Treasury ministers have thrown doubt over a pledge to give Scottish workers furlough cash if Nicola Sturgeon decides on a future lockdown.
Less than 24 hours after Boris Johnson told Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross that 80% furlough would be provided to the devolved nations if they went into lockdowns beyond the end of England’s month-long shutdown, a slew of ministers and aides undermined the commitment.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick first contradicted the pledge on the morning broadcast round, telling Sky News that furlough support beyond December 2 would be a “decision the Chancellor will have to make at the time.”
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick says it will be the chancellor's decision whether to extend the furlough scheme for Scotland if the country should stay in lockdown beyond December 2.#KayBurley https://t.co/vPJnOie6MO pic.twitter.com/Ts4hniVQVK
— SkyNews (@SkyNews) November 3, 2020
Asked repeatedly to clarify the position, Downing Street would only go as far as to say “if other parts of the UK decide to go into measures which require direct economic support we will make that available to them”.
‘This is not a union of equals’
The prime minister’s spokesman would not confirm whether that “direct economic support” amounted to the full furlough scheme.
The SNP’s shadow Chancellor, Alison Thewliss, pressed Treasury minister Steve Barclay on the issue in the Commons, but again failed to elicit a clear answer.
She said: “The overwhelming sense from many of us here is that this is not a union of equals. When Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and parts of the North East of England asked for furlough to be extended this autumn, they were told the Chancellor’s magic money tree had lost all its leaves.
Deciphering Number 10 lines is like trying to read the runes at times, this is today's exchange with the PM's spokesman on furlough support for Scotland…yesterday Boris Johnson suggested it would be granted, in full, if asked for, now there is only talk of 'economic support' pic.twitter.com/x6ac9NmCf9
— Dan O'Donoghue (@MrDanDonoghue) November 3, 2020
“But yet when the prime minister decided that England needed to go into urgent lockdown, it turned out the magic money tree was, in fact, an evergreen.
“The prime minister gamed his answers on furlough in this House yesterday in a pathetic and transparent attempt to make Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross look good.
“But he was contradicted by Robert Jenrick on Sky News this morning, who said it would be up to the Chancellor to decide if furlough would be available to the devolved nations after December 2.
“Will he be clear and will he be honest – will the Treasury make furlough available at 80% to any part of these islands that requires it after December 2?”
PM’s commitment ‘definitive’
Mr Barclay outlined what the UK Government had done so far to support Scotland, but declined to confirm whether the furlough scheme would be extended in different parts of the UK beyond December 2 if required.
The Treasury minister was asked on multiple occasions, from SNP and Scottish Tory MPs, to confirm the prime minister’s commitment still stood, but failed to do so.
His most illuminating response came in answer to Borders MP John Lamont, who asked if the prime minister’s furlough commitment would apply to self-employed support in Scotland.
Mr Barclay said: “These are UK-wide schemes, we continue to listen and engage, but they apply on a UK-wide basis, that has been the case throughout and that continues to be the case.”
Despite the confusion, Mr Ross came out strongly again on Tuesday afternoon, saying there was “no doubt” furlough would be extended if Scotland needed it.
He said: “I have not been shy about calling out the UK Government when it’s necessary. But I am in no doubt that the UK furlough scheme, which has already protected nearly a million Scottish jobs, will be there to save Scottish jobs again.
“The prime minister’s commitment is definitive.”