland or visiting, you should follow the advice of the Scottish Government.
“But, if you are Scottish and visiting England, you should follow the advice of the UK Government for England.
“It is right and proper people abide by the law in whatever country they are in and abide by the guidance of whatever country they are in — whether in the UK or further afield.”