Boris Johnson thought it would be "wrong" for him to hold regular meetings with Nicola Sturgeon during the pandemic.

In evidence to the UK's Covid inquiry, the former prime minister said working closely with the first ministers of Scotland and Wales could make the UK look like a "mini-EU of four nations".

"That is not, in my view, how devolution is supposed to work," he said.

Mr Johnson also said he regretted not using civil contingencies legislation rather than public health legislation for Covid laws, as this would have prevented the devolved governments from pursuing their own policies.

He says there was "always a risk" that the devolved governments "would diverge and choose a more restrictive measure, or one that was perhaps different for the sake of being different".


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While Mr Johnson took charge of the first initial emergency COBR, he later passed the responsibility on to Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

In written evidence to the inquiry, Mr Johnson said: "I did chair some of the four nation COBRs, but I was content to let Michael lead."

Apart from the workload, he said there were "two good reasons" for this, "one of principle and one practical."

"It is optically wrong, in the first place, for the UK prime minister to hold regular meetings with other DA first ministers, as though the UK were a kind of mini-EU of four nations and we were meeting as a 'council' in a federal structure.

"That is not, in my view, how devolution is meant to work."

The Herald:


Both Ms Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford expressed unhappiness about the lack of meetings between the UK Government and the devolved administrations. 



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However, in minutes released to the inquiry, Scottish Secretary, Alistair Jack, thought that "working at official level would be better" than with the heads of government as it "would avoid Scottish FM grandstanding".

The then-Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart, said he was "nervous" about excluding the three countries from decisions, and thought they as a government "could possibly engage more than we are at the moment".

In WhatsApp messages, Mr Johnson's former adviser, Dominic Cummings, advised the prime minister to chair daily meetings from Downing Street's Cabinet Room and not "with the DAs [devolved administrations] on the [expletive] phone all the time either so people can't tell you the truth".

In her testimony to the Covid inquiry, politics expert Professor Ailsa Henderson of Edinburgh University said there was a "fear of federalism, there is a fear of leaks", that the UK government perceived a "self-serving nature to the motives of the devolved administrations".

She said the minutes of the meeting of UK government ministers was "the most remarkable document I have read in a number of years"There was no suggestion, she said, "that it might improve decision-making if more voices from more parts of the UK were included".