Boris Johnson has met with soldiers setting up a vaccination centre as well as workers at a coronavirus testing lab on his controversial visit to Scotland.
The Prime Minister bumped elbows to greet soldiers at a site in Castlemilk, Glasgow, speaking to members of the military as he was shown around the centre.
He also donned PPE on a visit to the Lighthouse Laboratory at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus in Glasgow, where coronavirus tests are processed.
Mr Johnson has faced questions over whether or not he should have made the journey amid travel restrictions across the UK.
Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives. pic.twitter.com/svLsfUDnIU
— The SNP (@theSNP) January 28, 2021
Nicola Sturgeon said his visit to Scotland is “not essential” during the current lockdowns, arguing that politicians have a “duty to lead by example” as the public live under strict restrictions.
But the trip to promote the Union was “absolutely essential” according to Cabinet member Michael Gove.
Amid signs of rising support for Scottish independence, the Prime Minister is visiting Scotland on Thursday to argue that the Union has been integral in administering the Covid-19 vaccine, providing coronavirus testing and giving economic support.
There are growing concerns in Westminster about support for Scottish independence, as Ms Sturgeon argues there would be grounds for a new referendum if her SNP party wins a majority in the Holyrood elections scheduled for May.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “It is a fundamental part of the Prime Minister’s job to go out and see businesses and communities and people.
“These are Covid-related visits. You’ve seen the Prime Minister do a number of them over the past few weeks.
“It is obviously important that he is continuing to meet and see those who are on the front line in terms of those who are providing tests, in terms of those who are working so hard to deliver the vaccination plan.”
Michael Gove told BBC Radio Scotland: “He’s the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, it’s absolutely essential that the Prime Minister is there to see how on the front line we are progressing in our vaccine delivery and roll-out programme.
“It’s absolutely right that the Prime Minister should not only thank those who are responsible for the roll-out but also see for himself how it’s going.
“It’s critically important that the Scottish Government and the UK Government are working together to do everything we can to support the roll-out and see what we can do to improve it.”
He said there is “no substitute for a leader better than being there” when asked why he did not speak to people remotely.
Mr Gove added: “It is the case that the Prime Minister will be operating in a Covid-secure way.
“There will be no danger to anyone’s health as a result, in fact quite the opposite, what the Prime Minister will be doing is making sure that the vaccine roll-out in Scotland gets the full support of the UK Government.”
SNP deputy leader Keith Brown said the Prime Minister’s trip is evidence that he is in a “panic” about the prospect of another referendum.
The MSP said: “Clearly, Boris Johnson is rattled. By branding this campaign trip as ‘essential’, this is clearly a Prime Minister in panic, who knows the Tories are losing the argument on independence.
“Twenty polls in a row have shown that a majority of voters believe Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s.”
The Prime Minister’s visit to Castlemilk – a community his party has hit hard – was wrong. It’s right to thank the armed forces who have helped in the fight against COVID, but the best way to do it is to pay them properly, improve their conditions & better support their families. pic.twitter.com/FDdvWkCzx6
— Stewart McDonald MP (@StewartMcDonald) January 28, 2021
The visit was backed by the leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer.
The Labour leader insisted Mr Johnson had a right to see what was happening in all parts of the UK.
Sir Keir told LBC Radio: “I’m with the Prime Minister on this one.
“He is the Prime Minister of the UK.
“It’s important that he travels to see what is going on, on the ground.”
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