‘That is a witness box, not a soap box’: Top lawyer shuts down Nicola Sturgeon as she rants about Brexit to Covid Inquiry with Hugo Keith KC telling ex-first minister to steer clear of ‘political debate’ over EU exit
- Ex-SNP leader says no-deal Brexit plans distracted from pandemic preparedness
Nicola Sturgeon was today halted from ranting about Brexit as she appeared before the Covid Inquiry for the first time.
Top lawyer Hugo Keith KC reminded the ex-Scottish first minister she was appearing in ‘a witness box, not a soap box’ as she lashed out at the UK’s exit from the EU.
Ms Sturgeon told the inquiry it was ‘deeply regrettable’ that planning for a no-deal Brexit took resouces away from preparations for a possible pandemic prior to 2020.
As she swiped that ‘every aspect of Brexit has been false economy’, Mr Keith intervened to tell the former SNP leader: ‘We cannot allow the political debate of Brexit to be ventilated here.’
Ms Sturgeon began her evidence to the Covid Inquiry this morning by admitting that she did ‘not get everything right’ when she led Scotland through the coronavirus crisis.
She also acknowledged a ‘significant gap’ in the absence of no formal planning for a pandemic that wasn’t an influenza outbreak before the Covid disaster.
Nicola Sturgeon told the Covid Inquiry it was ‘deeply regrettable’ that planning for a no-deal Brexit took resouces away from preparations for a possible pandemic prior to 2020
Top lawyer Hugo Keith KC reminded the ex-Scottish first minister she was appearing in ‘a witness box, not a soap box’ as she lashed out at the UK’s exit from the EU
Ms Sturgeon, pictured arriving at the Covid Inquiry this morning, admitted she did ‘not get everything right’ when she led Scotland through the coronavirus crisis
The ex-first minister – who stood down in March after more than eight years in charge at Holyrood – clashed with Mr Keith as she told the inquiry almost all areas of Scottish Government work had been ‘impacted’ by no-deal Brexit planning prior to the Covid crisis.
Mr Keith, lead counsel to the inquiry, asked Ms Sturgeon whether pandemic preparedness was the ‘one area’ where resources should not have been drawn away from to plan for a no-deal Brexit.
The former SNP leader replied: ‘I don’t disagree with that. I think every aspect of Brexit has been false economy, if I can put it mildly.’
But Mr Keith interjected: ‘Ms Sturgeon, I’m so sorry. That is a witness box, not a soap box – we cannot allow the political debate of Brexit to be ventilated here.’
Ms Sturgeon then continued: ‘With respect, I think you’re asking me questions here that are very germane to the whole issue.
‘So, yes, I think it was deeply regrettable resources had to be diverted from any other area of work – and, in particular, pandemic preparedness.’
But she also insisted that ‘it was not the case that all preparation around the potential for a pandemic stopped’.
Earlier, after being sworn in, Ms Sturgeon offered a personal statement at the beginning of today’s inquiry hearing.
She said: ‘As the first minister of Scotland for the duration of the pandemic, I wanted to take a brief opportunity to offer my sympathies and condolences to all those who have suffered as a result of Covid-19.
‘The pandemic may be over but for very many people that suffering continues to this day. There is not a day that passes that I don’t think about that.’
She added: ‘I know that every day the government I led did our best to take the best possible decisions.
‘But, equally, I know we did not get everything right.
‘The learning from the pandemic is of critical importance and this public inquiry has a central role to play in ensuring those lessons are learned.’
Previously, the inquiry has heard how ‘groupthink’ saw the UK spend more time on preparing for a flu pandemic rather than a widespread outbreak of another respiratory disease.
And Ms Sturgeon admitted there was no formal plan for a non-influenza pandemic prior to 2020.
She said: ‘That is absolutely the case. That is not to say there was no thinking within governments around non-influenza diseases, high-consequence infectious diseases.
‘What there wasn’t – and I think this is the significant gap – is there was no set plan… into how we dealt with a pandemic that had features and characteristics of flu in terms of transmissibility and also the severity – and what we came to understand in terms of the asymptomatic transmission – of Covid-19.’
But while Ms Sturgeon said she ‘would readily accept that there was a gap in terms of the pandemic we ultimately were dealing with’, she added this ‘does not mean the plan that was in place had no utility at all’.
The former first minister also somewhat played down the significance of pre-planning when a pandemic occurs.
‘There is no plan that will ever completely replicate what happens in reality when a pandemic unfortunately confronts us,’ she told the inquiry.
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