“Hardest border for several centuries” as differing rules brought in for Wales and England
The First Minister Mark Drakeford has said he is anxious that Wales doesn’t become an “escape” for people trying to “get round” England’s four week lockdown.
On Saturday evening Prime Minister Johnson announced that all areas of England will move into a month long lockdown from Thursday. Pubs, restaurants, gyms and non-essential shops in England will have to close, schools, colleges and universities can stay open.
However Wales will exit its two week firebreak and see the reopening of non-essential shops, gyms and hospitality on Monday 9 November – days after England introduces the tougher restrictions.
There will be no legal restrictions on travel within Wales for residents, however people will not be able to leave Wales without a reasonable excuse. Similarly people from England will also not be able to travel to Wales without a reasonable excuse.
Today the First Minister said at the lunchtime briefing, “It is really important as we open up, Wales doesn’t become an escape for people seeking to circumvent the new tighter restrictions imposed by the Prime Minister. We want to keep Wales safe and we want to keep the United Kingdom safe as well.”
The First Minister was asked if this was the ‘hardest the border has ever been’ between England and Wales, and he replied, “I think that may well be the case for several centuries”.
The First Minister said that whilst pubs, cafes and restaurants can reopen in Wales from next week, discussions were ongoing over how it can operate following the announcement of an England-wide lockdown noting that it would have been on the same terms as before the firebreak if it hadn’t been for the announcement on Saturday night.
He said: “The Prime Minister’s decision over the weekend does inevitably create a different context.
“If pubs are closed along the border in England then there is bound to be a risk that people will try to break the law, because the law in England will say to them that they should not travel into Wales, because our pubs here will be open and serving alcohol.
“I don’t want our police forces to be diverted into having to police the border because we have a situation that we hadn’t anticipated and we haven’t had a chance to think through.”
“Had that not happened I would simply been announcing today that everything would reopen on the same terms as they would have operated on the 22nd of October.”
“But the context has changed. It’s important we talk to the sector, that we get a set of arrangements that work for them and that prevent unintended consequences from causing us difficulties beyond that sector, and I want to get those decisions as quickly as possible.”
Areas such as Flintshire and Wrexham have been living under travel restrictions as part of the local lockdown measures for some time.
Today the First Minister confirmed that such measures will not be in place when the firebreak ends, however travel into England will not be permitted during the month long lockdown without a “reasonable excuse”.
What happens in Manchester, Liverpool, the Wirral and even Chester appears to impact North East Wales according to publications by the Technical Advisory Cell who advise the Welsh Government. With areas of greatest concern in England being in the North West of England, and the prospect of a lockdown there and more open society in Wales, we asked the First Minister if there was anything specific being put in place to protect the area?
The First Minister replied, “I agree with what you said, obviously, where there are areas adjacent to the border, that does have an impact on Wales. The virus doesn’t respect the border. What is being put in place is a set of legal obligations in England, to prevent people from coming across the border unless they have a good reason for doing so.”
“Our police forces, but also police forces on the other side of the border, will have to play their part in making sure that that is enforced. But in England, as in Wales, the real way to persuade people to do the right thing is not to rely on enforcement and the rules alone, but to appeal to enlightened self interest.”
“The reason we’re asking people to do this is because it protects you. It protects your family, it protects your community. If you’re not prepared to play your part, you don’t simply put yourself at risk, but you create risk for all those other people who in any other circumstances will be your top priority. That is a message that I know colleagues in England will be giving and we will be continuing to reinforce it wherever we have the chance here.”
A newly published Welsh Government survey of public views indicates only 57% of people stuck to the rule of only leaving home for essential trips in the first week of firebreak.
With the focus now on personal responsibility, we asked the First Minister why he feels those who did not comply in a lockdown will now listen?
The First Minster replied, “There is a variety of information about what happened to travel during the first week of firebreak and actually, there’s quite good evidence of travel has reduced very significantly. They will be people who will be traveling for reasonable reasons, people who have to go to work and can travel, people who have to attend medical appointments and can travel and people who are going to school can travel to do so.
“So it was never the case that travel would be eliminated in Wales. I think there is good evidence that most people in Wales have understood the message and abiding by those firebreak restrictions. What we have to do is to persuade everybody to do that.”
“That’s why we put so much emphasis on Friday and today on saying to people that the rules by themselves will never be enough to get us to where we need to be. The rules have to be accompanied by a determination by every one of us to do the right thing, we have to ask ourselves the question about whether or not our actions are actions that are consistent with protecting ourselves and one another.”
“That is a very important message to get out, alongside the fact that there will be this new national set of rules the other side of the 9th of November”.
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