Role of devolved governments in pandemic 'likely' to form part of Covid inquiry says Welsh Secretary

Hart said an inquiry could reveal that collaboration between the UK leaders 'has been much closer' than suggested. Credit: PA Images

The UK Government's Welsh Secretary says the role of devolved governments in any future pandemic is likely to form part of an inquiry into the handling of coronavirus.

Speaking at an online briefing for journalists, Simon Hart said Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish governments were involved in discussions from the beginning and that there had been no real argument about whether or not they should be involved.

But he said the devolved countries' own actions and decisions should form part of a future inquiry into the Prime Minister's handling of the pandemic.

Mr Hart said: "Would we make every decision identically if we had to go through it all again? Almost certainly not.

"Would we change the arrangements, and the relationship between the four nations? I think that's what an inquiry will reveal.

"The PM has been at pains to say this, there have been some moments when regional variations - where it's been necessary perhaps to do something different in one part of the UK from the other - can be very sensible, where the evidence points.

"So I think it will be very interesting for an inquiry to reveal which are the ones where localised decision-making is a really good and helpful benefit, and which maybe have caused confusion.

"I think it's too early for me to necessarily say where they are, but others will speculate."

The four UK nations each had their own approach to the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: PA Images

Mr Hart said differences between the nations are fine "if that could be justified by the evidence", but in the absence of that evidence they could lead to "frustration and confusion".

He said: "We've all seen it, we've all seen that argument played out publicly by retailers on one side of the border feeling that they've been put at a disadvantage."

The Welsh Secretary said an independent investigation of the decisions made by the UK and devolved governments should be launched "once we can genuinely say we're the other side of the pandemic, or at least the worst of the pandemic".

One thing an inquiry could reveal is that collaboration between the governments has been 'much closer' than some reports have suggested.

Mr Hart said it would show "the amount of daily, hourly, weekly liaison that there has been at the highest level... because there has been a colossal amount of collaboration and... I would like to see that get the airing that it deserves, because we've been slightly led to believe that none of that ever happened.

"Well, it did happen, and it happened a lot. And I'd quite like to see the truth emerge, because I think that will paint a rather different picture than perhaps the one we've seen so far."

There has been a colossal amount of collaboration and... I would like to see that get the airing that it deserves

Secretary of State for Wales

Asked if devolution had helped or hindered the fight against Covid, Mr Hart pointed to the vaccination programme as the best example in recent memory of why "the union [of the United Kingdom] can be a force for good" - but that concerns in the hospitality industry about reopening plans shows how differences can sometimes cause problems. 

Speaking at the same online briefing, the Wales Minister David TC Davies hit out at controversy over the Prime Minister's alleged comments to Conservative MPs that 'greed' was behind the success of the UK's vaccination programme. 

Mr Davies said the comment had been "totally out of context" and was a reference to the movie Wall Street, in which Michael Douglas' character Gordon Gekko said "greed, for lack of a better word, is good".

He added: "It was a private meeting, but he didn't say it in that way at all.  I was there and I know it was a reference; it was a joke. And he made it clear it was a joke. So whoever was leaking that was was being pretty irresponsible and needs to go and take a hard look in the mirror, frankly."

Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford has previously described his relationship with the Prime Minister as 'remote'. Credit: PA Images

The Welsh Secretary’s comments about the future role of the UK’s different governments comes at a time of increasing tension between UK and devolved ministers.

The UK Government is taking an increasingly active role in areas which have previously been considered devolved, or at least where the powers of the administrations overlap.

That’s what’s behind a joint statement issued today by the Finance Ministers of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, who say they’re concerned that ministers in London are ‘bypassing’ devolved governments and existing structures.

They’re calling for an urgent meeting with the Treasury to get further details about Whitehall plans to distribute money in a 'Shared Prosperity Fund' to replace European Union aid programmes.

Their joint statement goes on to say: "The UK Government ignored the devolved governments’ efforts and requests to input to the development process for these funds for almost three years and is now using powers under the UK Internal Market Act to bypass us completely. It is ignoring our respective devolution arrangements, delivering funding to meet Whitehall’s priorities rather than those of the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

"This must be addressed before further policy development takes place on the Shared Prosperity Fund.  Denying us any meaningful input, harms the effectiveness of these funds, will duplicate resources, and risks value for money and the achievement of better, fairer outcomes, which our communities and people deserve."

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