Boris Johnson dodges furlough questions as Nicola Sturgeon demands answers

NICOLA Sturgeon has said she expects the Prime Minister to stick to his word over furlough cash.

The First Minister said she will be “very, very, very disappointed” if it turns out additional funding from the UK Treasury is not available as promised.

Her comments came as dodged questions over the scheme in the Commons, shunting all responsibility to the Chancellor.

Rishi Sunak is now expected to make a statement tomorrow outlining the level of support on offer.

Reports in the press yesterday suggested the Treasury had been caught short on Monday, when Johnson vowed that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would have access to furlough payments beyond the scheduled end of England’s lockdown on December 2.

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A UK Government source told The Times: “It has huge consequences, both for England and the Union.”

One of the key details the Scottish Government needs is over the level of support – whether any money available to workers ina future Scottish lockdown will be at the original level of 80% of wages, or whether it be cut to 67%, the level in the Job Support Scheme.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Ian Blackford asked Johnson to clarify “in writing today” what it was he had committed to earlier this week.

“Will Scotland receive full 80% furlough and self-employed payments on current eligibility whenever it is requested by the Scottish Government in the months ahead?” he asked.

Johnson responded that he “gave a commitment then” and added: “I in no way budge from that commitment. Furlough is a UK-wide scheme. It’s helped save, I think, about 10 million jobs in this country, including about a million in Scotland.”

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When pressed further by SNP MP Carol Monaghan about the details, he replied: “I want to repeat that the furlough is a UK-wide scheme.

“Of course, it will continue to be available to the people of Scotland, and any further elucidation on the details of the entire package of support that this Government is bringing to the people of the entire UK, I direct her to watch what the Chancellor is going to say tomorrow.”

SNP MP Drew Hendry said there still had not been “a clear, unequivocal yes to the question”.

Hendry said: “He accused us of not being able to take yes for an answer on differentiated furlough for the other nations of the UK earlier.

“The problem is, Prime Minister, that we’ve not heard a clear, unequivocal yes to the question.

“So can he sort that now – if Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland needs to introduce lockdown measures at different times to England, will the Chancellor be there to support us with furlough?”

Johnson replied: “I really think … yes … I really think … I don’t know how to exhaust my affirmative vocabulary any further. They won’t take yes for an answer.”

Sturgeon, speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing yesterday, said: “If the UK Government comes out and says there is no extended furlough for Scotland beyond December 2, I will be very, very, very disappointed, and that is me is using as diplomatic a word as I possibly can.”

The First Minister said she had been “frustrated” at not receiving a detailed response but added: “My expectation is that the Treasury are beavering away on that right now and we are going to see the detail soon.”

She then warned the UK Government: “If that’s not the case I think not just me but people across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also be very, very disappointed and concerned by that.”

Sturgeon, stressed she does not want to “have to distort rational public health decisions to try to fit into a time-limited financial offer”.

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