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Alister Jack accuses Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman of misleading UK Parliament

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman.

Alister Jack has branded Jeane Freeman a liar and accused First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of stirring “bad feeling” between Scots and the English.

Mr Jack, appearing before the Scottish Affairs Committee, also hit out at the “confused” Covid messaging being issued across the British isles, saying “clear, simple messaging UK-wide” would have been preferable.

In an explosive Commons hearing, the Scottish secretary also clashed with senior SNP MP Pete Wishart over Tory prospects at next year’s Holyrood elections.

As part of a criticism of the Scottish Government’s “different” handling of coronavirus policy, Mr Jack recalled an hour-long meeting with Ms Freeman and the UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock on March 12 to plan a response to the crisis.

In evidence to the committee in June, Ms Freeman told MPs she could not recall any communication with Scottish secretary Alister Jack.

Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack.

Asked by Moray MP Douglas Ross who had misled Parliament, Mr Jack said: “She has, the meeting was on March 12 late in the evening and it went on very late until the evening.

“We agreed at that meeting to joint working.”

Mr Ross said the committee would “have to discuss what to do next” in response to the accusation.

Mr Jack went on to criticise First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and suggested she had a role in the summer demonstrations at the Scotland-England border.

He said: “I thought it was disgraceful that on many occasions over the summer, when the first minister was not helping with the situation at the border with people standing with banners saying the English weren’t welcome.

“The idea that the virus was all but suppressed and gone in Scotland and that the prevalence was five times higher in England was repeated many times, it was totally untrue, totally unhelpful.

“It’s that sort of conduct that actually leads to bad feeling.”

He added: “We need to stop the confusion, all the administrations in these weekly meetings we have, should actually just be grown up, and not be different for the sake of it.

“It hasn’t brought anyone to a different outcome, the prevalence of the virus is as high in any part of the UK as another, on average we’re all four nations experiencing similar problems.”

Pete Wishart.

During the hearing Mr Jack also clashed with committee chairman Pete Wishart, who accused the UK Government of using the Internal Market Bill to “circumvent” the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Wishart said: “There’s no chance whatsoever the Scottish Conservatives are going to win at next May’s election.

“So instead of actually going to the bother of winning an election, you’re just going to circumvent and get round the Scottish Parliament by directly investing in areas that you want. Is that what’s going on?”

Internal Market Bill: Brexit legislation gives an ‘effective veto’ over Scottish Parliament

Mr Jack responded: “No, that’s not what’s going on and I think it’s arrogant of you to think that the next election in Holyrood is a foregone conclusion.

“I remember the SNP telling me what was going to happen when they supported a general election last year, they said Boris Johnson was going to be swept away, he came back with an 80 majority.”

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