Andy Burnham has called on Nicola Sturgeon to justify the “totally disproportionate” travel ban between the north-west of England and Scotland in an open letter.
The mayor of Greater Manchester intervened after Sturgeon extended the ban on non-essential travel – it was already in place for Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen – to Manchester and Salford on Friday.
In the letter, which was copied to all MSPs and posted on Twitter, Burnham expressed concerns about the restrictions imposed “and the manner in which they were announced.”
“It was disappointing that neither you nor your officials thought it was appropriate to contact us to discuss the proposals or provide advanced warning of the announcement,” he said.
Challenging Sturgeon to justify the non-essential travel ban policy, he added: “I would be grateful if you could set out in detail what criteria you are using.
“Why is Bolton under a travel ban today, when it has a case rate that is quite a lot lower than Dundee? How is that fair?”
Bolton’s rolling case rate for the seven days to 15 June was 269.2 cases per 100,00 people. The equivalent figure for Dundee was higher – at 318.1.
Earlier in the day, Burnham called on the Scottish government to provide compensation payments for Greater Manchester residents who had been negatively affected by the policy change.
Citing an email he had received, he said: “You know if you’re an elderly couple from Bolton and you are both double-jabbed and you haven’t seen your grandkids for two years, and all of a sudden you can’t go to your holiday cottage this week and you’re a couple of grand out of pocket, I think they are owed an explanation.
“It seems totally disproportionate to me to take that away from them.”
Defending her decision on BBC News, Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said: “These are public health measures. I have a duty – and it’s one I take very seriously – to keep Scotland as safe as possible.”
Sturgeon went on to suggest that Burnham was seeking to “generate a spat” with her in order to position himself in a future Labour leadership contest.When asked about Sturgeon’s comments, Burnham said he found the suggestion that he was primarily motivated by his own political fortunes “insulting”.
“If the first minister of a country stands up at a press conference and announces that the UK’s second city is going under a travel ban, it has an impact. People elsewhere in Europe, around the world, hear that. So it’s not like it’s just a sort of more localised thing between us and Scotland, it has an impact on our city region.
“I don’t think we’ve been treated with the respect we deserve and I’m talking mainly there of the people of Greater Manchester, not myself.”
The Guardian understands Sturgeon’s officials are privately sympathetic to the predicament faced by holidaymakers or business people whose visits to Scotland have been disrupted by the travel ban, but argue it has been another of the many impacts on people forced by the Covid crisis.
They acknowledge Burnham could have a point about improving communications between devolved administrations, but rejected his compensation claims as unmerited.
Labour MSPs took to Twitter to criticise the Scottish government’s handling of the announcement.
Labour MSP Daniel Johnson said: “Let me get this straight – Andy was supposed to have known about the restrictions before they were announced and he should have called her? Andy Burnham is a talented man, but I didn’t know he is clairvoyant.”
Criticising the fact that GMCA, as representatives of the people affected, were not contacted, Labour MSP Colin Smyth said: “We need cooperation not constant conflict.”