Johnson's Covid policy a huge mistake

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo: Times of Israel)

Boris Johnson's populist approach to Covid-19 may be winning him friends in the tabloid media but isn't going down to well with either medical experts or Scotland's First Minister.

Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance have already spoken out, in admitedly measured contributions, to explain why Boris Johnson's "living with Covid" strategy is short-sighted and ignores "standard public health advice". It was close as they will go to openly calling the proposals stupid, but they made it very clear that the scieitific evidence is suggesting an approach very different to the one Johnson is bent on pursuing. The UK government is more interested in the country living with Johnson than it is in the how it lives safely with Covid.

But opposition has also come from within political circles, with Nicola Sturgeon understandably frustrated that Johnson's decision to axe free Covid tests impacts on the options available to health authorities in Scotland. The Scotsman reports that Ms Sturgeon said: "We are back again being starkly reminded of this illogical position that the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments have to deal with, which is we’re responsible for public health decisions in our own countries, but it’s the Treasury who makes the funding decisions and they seem to be only triggered by the decisions Boris Johnson makes for England.

“That’s unsustainable and unacceptable, but that’s the situation we’re in.”

It's difficult to disagree with that assessment.

This is a bad decision on two levels. Firstly, it's a bad decision because it's politically rather than scientifically driven. Secondly, it's a bad decision because it undermines the devolved autonomy of the Scottish parliament, the Welsh Senedd and the Northern Ireland Assembly. 

Public health decisions should never be enforced by Westminster. Johnson is overreaching himself here, and the political consequences may be more significant than he imagines. The UK Treasury should never be able to effectively curtail the autonomy of the devolved parliaments.

Thsi is not just a question of Covid testing, however important that is. This ill-informed decision will not only negatively impact on England's public health, but actively undermines devolution. It sends a clear message to Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont about Westmisnter's attitudes towards them. In imposing the will of the Prime Minister, the "four nations" approach is shown to be little more than a tool for English dominance/supremacy.

This is not how devolution was designed to work, nor how it should work. Johnson is making a huge mistake. Whether he understands the ramifications of his actions is difficult to say, but it is quite obvious what his government thinks of devolution. 

This is, of course, just the latest chapter in the Conservatives' disregard for devolution. Their intentions are clear and must be resisted. Johnson and his ilk care nothing for devolution, for the Claim of Right, for Scotland or even the Union - which is itself being weakened when devolution is eroded.

Enough is enough.