UK-wide approach to combat Covid-19 is the best way forward

The Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart, believes a UK-wide approach to combating Covid-19 is the best for Wales. He wrote the following article for the Western Mail: 

TO­MOR­ROW we com­mem­o­rate VE Day. It was a mo­ment of pro­found na­tional re­lief, tinged with the re­al­ity of the sac­ri­fices made in reach­ing that point. As this week proves, even af­ter 75 years we re­mem­ber vividly what that long pe­riod of at­tri­tion and grief taught us.

And so the cur­rent coro­n­avirus pan­demic re­minds us of what mat­ters in times like this, and what we can achieve as a United King­dom.

Be­cause if there is one thing that th­ese crises have shown us through­out our shared history, it’s that the na­tions of the United King­dom are at their strong­est when they work to­gether.

Pol­i­tics is a pro­fes­sion that thrives on dis­agree­ment and de­bate so I pinch my­self as I agree with Nick Thomas-Sy­monds, the Labour MP for Tor­faen and the new Shadow Home Sec­re­tary, when he said that the UK Gov­ern­ment had worked well with the de­volved ad­min­is­tra­tions dur­ing this emer­gency. His com­ments re­flected the appeal I hear daily from busi­nesses and res­i­dents across Wales – park our po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences and unite in the de­feat of this un­wel­come and in­vis­i­ble killer, Covid-19.

Here in the United King­dom, the pan­demic re­sponse has been marked by joint de­ci­sion-mak­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the UK Gov­ern­ment and the de­volved ad­min­is­tra­tions.

This is the ap­proach that a crisis dic­tates, and it is the level of grownup pol­i­tics that the public de­mands. This does not pre­clude chal­lenge, dis­agree­ment and analysis. That is im­por­tant, but for now it is a ques­tion of tim­ing and ef­fort, all of which is fo­cussed on a com­mon ob­jec­tive.

Some­times there have been dif­fer­ences of ap­proach in the dif­fer­ent na­tions as our ad­min­is­tra­tions re­acted in real time to the in­cred­i­ble chal­lenges faced ev­ery day. We all ac­cept there will be some “di­ver­gence” – that’s the re­al­ity of de­volved gov­ern­ment. But it has been strik­ing that de­spite the very dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal make-up of the ad­min­is­tra­tions across the UK, the sim­i­lar­i­ties in ap­proach taken have by far out­num­bered the dif­fer­ences.

It may not be re­ported widely, but al­most ev­ery day I speak to Welsh Gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, and what we call the “ma­chin­ery of Gov­ern­ment” – civil ser­vants, ad­vis­ers and of­fi­cials – are in near con­stant dis­cus­sion. And guess what? More of­ten than not we agree on this very point.

Whether it’s the pro­tec­tion of jobs and liveli­hoods, the vast UK-wide wel­fare sys­tem, the UK armed forces sup­port that is so vis­i­ble up and down Wales or the world-class UKwide re­search and de­vel­op­ment – the im­por­tance of the Union (in­clud­ing the pres­ence of the UK Gov­ern­ment in Wales) has never been so cru­cial to the lives of the peo­ple of Wales. And rather than pose a threat to de­vo­lu­tion and a sense of in­tense na­tional pride, it ac­tu­ally em­pow­ers them.

So, as the First Min­is­ter Mark Drake­ford him­self has pointed out, all four na­tions en­tered lock­down re­stric­tions at the same time and should, if at all pos­si­ble make any mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the re­stric­tions at the same time. This is be­cause our econ­omy and sys­tems are so in­ter­twined. We agree that a UK-wide trans­port sys­tem that per­mits one thing in Bris­tol but de­mands an­other in New­port is doomed to fail­ure. How would we ex­plain to our big­ger em­ploy­ers that the rules in Dee­side are dif­fer­ent from their plant in Don­caster, es­pe­cially if staff mem­bers work be­tween the two?

Peo­ple across Wales have been mag­nif­i­cent in the weeks since March when so­cial dis­tanc­ing mea­sures be­gan. The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity have fol­lowed the guide­lines, stayed in­doors and have more than done their bit to slow the spread of the virus and pro­tect the

NHS. This is be­cause the guid­ance has been sim­ple, and the ap­proach from both gov­ern­ments has been united. It is why Welsh busi­ness has qui­etly risen to the chal­lenge, mak­ing PPE, sani­tiser or de­vel­op­ing new ven­ti­la­tor tech­nol­ogy. They have do­nated food and time, sup­ported key work­ers and looked af­ter the work­force.

This is the ap­proach that we need to sus­tain in the weeks ahead.

Covid-19 will un­doubt­edly be with us for some time yet and un­til we have met the five tests set out to beat this virus, we must con­tinue with the mea­sures we have been tak­ing to stay at home, pro­tect the NHS and save lives. Later this week the Prime Min­is­ter will give an up­date on the mea­sures and de­ci­sions we will need to take next to safe­guard the econ­omy and avoid the risk of a se­cond peak that would be so dam­ag­ing.

It is a UK-wide ap­proach in this next phase which will be the best for the peo­ple and busi­nesses in Wales. We en­tered this fight as a United King­dom and we will come out of it even more united.

Matt Smith has stood as a Welsh Conservative candidate for Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. He writes for ConservativeHomeBrexitCentral, CapX and Global Vision UK. You can read more about Welsh politics at www.mattsmith.org.uk/news